Friday, June 19, 2009

Teaching on the Dance Floor

On Tuesday I found myself on the dance floor in a Salsa club, celebrating my girlfriend's birthday. I'm not much of a Salsa dancer (my style is more "crazy post-modern interpretive"), so I had some time to observe others on the dance floor. What I saw was extremely interesting, from an arts-learning standpoint.

After every song, most dancers would change partners, frequently dancing with people they have not danced with before, . In a certain sense, every new partnership requires some element of learning: no two dancers will have exactly the same way of leading, no two dancers will know the same moves or execute them in the same way, and it is likely that many partnerships will have unequal distribution of ability and experience. It can be assumed that there will be a few moments of "calibration" as new pairs get the measure of each other, and that some dancers deal with this uncertainty better than others. It would be interesting to investigate the characteristics of those dancers capable of fitting seamlessly into new partnerships - they might be considered effective "learners" in this new, uncertain situation. Regardless, we can be sure that some sort of learning must occur if the partners, unknown to each other before this dance, come to dance effectively with each other - often all during a single short song!

We can also zoom out of the situation, considering the whole room rather than the single dancer. During each dance both partners will undergo a particular dancing experience. As Dewey notes, each experience we undergo colours our future experiences - crudely, we learn something from everything we experience. Perhaps a dancer learns a new move, or a new sequence. Perhaps they are led in a slightly different way than they have been led before. Whatever their new experience, each dancer carries it with them to their next partnership.

Imagine looking down at the dance floor from above - focus on the lady in the red dress. Watch as she moves from partner to partner, learning a little something each time, each new partnership coloured by the one before. Now zoom out again and observe all the shifting partnerships as they evolve throughout the night. We might conceive this as a social web of informal micro-learning, in which different individuals collaborate to create an experience that is fulfilling for all.

Finally, I noticed some less experience dancers being offered assistance from veterans - one gentleman in particular was helping other couples develop their Salsa skills. This is an interesting phenomenon - a peripatetic pedagogue, presumably with no formal training, offering his services for free simply because he knew things other people wanted to know.

I wonder if any studies have been done on the learning-dynamics of the dance floor? This is REALLY informal learning!

No comments: