Tag Archives: dreyfus model

Should Lindy Hop Follows Step Forward Or Back On 1?

I recently was asked this question:  “Step forward or back on 1 for follows in lindy hop?”  Ok, it was a search term that came to the site, but that’s the same thing, right? 🙂

Ok, first things first.  If you’re asking the question, you’re putting yourself in the novice stage of the Dreyfus model;  You’re asking for a rule.  That’s fine.  Novices need rules.

So what’s the answer?  Let me be careful and specific about my opinion: Novice follows should step in the direction they’re led in on 1.  If you’re led forward, step forward.  If you’re led into a rock step OR if you have directional momentum from the previous move which leads you into a rock step, then rock-step.  If you’re given no directional lead, do your footwork in place.  That’s not quite as simple as stepping forward or back, I know.  Step in the direction you’re led on 1, otherwise step in place.  Perhaps that’s simpler re-statement.

Ok, so what are the real-world implications of this rule?  Well, leads and follows have to be working on frame.  If, as a novice follow, you’re not connecting well to your lead, you might miss the direction he leads.  Leads, you have to lead in a direction.

Great, that’s the novice version.  What’s the roadmap to the future?  First there’s lots of floor-time experimenting with connection.  Experimenting with tensing and relaxing different muscles along the arm, in the back, and in your core.  Experimenting with different frame at different speeds, with different leads, to different rhythms, in different directions.  Along the way, you’ll begin to appreciate that the directional lead can be a combination of the momentum from the last move, the connection from the lead, and choices the follow makes (presuming the lead is listening on your dance connection and not just speaking).

What rules were you given as a novice?  Do you still follow them all the time?  What’s the philosophical grounding for the rule?  Do the lead and follow both have to agree on philosophy before agreeing to dance?

Be Water

I came upon this video excerpt of a Bruce Lee interview (“Be Water”) back in September of 2008, and it’s stuck with me:

What it means to me has changed over time.  When I first saw it, I felt like I wanted all follows to dance “like water.”  If the lead creates something powerful, be powerful.  If the lead creates something calm, be calm.  “Empty your mind” of preconceptions.  Just follow.

I think that there’s value to that attitude, but when dancing with advanced or just assertive follows, it’s not the reality of every partnership.  Sometimes a musical phrasing, emphasis, or hit will inspire the follow to do something that the lead isn’t thinking.  And that should be OK in a partnership.

So some notes for the dancers at the early stages of the Dreyfus model:

Be Water

Novice Follows
Carry no expectations into the dance.  Do the moves that are led.  Don’t worry about styling.  Worry about basics.

Novice Leads
Be clear about the shapes, forms, and expectations you’re placing on the follow.

Advanced Beginner Follows
Let the lead set the tone, energy, and character of the dance.  If he’s a bottle, be a bottle.  If he’s a teapot, be a teapot.

Advanced Beginner Leads
Try to let go of some of your preconceptions of the moves you’re going to do.  Experiment with emptying your mind before each dance, and leading each move as an extension of the move before it.  It’s difficult at first, I know!  You don’t need to do this with every dance.

Does this clip stir any ideas in you or your dancing?

Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition

One of my main motivations for starting this site was to discuss some of the mental models that I use to think about dancing.  I previously referenced my reasons for calling the blog “Black Belt Lindy,” which implies the use of the martial arts as a model.  Unfortunately, the belt system in martial arts is a system of colors and can be fluid in the meaning of certain colors.

About a year ago, I read Andy Hunt’s “Pragmatic Thinking and Learning” which stimulated an avalanche of thinking and re-thinking.  It’s nominally about computer programming, in that it’s written from the perspective of a programmer and a lot of the examples reference programming, but the lessons are quite easily applied to things like dancing.

Today I’d like to focus on a single idea I was exposed to: The Dreyfus Model of Skill Acquisition.
The idea behind this model is to classify someone’s skill level so as to better give an instructor guidance on what a student needs to work on to advance.  Here’s the description from the wikipedia page on the Dreyfus Model:

A helpful summary of the model is provided by Eraut (1994)[2]:
1 Novice

  • rigid adherence to rules
  • no discretional judgment

2 Advanced beginner

  • situational perception still limited
  • all aspects of work are treated separately and given equal importance

3 Competent

  • coping with crowdedness (multiple activity, information)
  • now partially sees action as part of longer term goals
  • conscious, deliberate planning

4 Proficient

  • holistic view of situation, rather than in terms of aspects
  • sees what is most important in a situation
  • uses maxims for guidance, meaning of maxims may vary according to situation

5 Expert

  • no longer reliant on rules, guidelines, maxims
  • intuitive grasp of situation, based on tacit knowledge
  • vision of what is possible

6 Proficient Expert

  • Knows the evidence base and underpinning knowledge to entirety
  • Can teach the skill to others
  • Can utilise the skill interlinked with other skills

This is evocative of so many memories!  Being a novice all all about needing the rules explained.  Ever remember a someone asking, “How do I know when to do six or eight count footwork?”  Someone looking for a hard and fast rule is placing themselves solidly in the novice range.
What about the inability to understand priorities?  I remember acting as a teaching assistant at a workshop and asking the instructor what the priorities in fixing problems were.  Frame before footwork?  Footwork before lead?  The inability to prioritize the focus of my instruction was the mark of an Advanced Beginner.
As we shade into Competent practitioners, we start to see more of the big picture.  We can see how decisions we make in our dancing affect the aesthetics.  How actions in one part of a move affect latter parts.  How the end of one move naturally feeds into the beginning of another.  How changes in the music should elicit changes in the dancing.  How the structure of the music helps us to anticipate future decisions we’ll be making.
I don’t claim to be a Proficient practitioner, though maybe I’m shading towards this level.  I’ll be working for a while at getting enough practical experience to really claim this.  At this level, rules get abstracted into maxims, which might be so nuanced as to seem meaningless to the Novice.  One I’ve heard is, “Dance the way you walk.”  That meant almost to nothing to me until I was shown a practical application.
OK, so how does this help us become better dancers?  Well, I’ve never talked to someone in swing dancing who’s heard of this model, so I kind of doubt any workshops will be adopting it to mark teaching levels.  To be honest, I’ve never talked to anyone who’s heard of this model, so it’s not something unique to swing dancing.  What it can help us do is to better understand where we are in the process of learning.  It’s actually a continuous spectrum, not a series of discrete steps, so you may have characteristics of multiple levels.
I’m classing myself as a Competent shading towards Proficient swing dancer.  I can very quickly see whether someone is fitting my aesthetic sense and kinesthetic sense of “good dancing,” and figure out why with minimal review.  I’m someone who’s able to think before I walk, so I feel like I grasp some of the ideas behind being Proficient while I lack a lot of the experience.  For example, I’m usually fine on the social floor at most speeds, but tend to freeze up when asked to jump in and do 8-8’s in the middle of a song.  I need a lot more practical experience before that becomes a natural part of my dancing.  I’ve spent most of the past 18 months ironing out my basics and adding in rhythm changes and very minor footwork variations as my styling.  I need to add a lot more styling variations and get comfortable with them as part of a “flash” library.  My personal style tends to be more subtle so I need to be more comfortable with a “bigger” style if I want to compete.  My reactions aren’t geared towards “listening” to an assertive follow telling me she needs extra time or wants to play with a theme.  I need a lot more practice at being responsive to this.
So let me throw this out there.  Where do you rank yourself as a swing dancer at the moment?  Do you have any specific memories that are linked to anchoring you at a point in time to a specific characteristic in the Dreyfus model?

How does this affect your thoughts on basics vs. styling?