Dance · Retrospective · Thoughts · Travel

The Truth About Levels (and other thoughts from Lindyfest)

On Levels

The thing that I like most about Lindyfest* is that you get into your (arbitrary) level (auditioning for only Advanced and Masters) and you got to attend ANY of the classes in or below your level. And I have been taking FULL advantage of it. Even though I auditioned and was placed in advance, I have only really taken two of the classes set aside for my level.

* — At least one of the things. There are a lot of things. (As you will see if you keep reading.

And this is not due to the fact I felt I was not comfortable at the advanced level. More so that I was looking for teachers (i.e. – Skye & Frida) or subjects that I was personally interested (i.e. – Intermediate Balboa).

But it also allowed me to personally compare the difference between the levels. And I’ll tell you something:

LEVELS ARE ARBITRARY!

Teachers will take the same thing and teach it to different levels.

THE DIFFERENCE IS: what you as a dancer get out of it.

A beginner/intermediate classes will focus more on vocabulary, on the shape. They’ll break the move down (to a degree).

A more upper level class will expect you to get the move without really a break down, but spend more time talking about the guts of the move. WHY it works.

It’s natural for us to be hung up on how we compare to others. And these [arbitrary] levels give us a scale to measure ourselves against one another. However, just because you might be recognizably better than another person does not mean you cannot have fun on the dance floor.

And yes, dancing with the more experienced dancers is rewarding and fun and challenging. But so can dancing with those who are less experienced or still working on that break through.

One more thing, I think a lot of people think (at least in the beginning) that in the upper level classes there are these secrets to being an amazing dancer that the beginner levels just don’t have.

That. Is. A. Lie!

The more “advanced” moves that you see are the same moves in beginner and intermediate classes (albeit with a variation or a twist thrown in for an added challenge), but for the most part it was a focus on the more technical aspects of connection, tension, stretch. Probably the most “advanced” class I went to, we did the swing out and a free spin. That’s it.

We were practicing our connection (where the leads closed their eyes as follows styled), direction, stretch. And all we did was the fucking swing out and free spin. No secrets that only “advanced” dancers get to know. We literally tell you everything at the beginning. It just takes a while to learn how to move your body different ways and your “level” is just where you are in that learning process.

So if you’re faced with a choice on what classes to take based on these arbitrary levels, read the descriptions from “Beginners” to “Masters” and think what exactly do you want out of this experience. Do you want more vocabulary and general practice with the shape of the dance, you might want to look at Beginner/Intermediate. Do you want to explore stretch and connection? Maybe Intermediate/Advanced.

The best description of any level is on the Swing Out New Hampshire‘s website: “If all that the instructors worked on for 4 days in Level 5 was Swing Outs (not that they will, but who knows), you would be just fine with that.”

You’re not going to catapult your dancing level by skipping to the very top. If anything you’re going to be frustrated with yourself and the class. Be honest with yourself and don’t focus on the level aspect. You’re taking classes to become a better dancer so you can have more fun on the dance floor. And no matter what, you’re going to meet some awesome people.

Also recommended reading: The Truth About Being an Advanced Dancer.

On Teaching

Many a’time I would not look at the level of the class that I was in. Merely who was teaching and what. As a result I went to roughly half advanced-level classes. The rest were   varied but had one thing in common: the teachers.

A common correlation people assume is that if someone is an amazing dancer they must be (AT LEAST) a good teacher. Now at this point, you’re probably saying to yourself “Well, of course THAT’S not true.” I’m glad we agree.

Plus, teaching styles are a personal taste. Some people prefer one teaching style to another, so what I say here you may not agree with. But what I noticed about my favorite classes:

We danced. A lot. Like 70% of the time.

They counted out new steps once or twice but then just sang a melody to dance to.

They made us find the beginning of the phrase in the music to start.

They emphasized the pulse at the beginning and began with a Solo Charleston warm up.

They focused on the social aspect of dancing. Something that I feel that many have forgotten about.

They talked about the followers role in the dance–how we’re dancers and not “just following”. (I can appreciate that.)

Those are just a couple of things that struck me.

I wish I could tie up these thoughts neatly. But really I just wanted to get everything out there. So here it is. Levels are arbitrary. And some thoughts on teachers.

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