“If You Wanna Pay Me and Be Lazy, You’re a Crazy Person”: Old-School Teaching Needs to Make a Comeback

img_9024A woman in our African dance class last week stopped dancing for 10 minutes at a clip to standby and watch. Finally I said to her, “If you can’t do the step, just walk to the beat. That way you can practice hearing the different drums and following the rhythm.” The live drums were loud so we were essentially screaming as people do in bars and nightclubs. She said, “It’s not that I couldn’t do the step. It’s that I didn’t want to.”

I replied, “Your dancing partner had to go alone half the time. That sucks for her. At least if you move across the floor walking to the beat, she’d feel like she has some company.”

The lady was now seething. “I know my body and I wanted to take a break, so I took a break. I didn’t want to dance or walk.”

Why pay $15 to stand there and watch while entire steps are broken down and sped up?  We can’t become better dancers  at anything by watching other people. We can learn by watching but we improve only by practicing.

Back in New York, I had a dance teacher who was old-school strict. He’d tell people they look fat in their leotard, that we were lazy and or our legs weren’t straight enough. The 90 minute class felt like bootcamp and abuse, but it made us better dancers. There could be no ego or talking back, only humility and hard work. If anyone cried or left class early, he would scream, “I will not allow you to come in here and waste your money. You paid me to teach you and you will do what I say. If you wanna pay me and be lazy, you might as well check yourself into Bellevue Mental Hospital because you’re a crazy person.”

Sure, his teaching style won’t work for everyone. But his overall philosophy is on point. I wish he had been there to properly deal with this woman the other day.

Physically, African dance is a difficult technique with jumping, turning and coordinated flailing. For many Americans, though, the hardest part is letting go of inhibitions and allowing ourselves to have fun. If you’re strong and coordinated but uptight, you will not look good in this style of dance.danceclass

Loosening up is part of the fun. African dance is like yoga- what good is all the moving around if there’s no bigger connection and inner freedom? Sometimes the steps or poses will feel awkward because they’re new. That’s why we practice and attend classes. We can’t wait for the moment when we feel “ready” or “good enough” because there might not be any such time. The point of all the dance/yoga/painting/tai chi/whatever-you-do-that-requires-practice is to shut off the incessant mind chatter and just be. 

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