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Ballroom Dance

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


Pedagogy and the Dance Lesson

Pedagogy refers to the method and practice of teaching, especially with regard to the psychology of learning. Gestalt theory (Wertheimer, 1922) presented the idea of "grouping;" characteristics of stimuli cause us to structure or interpret a visual field or problem in a certain way. Thus the learner should be encouraged to discover underlying relationships among elements. Miller (1956) reported that short-term memory could only hold 5-9 chunks of information (seven plus or minus two) where a chunk is any meaningful unit. These principles formed a basis of all subsequent theories of memory. Marteniuk (1976) presented a theoretical framework for sensory-motor skills based on information processing theory, emphasizing the importance of feedback in correcting motor behavior. Marteniuk suggested two ways in which learning/teaching of motor skills can be facilitated: limit the amount of information and reduce the rate of presentation.

A most insidious aspect of our limited capacity for learning is that when experiencing cognitive overload, we are likely to retain less than our normal capacity; thus, more presented can result in less retained. These theories of human learning are as well established as the theory of gravity, and we all know the consequences of ignoring gravity. Hence, the "gravity" of concern for the application of what is known about human learning to the dance lesson.

We retain only that which we apply regularly following its introduction to short-term memory; if we don't apply it, it never gets into long-term memory; we forget it. Still, we attend lesson after lesson, retaining little or nothing, perhaps simply for the joy of the moment, retention notwithstanding. When we think about it, much of the success of the commercial dance studio is is a product of our forgetfulness and negligence -- forgetfulness in that we have no hope of retaining all to which we are exposed, and negligence in that we make no serious efforts to replicate a portion of the lesson until it can be retained. As long as we keep attempting to acquire more than our mental capabilities can retain, and as long as lessons are designed with information overload, the tradition of inefficiency and ineffectiveness will continue.

Perhaps it is our naive belief that we are unique that enables such irrational behavior to continue, irrational, that is, on the part of the learner. Teachers long ago discovered that if they provide a lot of material in the lesson, people won't retain much and will have to take more lessons. "Over-learning," it seems, is somewhat the opposite of overeating. Would that our digestive system worked more like our brain, and our brain worked more like or digestive system.

Among those many instructors I know in the ballroom dance community are some who take pride in how much they can cover in a dance lesson and some whose lessons are so well designed that almost everyone retains the entire lesson. Each of these teachers sincerely intend to give their best, and they do, the one group for the joy of replicating numerous complex variations, the other for providing something I can "take home with me." Though I enjoy them all, I sometimes wonder about the awareness of the relationship between intent and lesson design.

There is a role for pedagogy in the design of dance instruction, and, like gravity, ignoring the principles of learning when designing dance lessons does not mean that the associated phenomena do not influence the consequences; they do, generally to the detriment of the learner. Astute application of principles of learning can increase the efficiency and the effectiveness of the dance lesson, both to the benefit of the learner. Upon which principles of learning are your lessons based? (If you don't know, and would like to learn more about how to apply primciples of human learning to dance teaching, see Instructional Design For Dance Teachers. 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.