25 December 2008

4 Stages of Dance. What level are you at?

One part of my occupation is as a training professional. I am always on the lookout for material regarding adult learning theory. I stumbled upon this article. Its a classic learning model, but adopted to dance. 

This article was originally written with Ballroom dance in mind. However, I find it more poignant to the study of Argentine Tango as our dance is improvisational by it's very nature. This method of learning would be a disciple worth investing in for the aspiring Tango dancer.

Credit goes to: - by Dean Paton, on whose site I found the original article: http://www.nwdance.net/4_stages.html. I have made redactions to facilitate better reading in this medium.

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  • Dances and 4 Stages of Mastery
  1. Unconscious Incompetence
  2. Conscious Incompetence
  3. Conscious Competence
  4. Unconscious Competence
Here perhaps is a more useful way to approach the pleasant discipline we call "learning to dance." Instead of picturing the classes you take as a linear sequence - say, progressing through four levels of Swing - imagine yourself in an evolutionary process called the learning cycle, four distinct stages through which all human beings progress whenever they learn anything new.

1) Unconscious Incompetence
In this stage you have little experience or skill. In fact, you're likely quite bad, but because you don't know how truly bad you are, you don't feel bad, and your self-esteem isn't crippled. Yet.

2) Conscious Incompetence
True damage to self-esteem (and the false confidence that coexists with the bliss of ignorance) often occurs in this second stage of learning - Conscious Incompetence. As your awareness evolves into this stage, you begin to realize how little you know. Perhaps you notice how impossible it seems for you and your partners to do much of anything smoothly. You certainly convince yourself that practically everyone at every dance or class is so talented that you'd never think of dancing with them. You may well flee the dance early, and might even avoid such terrifying places of public exhibition for weeks.A vital step in the learning cycle. For once your exaggerated sense of self-loathing finds an equilibrium, you have the chance for some valuable self-assessment -- you can begin to determine your strengths and weaknesses, and from this sense of where you really are you can begin to focus on strategies for improvement. Much learning occurs here.

As your skills get better and your body works with your mind to integrate new steps and moves into your dancing, you evolve into stage three -- Conscious Competence. 

3) Conscious Competence
This is enjoyable and exciting for most people, because they not only start seeing themselves as good dancers, they realize how much they have learned. Others tell them how enjoyable they are to dance with, now that they've reached a certain competence, so a reborn confidence repairs their self-esteem.

Nevertheless, dancers in the Conscious Competence stage spend much of each dance thinking about what move to execute next, and how to balance the effort required to choreograph the next eight bars with the excitement of connecting with their partner. Brains occasionally go on overload, and feet still get trampled, but in general Conscious Competence is an enjoyable stage. Most people spend considerably more time here than in the first two stages. It is also a plateau where many dancers choose to remain.

4) Unconscious Competence
True mastery isn't attained until this fourth stage of learning . This is the place where there is little or no difference between what the body has practiced to perfection and the mind has learned. You no longer think about your frame, or what move comes next. In fact, you don't think much (about the moves, at least). Instead, you're free to enjoy the moment and genuinely connect with your partner. Those who manage to reach this level of mastery are sought after, indeed revered on the dance floor.

The trick is in the getting there. Anyone who manages to take most of the classes offered is pretty much guaranteed to reach stage three -- Conscious Competence. After a year or so of Walter, Julie, or any other instructor, drilling you with new steps and old jokes, you'll dance comfortably with most partners and have a good time.

To achieve mastery, however, you may well have to abandon the linear approach -- give up the convenient notion that simply by progressing through a prescribed sequence of classes you'll end up a great dancer. When we think linearly, we tend to think in terms of quantity instead of quality, or we make alienating comparisons: I want to learn more slick moves; I'll only dance with partners at my level; she's better than I am (or I'm better than him). The trap here is that you risk becoming a dance snob, a stylized technician with the moves of Fred or Ginger, but the heart and soul of Schwarzenegger's Terminator.

When you dance with someone who has achieved mastery, you know it within a few seconds. These partners allow you to look and feel grand, not better than you are, but as good as you can be. You connect. You'll dance with them again and again. Such mastery is an art form, a gift they give to each of their partners. You can choose mastery, just as you can choose to stay at stage three. Both options are valid.

If you opt for mastery, however, part of the prescription is to start seeing each Living Traditions class not as a step in a finite sequence but as a timeless opportunity for learning. So what if you've taken Slow Waltz 2 twice, or Foxtrot 2 three times? Go back and take Slow Waltz 1 again. And again and again. Plunge back into Foxtrot 1, or Swing 2, or try role reversal. What you learn will not necessarily be a published part of the curriculum, but as you guide a less experienced dancer toward new confidence and grace, as you forget about your own footwork and simply enjoy moving with your partner to a new level of competence, your own dancing will transport you to a place of uncommon joy, and you will learn far more than you ever learned the first time through. About dancing, and about yourself.

That's the real magic of any dance class. No matter how many times you take it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Chris. That you have found this good work of someone else to bring here speaks to your generosity as well as to your insight into the learning process.

I must say, however, that your own writing is outstanding. I look forward to reading more of it. I hope you won't post only on Christmas day.

I did like the template I saw yesterday better than today's.

Keep up the good work.

-- Alan

msHedgehog said...

It happens seperately for each skill I learn. I think I wrote about this, long ago.

I'd be interested to know what you thought on my current comments thread (the lid one, I mean, 2nd on page today) - but I can also imagine you might prefer not to get involved. The bit about smiles would benefit from your lights, though.

AmpsterTango said...

To Alan:

Thank you. I'm honored that you think so. All the posts I had, sat in the edit box since July. I did not want to publish them until, I was happy with their composition. I thought Christmas day would be a good day to launch.

I also change it back to the first template.

To msHedgehog:

Learning levels for different skills is normal and to be expected. Each one of us has different thresholds and is all part of the evolutionary learning process.

I posted my opinion on (the lid) post. What do you think of my take on it?


Anonymous said...

Yes, I've read this and thought the level descriptions were very astute. It seems that an unfortunately large percentage of dancers are stuck on #2...