Monthly Archives: January 2016

So you think you know your dance…

“Of course I know the dance!” I confidently tell myself. After all, I found the music. I choreographed it. I taught it to the class in this very room for heaven’s sake!

Three steps into the dance on a stage across town… and suddenly, I’m lost.

This is a perfect example of an Illusion of Competence.

When you are learning something, you can fool yourself into thinking that you know the material when you don’t. For example, you may have the solution to an algebra problem in front of you. You look at it and say, “Oh yeah. I know how that happened. I know how it’s solved.” However, you haven’t worked the problem out yourself. You only know how someone else has done it. It hasn’t been learned deeply in your brain.

This can happen in dance:

  • You nail the step when the teacher stands in front of you, but can you do it by yourself?
  • One of the other students taps next to you and calls out the steps. If that student is absent one day, you can’t dance!
  • You can see the other dancers in the mirror, but if there is no mirror, you don’t do as well.

One particularly insidious Illusion of Competence happens when you absorb subliminal cues around you as you learn. You are all at sea when you perform someplace different.

As the teacher, I need to direct a more efficient learning environment for my students.

  1. First, of course, I want to make certain they understand the steps and are able to do them. Teaching in chunks is one way to do this. In future blogs, I’ll talk more about other teaching methods and ideas.
  2. Second, shake it up! Unknowingly, you can take in subliminal cues from the space around you or the people in that space. This can throw you off when you have to dance in an unfamiliar performance venue. To combat this, practice in a different place… or even facing a different wall. Put an impromptu audience together to view a performance. Wear a different pair of shoes.

I learned about Illusions of Competence in a course I took about how the brain learns. The professors applied it to learning subjects in school, but I thought it matched perfectly with tap dancing.

A quick side-note regarding a book I’m reading and would like to recommend: What the Eye Hears: A History of Tap Dancing. This book came out in late 2015. It is written by Brian Seibert, a dance critic and writer for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Village Voice, The LA Times, etc. etc. I’ve just started it and I am fascinated.

I’m off on my tap cruise. I look forward to meeting new tappers! This is a real change of venue for me. I won’t be under any illusions at all.