As a dance instructor I have heard many times over the years countless variations of: “You have changed my world!” and “You have changed the way I see my life!” from grateful students that have discovered their passion for dancing through my classes.
And even though no two students begin taking lessons for the same reasons or with the same motivation and not two students go through the same learning process, their comments after some time all converge towards those two same ideas: Neither life, nor the world seem the same after dance lessons.
Early in my career I was simply amused by this «coincidence» as I used to see it, given the fact that I was and remain to this day a dance student at heart and I tended to say the very same things myself. But over the last three decades, as I learned more about teaching I became curious as to what reasons could cause this convergence. Today I consider it not a coincidence but an inevitable consequence of a proper learning process. Here is why:
Although dancing is objectively very easy to do, it is at the same time made up of multiple techniques and reflexes that have to be coordinated simultaneously. Most people know that dancing requires a mastery of spatial awareness, kinesthetic skill, logical thinking, and musical perception. These can summarily be ascribed to the four basic dancing questions:
Where am I?
What is my body doing?
How am I doing it?
Do I match my partner’s and the music’s rhythm?
And indeed, most dance teachers will try to help their students develop these skills through exercises, drills and long hours of repetition.
But a true understanding of everything that goes on in the dancer’s body, the dancer’s environment and the dancer’s conscience goes far beyond these obvious perspectives. A good dance teacher will try to help their students to develop many other ways of perceiving and processing information, such as:
The Naturalist discernment: the ability to compare objects and ideas as in: this movement looks like that other one. This turn is not like that one. The feeling I get when I do this is just like the one I get when I do that.
Interpersonal or emotional intelligence: The skill to realize how another person (one’s partner, teacher or classmates) feels, what they need and the effect one’s mood, emotions and actions have upon their physical and emotional state.
Intrapersonal awareness: Similar to the previous one but with an inward perspective: The skill to realize and evaluate how dancing impacts one’s physical and emotional state as well as the capacity to discriminate among feelings and to use them to understand and guide one’s actions
Existential perspective: The capacity to face and attempt to answer the deeper, essential questions of existence and spirituality as they relate to dancing and the role of dance in one’s life.
Lastly, all good teachers will also help their students to develop their verbal communication skills, mostly by example while they teach, since being able to explain what one does or how one feels is the best way to stake ownership of all the feelings that dance students discover as they get used to see their world through this new array of perception channels.
The student that goes through a complete and
successful dance learning process is thus equipped to see his environment and
his role in it with multiple perspectives. No wonder most of them feel like
they just stepped into a brand new world.