Feedback, Skills and Learning

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I do have other interests outside of ballroom. For the last however many years, I’ve participated in a couple of fantasy baseball leagues and won a time or two. Don’t really talk about it because there are others with far more insight than me. (Yes, this is a post about ballroom and I’ll get there in a minute)

To prep, I usually read several sources and do some of my own work to try and make educated guesses on which players are going to be valuable. One thing I remembered reading was the comment that once a player demonstrates a particular skill, he owns it. There was more I don’t remember but that comment kind of stuck with me.

Which does bring us back to the world of ballroom. Dancing can be thought of as a series of interconnected skills. The more you learn and master, the better and smoother your dancing becomes. Part of the reason for doing Showcase is to get feedback from the judges which gives you a benchmark to work from. It shows the skills you own and the ones that still need to be developed.

Over the years, the feedback forms have evolved. It used to be more free form comments but, for this last one, they listed several different skills (posture, timing, lead/follow, top line and cuban motion were the ones I remembered). So, if the judges observed you doing something right, they could circle it and/or put a check by it. Anything that you maybe weren’t doing as well could be marked as “CTD” or “continue to develop”. Which is a nice way of putting things.

Oh, and to be clear, Cuban motion doesn’t apply across all dances but it is a big part of the rhythm ones so that’s why it is there.

When I get the feedback, I try to see what meta lessons I can learn. In other words, the individual slips aren’t as important as the overall message. Where I stood out the strongest were in lead/follow and timing and then posture was also checked more often than not. So you could say I own these skills.

It was good to see the marks for timing (even for Mambo!). That was something Kid T was able to drum into me but I know that it also depends on the quality of the sound system. I really need to hear (or maybe better to say feel) the music and, if I can, then I can stay on time. There is something different about the sound system at the studio compared to the old one and staying on time in the studio is sometimes a struggle. But I knew I could do it if the music was right and this just proved that to me. Haven’t lost the skill – just need the right set up to actually demonstrate it.

Posture was the next problem area and it was good to see that it has improved. Not really sure that I own it yet but it is better than it was.

Oh, and the reason this becomes important is that when you own a skill, it becomes almost automatic. You don’t have to think about the timing or how to lead a step. That allows you to shift focus to other things.

I mentioned before that we had so many heats at this last Showcase that they had to shorten the time you were on the floor. I also think that because of the large number of international heats, they had to reduce the number of heats in other dances and so many of the most popular dances had eight couples on the floor. This didn’t give the judges enough time to really focus so it was kind of hit or miss on what they saw.

I know this because I had a coaching lesson on Tuesday. We danced the Fox Trot in front of one of the judges and he seemed impressed. And then he said something about just being able to make quick impressions while judging so maybe I did better than he thought.

But, as he said, there is always something to learn. If you take up ballroom, you need to remember that you are always a work in progress. That’s why it is important to understand why you are doing it and what your goals are.

With the Fox Trot, he worked on trying to lead certain things more through rise and fall than through rotation. He tried to emphasize where to use power and where to then back off and control the power. Bolero was similar – except that the main lesson was to use more rotation to make the back half of the step easier. Think of a coiled spring exploded. And with Rumba, we worked on a way to get the illusion of movement while trying to protect the knee a bit more. All good stuff. And we spent the rest of the week trying to practice those skills.

So after the fun of Showcase, we are now back to the grind working on ways to keep moving forward. It is the never ending cycle of ballroom.

One last note. It seems like I’m becoming the go to when an instructor wants to show a new student how something may look. Last night, the newest instructor asked us to demonstrate a bronze Waltz step for her wedding couple. It is literally true that I hadn’t done this step in years. All I can say is thank you muscle memory because we pulled it off.

And, with that, we’ll wrap up for the day.

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