So I’m taking ballet. I’m not especially coordinated, mind you, nor does it really seem as if there’s much point, considering you pretty much have to start as a child in order to get in the 10,000 hours necessary to achieve proficiency (so says Malcolm Gladwell in “The Tipping Point,”) but I’m ignoring all of these practical considerations and doing it anyway, because I can. When I was in college I tried to minor in dance, and it lasted about two semesters until this unfortunate episode involving snow and an inner tube up on Mt. Lemmon… I fractured my second lumbar vertebra, and subsequently had to walk around like I had a book on my head for two weeks because it took me that long to get an appointment with the orthopedist. Thus ended my would-be career as a ballerina.
Anyway, it’s an unusual learning environment for me, for two reasons: 1) I’m kind of like Hermione from Harry Potter in terms of learning style, but kinesthetic movement (sadly) can’t really be learned from a book, and 2) I usually arrive at ballet straight from work, and I’m generally kind of fried and not in any mood to think too hard. I catch myself zoning out a lot. So it makes a big difference who the teacher is.
One girl is European, and she has these beautiful dancer legs with calves the size of her head. I gather that because ballet is so intuitive for her, she just assumes that if she shows us adult beginners a sequence once, we’ve got it memorized. When it becomes apparent that this is not, in fact, the case, she goes for the encouragement strategy (i.e. “Come on, don’t think about it so hard, just let yourself feel the movement!”), as if the problem is that we’re all just too shy to demonstrate our true proficiency… when in reality we’re all looking around the room to see if anybody knows whether a soussus or a tendu or a port-de-bras comes next.
Then I went to a class taught by a very cheerful substitute instead (she hugged me after class, not sure why.) She did not look nearly so much the part of a ballerina, but she explained everything in words, rather than trusting that we would see a sequence and automatically understand the pattern behind it. I was amazed at how much better I was in her class! It isn’t that the regular teacher isn’t good — on the contrary, she’s obviously an excellent dancer… but I wonder if that hinders her ability to instruct those less naturally gifted than herself. When I first started teaching chemistry, for instance, I was totally unqualified, and I’m not sure why they hired me, to be honest — I had to reteach myself each topic just before I lectured on it. But because I had to break down every principle into patterns and words for myself, I then did the same for my class. It turned out that that approach worked much better than just solving several similar problems for them, hoping they would intuitively grasp the underlying principles.
So I might not be learning a ton of ballet, but I’m intrigued at what I’m learning about teaching strategies.
Also, I have not yet bought another pair of ballet shoes, because I’m not yet sure if I want to invest in them. So I dance in my socks and my yoga pants. Don’t judge me.