Lead on – what I’ve been learning as a lead instructor

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I started learning to lead in the first few months of my lindy hop journey. It was totally selfish. I was one of the youngest members of the Toronto swing dance scene and I wanted to bring friends along and didn’t want them to have to dance with members of the community who held you too close and gave you pointers on the social dance floor (always bad form!).

I gotta tell you, I really enjoy leading, but have always enjoyed following more. I’m competent at both, but I simply prefer following in a performance setting. Social dancing-wise, it depends on my mood. Recently, I have been making an effort to up my leading game. I’ve taken on teaching both lead and follow roles at many Swing Patrol events and teaching my first term for JazzMAD with their innovative 12-week beginners course. Participants learn to lead and follow – AT THE SAME TIME. Classes are 1.5 hours and the learning journey is so so different to a weekly drop in class. It has absolutely kicked my leading ability in the butt. Students learn lindy hop is a 2-count dance made of up kick-tucks, triples and steps – their skill progression is so different then what I’m used too. When it clicks in their minds and their feet in week 6/7, it’s like magic and everyone knows how to do both sides. I don’t think it’s better or worse than a drop in class, it’s just a different method and appeals to a different kind of student.

I have to tell you – my leading has improved ten-fold from teaching this course as well as my overall dancing. It’s been terrifying at times – worrying about how to lead, demonstrate and break down a break on 6 (when I’ve never ‘learned’ it or lead it). And ending a course having taught my students the component pieces of the California Routine that they can happily lead and follow well with their peers. It feels liberating. When Sharon Davis, the school Director and a world champ dancer, asked me teach this curriculum, she told me she designed it with hard-working local organisers and instructors in mind. A course taught by one instructor that allows participants the opportunity to understand and empathize with both roles – from the beginning. So cool…especially when we can get stuck in a vision of the dance with a male leader and female follower – which is helpful particularly for men who have never danced before, but isn’t always the easiest to organise in small scenes.

I often like to think when I teach I get to model the kind of world I want to live in and I’m so pleased to get to grow my teaching practice like this. I leave class feeling empowered and proud of myself. I highly recommend going out of your comfort zone and elevating both your dance roles. I’ve noticed such a different.

If you’re in a place where you want to go back to basics or know someone who’d love a different lindy hop journey – seriously, check it out. If you want equally delicious classes but of a drop-in and role-specific flavour, I’m always found at Old Street on Monday nights with the fab Matt Cochrane.

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