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J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

The Pre-Dance Lesson: Functional or Futile?

The pre-dance lesson, that is, the "free" lesson before a dance, has become a tradition for many clubs and venues. Some dancers come early and seem to enjoy them, others come late, deliberately to avoid them. Sometimes styles are publicized, often they are not. Some teachers concentrate on beginners, some attempt to accommodate both beginners and intermediate dancers, others focus on the advanced dancer. Almost all lessons are a "surprise" in both style and level. Little, if any, of the components are retained past the first half hour of dancing.

Frustration is almost guaranteed and accepted by attendees. Beginners and advanced dancers are usually frustrated because of the pace and scope, beginners because they can't keep up, advanced dancers because they already know most of the content. Intermediate dancers are most likely to feel that they benefit, but, like the beginner, don't retain everything new. The beginner might go away with a few things they will remember, and the advanced dancer might know enough so that they can retain the few items that might be new, but no group is well served.

The "good" teacher with predominantly "knowledgeable" students actually produces the most indefensible pre-dance lesson. With a versatile and experienced group, the teacher can cover six, or perhaps a dozen, variations within an hour lesson. Assuming each variation contains three, new items of information, and many will contain more than three, the learner will be required to remember at least eighteen, and perhaps more than thirty-six, new items of information. That is three to seven times the capacity of short term memory; thus, save for remembering the joy of the moment, there is little retained from the pre-dance lesson.

Some instructors come with a lengthy choreographed routine, perhaps one that can be easily truncated in case the class is slow, or lengthened in case the class is fast. Either way, though everyone might be implementing the complex routine by the end of the hour, almost no one can hope to retain all the new items of information much past the first few songs of the first set, especially if, as often happens, there is no lesson-related music at the beginning of the first set. (I recall one occasion when no song related to the lesson was played during the entire evening.)

As entertainment, the pre-dance lesson might be justifiable. As for teaching, it is an exercise in futility, for there is little hope that much, if any, of the content will be retained by any significant portion of the students. Perhaps, like many traditions, it is included without consideration of its efficacy or consequences, and to question it is tantamount to heresy. Even so, its tenacity as a component of our dances does not speak well for the intelligence of our species.

An argument for an effective pre-dance lesson is offered in, The Pre-Dance Lesson: Intentionally Efficacious. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.