Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Wednesday's (Formerly Tuesday's) Opinion: Why Dance Instruction Videos Shouldn't Replace Dance Classes

Happy Wednesday everyone!  I'm a day late with my Tuesday's Opinion thing, and since that's been happening a lot lately, I think I'll just move it over to Wednesday and use Tuesday to write up most of it.

This week's opinion:
Why Dance Instruction Videos Shouldn't Replace Actual Dance Classes

In this day and age, technology and the Internet makes it supremely easy to access information of all sorts.  You can find information and advice for your health, lifestyle, hobbies, and news.  Youtube in particular has numerous instructional videos for just about anything....including how to dance.

I myself love using Youtube!  I go there all the time to look for instructional videos for hobbies and crafts.  I even set up my own channel that I eventually plan to use to post lesson recaps on my dance workshops.  But I don’t plan to ever post instructional videos on how to dance.

I do have good reason to not create my own videos.  There's the financial reason first and foremost. I would be making very little profit with a dance video, and there's every chance that it would get pirated and distributed for free.  But it's more than just that.  I mean, there are quite a few pros to using dance videos, but there are quite a few cons too, and I don't think they are really all that useful in the long run, particularly for students.  In the end, however, that is only my professional opinion as a dance teacher.  It's up to you to decide for yourself, so I've listed the pros and cons of video instruction below.

I'll be fair and start with the pros first:

Pros About Instructional Videos:

1. They're Useful For Other Dance Teachers Who Need Fresh Ideas.
I admit it, we teachers use dance videos a whole lot.  In fact, I think they're more useful to dance teachers than they are to students.  They're helpful if we need a quick reminder on a complicated pattern we haven't taught in a long time, and they help give us some new ideas to keep our steps fresh.  My mom has a bunch of dance videos that she'll look at if she wants to experiment with a new pattern, although she often modifies the original version to make it easier to learn.

2. They're Good For A Quick Look-up On Particular Moves:
We understand it's difficult to remember what a particular step looked like ("what the heck was 'Cha Cha Crossover'?!"), so looking a step up online can sometimes help remind you what a move looked like so that you can continue to use it.

3. They Allow You To Practice From Home
I always tell my students to practice, but I admit it can be a little tricky to practice at home without some sort of visual aid.  Dance class DVDs are definitely helpful in this sense, as you get to take a dance class right at home.  You have all the time you need to practice and learn your steps.

4. It's Easier And Quicker To Find A Teacher That You Would Like 
I keep hearing stories of students who spend months, even years, trying to find the right teacher for their needs.  It does take some time, and some shopping, to find the right teacher for you, and videos do make it easier, and whole lot quicker, to achieve that goal.

5. It's Economical
I won't deny that dance videos are much cheaper than actual classes.  You can buy a DVD set for one or two hundred dollars and that will last you for years, or you can find videos for free on Youtube.  In the long run, you spend considerably less money with videos than you would at a group class.

Soo, huh.  Okay, those pros really present a much more convincing argument than I anticipated!  But before you decide that, yes!, videos are for you, take a look at the cons below:

Cons About Instructional Videos:

1. Every Teacher Teaches Differently And Thinks They're Right
The problem with ballroom dancing (and probably why it can never be an Olympic sport) is that every teacher has a different opinion on how to dance.  They have their own ideas on how to do the basic step, on what techniques are important, and on what order a student should learn new patterns and moves.  Oftentimes, teachers have their own interpretation of a move, even to the point where they have their own invented configurations (my mother does this every once in a while, and she's not alone).  Unless you see the same exact pattern being taught by multiple teachers, there's no guarantee that the step you are learning will be recognized by other dancers when you go out dancing.  With that in mind, you're almost better off looking at videos of at least half a dozen teachers for only one particular dance before you can get onto the dance floor with absolute confidence.  That sounds like a lot more work than you originally anticipated, huh?  If you think about it some more, you're actually better off going to a physical dance class, as that provides you with a dance community where everyone is learning the same moves and techniques, and you're able to see what works and what doesn't work for yourself.  I also recommend going to dance socials that are frequented by dancers from multiple studios, as you'll be able to see how steps vary from studio to studio more easily, and that will help you adjust your dancing to work with new people.

2. There Are Videos Out There Where The “Teachers” Are Very, Very Wrong!
I have an issue with students who, after a few years of learning to dance, decide they know enough to teach other people and starting teaching their own classes without supervision.  Same thing goes for certified dance teachers who insist on teaching a certain way without enough well-rounded experience in the dance world to fully understand what they're teaching.  It gets worse when I see a instructional video of such a "teacher".
I may not be certified myself, but I have been dancing for decades.  Not only do I have the experience, but I'm also working for a dance teacher who's been a teacher for decades.  So I think I can safely say that I'm a qualified teacher with a very well-rounded understanding of how to dance socially.  But when someone isn't qualified to teach and they do it anyway, it bugs me.  A good teacher not only must completely understand how a step functions and why it has always been taught a certain way, but they should also have plenty of social dancing experience to see how those steps and techniques work in the real world.  Most instructional videos are done by teachers who know what they're doing, but every once in a while I find an online video that makes me cringe.  Either the technique behind the step is terrible, or the footwork is just plain wrong.  So be very, very careful when you go looking for instructional videos online.  Make sure you're looking at a professional dancer, and go to an actual dance class to confirm that what you've seen online is the genuine article.

3. It's Hard To Find Exactly What You're Looking For
Earlier I said that online videos can sometimes be used to look up something you learned in class.  This is still true, but the key word is sometimes.  Remember that different studios have different names for one particular move, and if that ain't confusing enough, certain studios have their own interpretation of said move.  
Don't believe me, let's try this out right now with Youtube.  If you search for "Cha Cha Crossover", you'll instantly you see a bunch of results that are very accurate.  But if you compare videos between two different teachers, you'll notice that they do something different with their hands.  Huh.  Which one was the one you learned?
Okay, now let's try something else.  Let's search for the "Waltz Chasse".  Now I know a couple of waltz moves that have the name Chasse in them, but I'm looking for a specific move that my mother calls a chasse that opens in and out.  We've been doing it in class and it's done by numerous dancers from other studios so I know it's a legit and widely accepted move.  But when I look at the results, I see numerous videos depicting various versions of steps known as chasse, in various levels of difficultly, from various styles of waltz!  None of the videos show the chasse I'm looking for.  It must under a different name then.  Well I know it's a bronze level American waltz step (terms that teachers understand, but most students don't fully realize), so let's look up "bronze american waltz" and see what I find.  After searching for a few minutes, I have finally found one clip of the original move I was looking for, except they call it the "In and out change steps".  So I look that term up and see if I can find any more videos.  Nope, that was the only one!  Interesting how such a popular dance move is virtually non-existent on Youtube.  And this is why I tend to discourage students from looking for dance moves on the Internet.  You'll have a hard time finding what you're looking for, and there's a good chance you won't find it being demonstrated or taught in the exact way you learned it.  The best thing to do is to keep coming back to your actual dance class and practicing these moves with your teacher and with other students.  Repetition and practice with other people is the best way to master and remember a step.

4. Video Instruction Can Never Replace A Physical Lesson.
I read a fun book recently called The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion.  It's a hilarious story about a socially challenged genetics professor who's on a quest to find the right woman to become his wife.  In one part of the book, he's about to go on a first date with a woman who is a ballroom dancer but he's never danced before.  So, in order to impress her, he purchases some instruction videos and learns how to dance in his office.  After two weeks of steady practice by himself, he thinks he's done a good job learning the moves... until it's time for him to dance with his date.  The result is absolutely catastrophic.  As I read through this segment of the story I kept laughing hysterically, but this part of the story brings up a really good point about learning how to dance: you can't rely solely on video instruction.  If you learn to dance using only a video, you have absolutely no guarantee that you're doing the step correctly.  There's isn't a teacher right there watching you and fixing any issues that are bound to crop up.  And even if you were doing it correctly, you're still not dancing with someone, or at least with different people on an actual dance floor, so you can't be sure how the step will work when you actually do go out dancing.
Because of this, I always recommend group lessons over everything else.  Not only will you get a more personalized instruction, but you also get a chance to practice and learn alongside other people, thus being able to adjust and incorporate your moves onto a dance floor more easily than if you were to learn by yourself.

So there you have it: video instruction might be a little useful when learning how to dance, or when you're practicing from home, but they shouldn't be relied upon.  The best results come from going to a studio and taking a group class.  Not only do you get to learn a dance more efficiently and easily, but you also become a part of a dance community, which makes learning and practicing much easier, and more fun, to do.  So go to class people!  It's worth the drive and the money!

Well, that's it for my opinion!  What are your thoughts?
Happy reading everyone!
-Lisa The Dancing Bookworm

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