I practiced leading again last weekend, and I have developed a strong opinion about one thing in particular: The best classes do not pair up beginning leaders and beginning followers. A truly great class would pair up beginning leaders with experienced followers and beginning followers with experienced leaders. And if it’s hard to entice experienced dancers to come to a class for beginners (although there is always room for reviewing the fundamentals and encouraging new dancers), perhaps they could come to the class for free and/or have a practica afterwards in which everyone could dance with everyone else.
It might be obvious why I am advocating this, but I will elaborate anyway. I noticed, as a very beginning follower, that I wasn’t really learning how to follow while taking classes with other beginners. I helped the leaders too much. I overcompensated for their faults and also had trouble recognizing my own. It wasn’t until I got to practicas and started dancing with more advanced leaders that I really advanced in my following. If I felt that way as a beginning follower, I feel even more so as a beginning leader. Leading a very beginning follower last weekend felt impossible – I knew that I was making mistakes, but I couldn’t separate them at all from my follower’s mistakes. And, as a follower myself, I had to fight the urge to hyperevaluate my follower (placing all the blame on her, pointing out everything she needed to correct, etc). I wanted to avoid that. I wanted help with my own dancing.
The class went ok, and I learned the basics ideas of what I should be doing, but it wasn’t until I danced with one of the teachers that I really figured out what was going on. No, I wasn’t having trouble getting into cross system, but I needed to be using my torso more as I led ochos. (I didn’t dare use it more with my beginning follower, who was already pivoting herself plenty!) Later, when I danced a couple songs with this same teacher, it was easy to identify all the places where I need to focus my attention. I was aware of changes I need to make in my posture, steps that I don’t make as smoothly as I could, etc. Those ten minutes with the teacher were probably more helpful than the other hour of class, and not just because of her verbal feedback.
Would you have liked to have mixed-level classes as a beginner? Now that you have experience, what would entice you to come to a beginning class to help new dancers? Would you also consider attending a milonga targeted at beginners? (I now feel guilty for not attending a milonga like this, here – one that has shorter tandas to reduce the stress, and one that encourages more experienced dancers to attend in order to help the beginners gain experience and comfort in a milonga setting. I may start going, when I can.)