Tag Archives: learning

Permission to Fail

If you aren’t willing to fail, you won’t succeed.  Period.

I think the Talent Code reminded me of the Beckett quote:

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

I need to give myself permission to try something new, and fail.  That’s the key to gaining new skills.  If I don’t give myself room to experiment and fail, I’ll never grow.  This is closely related to willing to be uncomfortable.  If I always choose to do the things I’m comfortable with, I’ll never grow either.

If only we could find a highly skilled individual to endorse this position.

Slowing Down Practice

Spoke with a guy a few months ago after watching him practicing Shag.  Now, I don’t pretend to be a terrific Shag dancer, but I like to think that I’m a terrific learner.

I helpfully volunteered my advice, which is a terrible, terrible thing to do.  But I like A, and hoped he could take my advice in the context that I meant it: wanting to see him succeed.

Once we’ve learned basics, it’s easy to get trapped in a place where we want to make those basics extremely dynamic, extremely fast, or extremely stylized.  In my mind, it’s too easy to focus on the end goal (in A’s case, the speed of the music he wanted to dance too) and not enough on a good path to the goal.

I came across a story about how Ben Hogan (widely regarded as having one of the best swings in pro golf, ever), would practice his swing:  slowly.

I even like the quote in the description of this second clip:
“Fast playing is not based on fast practice. It’s based on flawless execution at slow speed.”  — Daniel Bonade – World class clarinetist

Speed can cover up the technique problems in movement.  Can I perform my movement perfectly at very slow speeds?  Once I’ve corrected gross problems at slow speeds, I move on to performing it at close to normal speeds.  Then a bit faster.  But I try as hard as I can to perfect my movement at each speed level before speeding things up again.

Madd Chadd

Hip-hop isn’t my genre of dancing at all, but this is an amazing tip from an amazing dancer.

Spoiler: “Be patient.”
When one’s a novice dancer, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to advance quickly, to jam lots of learning into as small a time a period as possible.  But imagine the process of learning how to do this kind of body isolation movement:
Does he have an amazing skill?  Of course!  Did it pop into being suddenly?  Almost certainly not.  In fact, watch this:
Still good.  Still obviously skilled.  Same fluid, body-isolation aesthetic, but clearly not as good.  And that was six years ago.
So now think about how he’s saying to be patient.  To not rush.  He’s clearly lived that.  And in fact, it seems to infuse his entire aesthetic sense.
And if you’re wondering where you’ve seen him before:
So what is your impatient voice saying you should be doing or achieving?

A Conversation

This is a re-post from my informal, catch-all blog.

[Author’s note:  I have numerous advisers, mentors, and even peers I bounce ideas off of.  I also have a dance mentor who lives inside my head.  The advice he gives is a synthesis of all the advice I’ve gotten from real conversations, arguments, and “ah ha!” moments.  This is one of those discussions.  If you recognize your words, that’s because I probably absorbed your lesson.]

“So what is it that you want out of Lindy Hop,” he asked me.

“I want to be an advanced dancer,” I replied.

“Where are you now?”

“I think I’m solidly intermediate.”

“And what does becoming an advanced dancer mean to you?”

“That’s tough to say.  I’m not worried about flash. Or performing.  Or competing.  But I am worried about making a dance fun for my partner.  I’d like to be able to dance with a beginner or a visiting pro and have that person walk away thinking, ‘Now that was a fun dance.'”

“That’s a good goal.  What do you think you need to do to achieve it?”

“Well, I feel like I’m solid in what I can do now.  But that I need more moves, more vocabulary…”  I stopped as he shook his head.

“No.  What you need is basics.”

“I’m … not sure what you mean ‘you need basics,'” I replied, trying not to be offended.  I mean, I knew my basics.

“Well, you said you needed more vocabulary, right?  You chose that metaphor, and one of the old tropes you hear instructors use feeds right into it: ‘Dancing is a conversation.'”


“Well, have you ever thought to yourself, ‘I need to learn some more words so I can have better conversations with my friends’?  Of course not!  You have better conversations by mastering your basic vocabulary then using it to maximum effect.  Ever seen a poetry slam?  Or a ‘spoken word’ showcase?  Or an actor doing a one person show with multiple characters, accents, and points of view?  Or a great stand-up comedian with the audience in the palm of his hand?  Or a an political orator swaying the feelings of an audience?  Those people don’t use words you don’t know.  They have mastery of basic vocabulary.”

“That can’t be all they have.”

“Of course not.  They’ve also mastered the artistic use and effective timing of their words as well as the ability to read a crowd.  The way they use vocabulary might be different from yours.”

“But I see advanced dancers doing moves I don’t know all the time.”

“You’re forgetting that this is about having a conversation.  Can you conceive a thought, begin it, and complete it with clarity and directness?   Can you construct a thesis statement and supporting points?  The first step is working on your basics.  Variations and new moves come after that.  I’m sure you can probably think of local dancers who know lots of moves, but they don’t seem … quite right.  Or people will complain after dancing with them.  About clarity.  Or harshness.  Or injuries.”

“Yeah, I can, now that you mention it.  So you’re saying I need to learn how to express my feelings…”

“Feelings?!  No, not your feelings.  I’m saying you should learn how to have the Lindy Hop equivalent of a polite, clear, superficial, conversation with no nuance.  Feelings?!  Feelings are a whole other conversation!!!”

Are there any conversations or observations that you can remember which changed your dancing?   What is the metaphor for dancing that you use most often to express basic concepts?  Has anyone ever told you that you needed more work on your basics when you felt they were already very good?  How did you take it?