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What would you save?

welcome to IdyllwildI am watching the news as Idyllwild, California is in danger due to a forest fire. I was Vice President at Idyllwild Arts for five years and it has a special place in my heart.

All my friends and their homes are safe – for which I am grateful. Now I hold my breath that its beautiful campus doesn’t burn down. I love those buildings – I raised money to build some of those buildings. I know they are only things, only possessions, but I worry for them.

All of this got me thinking – what would I grab if I had to evacuate quickly? When I lived in Idyllwild, we were always ready to evacuate because of fire or earthquakes. I kept my photos in bins under the stairs, ready to throw in the car. I also needed any work files, computer, or papers. I also needed to take my jewelry, clothes, and shoes.They were my biggest investment during my working years. I planned to pile as many as I could in the car before I took off.

Now? What would I throw in the car? Most of the photos are digitized. All of my clothes are dance pants and tops suitable for tapping. I no longer have Hugo Boss suits or expensive shoes. Well, actually, I kept the shoes – I like to look at them arrayed on the shelves. Everything else can be easily replaced by going back in my order history on Amazon – press of a button.

Ok, think Jolynn. You’ve got 20 minutes. What would you save? Cathy and Lucy. Then I’d drive over to make sure Connor and Melissa and dogs are safe.

I like this. It’s freeing. Nothing is all that important to me anymore. Except maybe my iphone. And my computer. And my xbox. Tap shoes. Well, other than those.

What would you save in your allotted 20 minutes?

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.

Tap Dance – It’s all in your head!

Dancing FeetYes, I know tap dance is physical. There is anatomy, movement and muscle memory that are all integral to teaching students.

The BRAIN, however, is crucial to tap.

One teaching technique that allows the brain to learn faster and more efficiently is chunking.

Chunking is the idea that you put anything you teach into small pieces. Those pieces then fit together to form ribbons of knowledge that, again, fit together in various ways to allow you to remember larger amounts of information. This is critical to learning science, math, and many other subjects.

It is exactly the way tap dancing is taught. Chunks! Often when you are showing a new step or series of steps, the students are disconcerted or disheartened at the jumble of taps or intricacy of movements. However, through chunking, the students can more easily break down, learn, and maintain the new steps.

It is only natural to teach chunks of tap. We all do it. Put simply, you teach a shuffle in one lesson. You teach a ball change in another. During the third lesson, you put them both together.

Scientifically speaking, a chunk is a network of neurons that are accustomed to firing together so that you can think a thought or perform an action smoothly and effectively. Focus and repetition help to strengthen the neural pathway that is formed when you first learn the chunk.

Artistically speaking, the beauty of learning in chunks is that you can be creative. You are not stuck with one particular step to use over and over. You put the chunks together in new and creative ways.

In the meantime, your brain is using that neural pathway that has become stronger and stronger each time you do the step or even THINK about the step!

As I work on reclaiming my tap skills learned so long ago and especially in teaching my classes, I am having a wonderful time incorporating science and other processes into my practice.

I LOVE TO TEACH TAP AND I LOVE TO TAP DANCE! I smile every time I put on my shoes. I’m going to explore how this feeling can be explained through science, psychology, sociology, technology and probably many other -ologies. In the meantime, please know that I’m enjoying every difficult step that I finally master, every new song I hear that is perfect for teaching a flap, every time one of my students does something she’s never done before and looks at me with that amazed expression on her face. It’s always a joy. It’s tap.