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J M (Mike) Nelson
Dance Lesson Economics
With so much known about the psychology of teaching and learning, the status of the world of dance instruction seems woefully incongruous. Neither the teachers nor the learners seem to care about either time or money, though the teachers might be more concerned about the latter. Whatever the forces that have influenced this evolution, the economics are interesting.
Wasted Time. Whether by ignorance or intent, most dance lessons are presented in a manner such that little will be retained. Teachers waste time delivering more material than the learner can retain, and the learner wastes time imitating behaviors that, because of cognitive overload, they will not likely be able to replicate in the next hour and certainly not in the next week.
Unit Cost. For many, the unit cost approaches infinity, the limit of any fraction whose denominator approaches zero. No matter how little a lesson costs, if nothing is retained, the unit cost becomes infinitely large. Unfortunately, for many lessons, the content is so far beyond the capacity of human learning capabilities that nothing is retained. This is yet another opportunity for self-deceit by assuming that if there is a lot of material presented, some will be retained. Research has shown, and experience confirms, that this is not the case. Cognitive overload, an attempt to master too much material in too short a time, results in less than normal retention.
If the teacher believes that they need to deliver as much material as possible in the time allotted in order to provide best value, then they deceive themselves and defraud the student. If they do so by design in order to entice the student into more lessons, then the fraud is by design, and they are ethically, if not legally, culpable. If the student patronizes a teacher because of their ability to provide the most information, then they deceive themselves, at least initially. If they repeat a process that has proved intellectually uneconomical, then they are beyond self-deceit and are perhaps simply foolish.
Counterintuitive Costs. The cultural proclivities that have led to the incongruity between our current status and effective teaching and learning has penalized the insightful in that they have few if any options that result in either efficient or effective learning. Our species does not often consider the counterintuitive truths of any of our social issues, critical or otherwise, e.g. politics, education, environment, criminal justice, and the list goes on. There are few choices even for those who might know better. Fortunately, there are some strategies.
Getting Your Money's Worth. The following are suggestions for getting the most for the time and money spent on learning to dance. Each suggestion is based on principles consistent with our knowledge of human psychology. Furthermore, since so many cultural phenomena have similarly evolved, these strategies might well be applicable to other areas of life.
The "Free," Pre-Dance Lesson. It isn't "free" if you think your time spent should result in knowledge retained, and temporary replication of some dance variation is not the same as retention for subsequent discretionary replication. If you don't retain it, you didn't learn it. In order to retain something, whether cognitive or psychomotor, it must be repeated sufficiently to move it from short term memory to long term memory. That, then, is the key to avoiding wasting your time in the "free" lesson. As soon as you encounter something that you wish to retain, abandon the remainder of the lesson and repeat that item until you are confident in your ability to retain it. That likely means repeating it incessantly until the regular dance begins, and then repeating it intermittently throughout the evening, and, most important, daily for as long as necessary, and then, if possible, at every subsequent dance, lest it be forgotten. For example, can you replicate even one item from each "free" lesson that you have attended? How much more might you know had you used the aforementioned strategy for each of those "free" lessons?
Private Lessons. If you have the option, take short lessons, and then go home and practice until you can retain the information. Better, use short, private lessons after you know enough so that a few, new, high-quality items of information will be sufficient compensation for the cost of the lesson.
Persistent Media. "Live" instruction is a transient experience; it passes through our life in real time, little, if any, is retained, and it is not otherwise "recorded." Video recordings are persistent media, temporarily available from a library or permanently available if owned. DVD content might also be randomly accessible, enabling review of any segment at your discretion. A well-designed DVD could contain enough information to provide review worth many times its cost in transient lessons. If checked out of a library, such media are much more economical than the aforementioned "free," pre-dance lessons.
Read. If you "do your homework," especially if a beginner, you can be better prepared to retain information from a transient dance lesson. Beginners who read the following series and work independently as prescribed might even get significant benefit from a "free" pre-dance lesson or an introductory studio dance lesson. (See: Principles of Social Dance and subsequent, linked, articles, especially in the Do It Yourself section.)
Master the Basics. The nature of partner dancing is such that no matter how much the one knows, they need a partner to enable them to use it. Learning to follow readily might well be more beneficial than learning specific figures. Leader's, in contrast, have a different set of skills necessary to give their partner an enjoyable dance. Learn the basics of your role, and your partner will be pleased; learn a plethora of variations and neglect the basics, and your partner will be disappointed.
Dance. Go to dances sponsored by dance clubs, and ask if there is someone who might help you improve your abilities, especially your dance frame, the connection between you and your partner, an oft neglected but critically important component to proficiency and comfort. If you limit your inquiry to only that which you can retain, you could likely get a free, private lesson at every dance. Seek quality; avoid dances where the music is loud and the dancers undisciplined. Dance, like conversation, is best done when you, and your partner, speak a common "language;" in places where the music is loud, communication is minimal whether verbal or physiological. Seek healthy, well-managed dances, dance often, and enjoy.
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