The Teaching of Dance
by Lady Cailtidh nicFhionnlaigh bean Cato
[ This article appeared in
volume 1 of
the Letter of Dance. ]
I know that many of us love to dance. Even "non-dancers" like to dance. However,
the most frustrating thing is to be told, "Oh, this dance may be too difficult
for you because you don't know dance terminology." This, in itself, is a fallacy.
I can do some very intricate dances, and though I have been dancing in and
out of the SCA for over eleven years, I still do not know the names of some
of the steps or dance sequences. This "lack of knowledge" has not stopped me
yet from learning (and teaching) the dances to others.
In order to teach dance one should know dance. I am not saying that one should
have formal training in classical ballet, but just a knowledge of how a dance
is danced. For instance, if Lady Mary has attended every dance practice and
can do Sellenger's Round backwards with her eyes closed, then she is a good
candidate to teach Sellenger's Round. Although milady may not know all the
dances, knowledge of one or two can be helpful to a dance master/instructor
during those evenings when dance practice seems to be lasting forever and his
voice is dying due to screaming dance instructions over the music to that one
couple who always seem to go left when they should go right and go forward
when they should go left. (No one laugh, we've all done it.) One of the only
ways to know if you can teach a dance is to try teaching it. I will sometimes
review dances that I have not done in a long time while listening to the music.
I even do this before I teach the dance just to be sure. Dance masters/instructors
should encourage new persons to teach, even if the dances they teach are the
most simple dances. I feel a little honored when someone requests to teach
a dance. It makes me feel that I have done my job well as a dance instructor.
I realize that not everyone will know how to dance. This is why I came up with
"Cailtidh's guidelines to teaching dance." They are as follows:
- If everyone is where everyone should be at the time that everyone should be
there, then the dance went well.
- If everyone is on the correct foot at the time and place that everyone should
be on the aforementioned foot, then the dance went better than well.
- If everyone is on the correct foot, using the correct arm position, then the
dance went better than better than well.
- If everyone is on the correct foot, using the correct arming position, with
the correct partner, on the correct beat, using appropriate facial expressions,
and looked beautiful in their attire, then pat yourself on the back for having
well trained dancers.
- However, if no one was using any of the aforementioned "correctness," but had
a great time and requests you to teach again, then you have done best.
- The most important thing to remember is that dancing is fun. If it were not
fun, then why would we do it? (We certainly haven't made much money at it.)
When teaching dance, mention that the dance begins with a certain dance movement
or figure, then demonstrate it. Call it by its appropriate name, if known,
but always make sure that when you say "worship figure" your dancers know what
a worship figure is. Some dances do better calling the movements by their more
modern names. For instance, when teaching Karabushka, I refer to the turn as
a disco turn. I usually get moans and groans, but everyone knows what I mean.
- Remember that when travelling to other kingdoms (or regions within your own),
that not everyone does the dances the same. (I have danced Black Nag seven
different ways.) Do not assume that the way you know a dance is "the correct
way." One has to remember that most dances were never written down. Those that
were written down were mentioned as thus: "and they were dancing a wild dance
in a circle with the ladies dancing to the inside and all skipping." I attended
a girls' boarding school on the border of Scotland and learned "Road to the
Isles" fourteen different ways. All of them "correct." I have always been interested
to learn how a group dances their dances. I have even changed the way I have
taught dances due to my liking them the "new" way. I also will most always
do a walk-through of a dance before I do it at an event or revel. There will
usually be at least one person who is not sure of all of the steps. Instead
of making the person feel uncomfortable to the point that he wishes not to
dance, walk through the dance once to familiarize (and refamiliarize) the person
with the dance. It only takes a few minutes and you may find that someone who
was positive of the dance forgot about that third verse.
- Dance is fun!! Dance is fun!! Dance is fun!! Make it so. Who wants to dance
if he will be yelled at for bumping into someone or stepping on someone's toes
due to forgetting the steps. I have even messed up on dances that I learned
my first year in the Society and that I have done at almost every event I have
attended. One of the best ways to make dance fun is to do it in a period fashion.
That is, using lots of flirting and (non-malicious) gossip. While teaching
pavannes (one up down two up down one two one up down), which tends to bore
me after a while, I will strike up a conversation with my partner about the
way that Lady Mary and Lord John clash. "How could she ever think about wearing
that red dress if she knew that she would most likely end up dancing with him
when everyone knows he always wears that garrish turquoise tunic." Or, "Can
you believe the flamboyancy of Lord John wearing that red velvet doublet? Does
he not know the cost of redying red??" Also any dance that has exchanges of
partners, even if it is brief, had the availability of flirting.
- In closing keep in mind the first time that you danced and the horror you felt
as people threw new terms and had you dance to music that you had never heard
before. However, also keep in mind all of the fun times that you had dancing
and what made it so. Experience is a great instructor. And even when you think
that you "have learned it all" keep your mind open to the possibility that
someone might know it a little bit differently, but still showing a period
style. If everyone had a great time and requests you to teach again, then you
have done best.
In Service to the dream,