You know how teachers like to give trivial or overly simplified advice from time to time? Yeah.
Being on the receiving end is baffling, frustrating, and limiting. But muddled as the advice is, usually they have an actual point.
This post explores a collection of 10 particularly useless pieces of advice.
I’ll explain why each piece of dance advice is confusing and give “Possible Translations.” These are examples of what your teacher may be trying to express.
If you get these pieces of advice and are confused, mentally translate. In some instances you may need clarification from the teacher.
Full disclosure: I personally feel annoyed when I hear advice like this. Perhaps you can be a better student than me and contemplate the meanings behind the words.
Here we go:
Useless Dance Advice #1. “Relax.”
Why it doesn’t work: It’s not specific enough. Relax what? Relax how?
Possible translations: Relax [specific muscle group]. Breathe normally and don’t hold your breath.
Useless Dance Advice #2. “Just have fun.”
Why it doesn’t work: Frankly, the learning process is not always fun. There are many times when you’ll need to keep chugging on in the face of adversity. This is a personality trait called grit, and it’s an extremely important component of your success.
Possible translations: Be okay with making mistakes. Bring a sense of joy into your dancing whenever possible.
Useless Dance Advice #3. “Stop over thinking it.”
Why it doesn’t work: This advice is usually given in slight exasperation or annoyance when you are talking through your ideas and learning process. It can have the effect of minimizing your intellectual capacity and enthusiasm.
Possible translations: Try it and find out if your ideas work. Be okay with making mistakes. Use trial and error to feel out an answer.
Useless Dance Advice #4. “You’ll do fine.”
Why it doesn’t work: We all know we’re going to look at least a little stupid. When a teacher or friend says this, it feels like they are dismissing your fears.
Possible translation: I believe in you, and I won’t judge you for making mistakes.
Useless Dance Advice #5. “The leader leads, and the follower follows.”
Why it doesn’t work: It encourages you to think conventionally about the meanings of “lead” and “follow.” Dance partnership is a two-way communication that is actually quite complex. For example, the leader must learn to be constantly responsive to the follow, and the follow must learn to be fully engaged in the creative process.
Possible translation: Connection will feel more simple and intuitive the more you get the hang of it.
Useless Dance Advice #6. “Turn your brain off.”
This advice is usually given to follows.
Why it doesn’t work: It is literally incorrect. Our brains are actually quite active when dancing, it’s just in a different way. It’s also a bit sexist, isn’t it? Some people feel that followers (who are usually women) shouldn’t be making their own decisions; they should dance on autopilot.
Possible translations: Think about one thing at a time. Focus on the connection. Focus on the music. Lag behind the beat/your partner.
Useless Dance Advice #7. “Make it more natural.”
Why it doesn’t work: Many of us grew up learning decidedly unnatural movement habits and not doing enough activity. “Natural” doesn’t mean much to culture that sits in front of a computer screen 8 hours a day.
Possible translations: Let your arms swing with the twisting movement of your torso. Practice functional movements (e.g. walking, squatting, jumping) and bring what you learn into your dancing.
Useless Dance Advice #8. “You don’t need the counts, or counting will hold you back.”
Why it doesn’t work: Numbers are the only precise way to express what the rhythm is, and where you are in the song. Counting the rhythm is one of the first things I learned when reading music. Scatting rhythm exclusively is like trying to do math with Roman numerals.
Possible translations: Try to feel the rhythm in your body instead of just your head. Practice scatting to get a more intuitive feel of the rhythm and body movement.
Useless Dance Advice #9. “Listen to lots of music.”
Why it doesn’t work: People without musical training don’t know what to listen for in music. You could listen to thousands of hours of music and still only improve marginally. Plus the word “lots” is misleading. How much is “lots?” If I go social dancing 3 hours a week, am I listening to enough music? (Probably not.)
Possible translations: Learn how to listen to music. Listen to popular songs repeatedly and try to dissect them. Learn AABA and other song structures. Learn to identify different types of music.
Useless Dance Advice #10. “The way to get good at lindy hop is by doing lindy hop.”
Why it doesn’t work: First, not all practice is created equal. Second, there are lots of non-lindy hop things you may need to do to improve, depending on your individual strengths and weaknesses.
Possible translations: Do a lot of high-quality dance practice outside of social dances. Ask a trusted dance teacher for specific advice tailored to you.
But are they 100% useless?
While I like keeping things simple, platitudes obscure meaning. Occasionally, for the right student, these phrases might make perfect sense. More often they are hit or miss, thus resigning them to the “useless” category.
By the way, this post is not intended to disparage dance teachers or others who give you advice. They genuinely want to help you! Some spend long hours working on class material and developing teaching skills.
Even so, not every piece of advice is going to work for you. Meet them halfway and try to get to the heart of what they are saying.
If you need help getting your practice groove on, check out my online course: Secrets of Better Dance Practice.