I’ve been teaching for well over twenty years, so I’ve had a chance to see a lot of things when it comes to teaching and learning dance. However, even an old dog like me can discover a new trick now and then.
At my South Pointe site, the kids have asked for more salsa classes. I’ve had the good fortune to have taught hundreds of people how to dance salsa. I’ve even taught the big man himself, Shaq, how to dance salsa. While teaching kids can be slightly trickier (cooties and other strange bugs run rampant between the ages of 7-11!), I felt I had a pretty good plan as far as teaching was concerned. I showed the kids the salsa steps. I counted out the steps. In fact, I counted out the steps in Spanish, French, and English just to make sure I had my bases covered. I played a nice slow salsa song that everybody could dance to. I looked around so I could gauge their progress. Adlene. Check. Chantal. Check. Laura. Check. Amanda. Check. I continued to look around and saw that the girls were picking it up really well. I kept looking around. Jake. Check. Uh oh. Dante. No. Chris. Not quite. After I mentally computed my final tally, I had about a 98% success rate with the girls and a 10% success rate with the boys. Or in raw numbers, only one boy was able to learn the steps and commit them to memory. The other 9 or so boys resigned themselves to sitting on the floor. Actually, sitting is the wrong word, rolling around on the floor is a more accurate description. I worked with each boy individually and each would make huge strides (pun intended) in their salsa dancing. However, as soon as they stopped dancing it was if someone had erased their memories. For several weeks this scenario kept recurring, the girls would review the basic steps and learn more advanced steps while all the boys save one had to review the same basic step over and over. If the boys got the step then they couldn’t keep the beat. If they got the beat, they couldn’t do the step. Of course, there were a few who couldn’t catch the beat or the step!
I had kind of worked myself into a little conundrum. I had a bunch of girls who eagerly wanted to dance with a partner, while a I had 9 boys who had no idea of what they were doing. I’ll confess I was a little frustrated. OK, I was very frustrated. Visions of the final show were quickly fading away into oblivion. I couldn’t make Jake dance with all fifteen girls for the final show, right? No, something had to be done. Out of nowhere, I had an idea. I called one of my students, Chris, over to work with me. I explained to him that we were going to play a game called Fast Feet. The rules were simple. We were going to try to step on each others feet(sometimes my job becomes very dangerous, this was one of those times!). He could only attack my right foot with his left foot by stepping forward. However, he had to defend his right foot from me by stepping backwards. If he had both feet together it was considered neutral or “safe”. I told him that he would “attack” first and I would “defend”. Chris stepped forward in attempt to step on my foot. He missed as I stepped backwards with my right. He returned back to “safe” and then I “attacked” his right foot. Of course, I missed as he stepped backwards…to the beat! We repeated our game for about a minute. Chris had it perfect. He was executing all the steps correctly to the beat of the music. I quickly worked with the rest of the boys. Within twenty minutes, every single boy could execute the salsa step flawlessly. They didn’t forget. The boys could dance the salsa step with ease and minimal effort. I went from 10% to 100% success rate. Hooray! The girls had partners. In the end, Jake’s salsa monopoly power was destroyed, I learned something new and the final show was saved from the scrap heap! (Please note: No Teaching Artists were harmed for the writing of this blog.)