Tuesday, 29 July 2014


Every dancer must learn about their feet.This is because you will soon learn that as a dancer you must be comfortable with not just standing on your feet - but you must be able to use your feet to balance yourself (often on only one) - and sometimes you must propel yourself into the air with them. You must know not only how to stand but how to stand with strength and stability using all of the muscles in your feet and you must know how to identify when you are creating stress on your muscles and joints so that you don't injure yourself.

When you begin learning ballet as a child the task of finding your balance is not too much of a challenge but it is the first lesson you learn in dance class. You are usually of smaller stature and falling down is not a novel or unusual experience in your daily life. The art of standing is taught on the first day and continues with many simple challenges or games and we soon find that the little feet just respond because that is what they did last time.

As an adult learning to dance we sometimes skim at a fast forward pace through the simple lessons that are the basis for the subject matter. Why as adults do we think that we can skip a lesson and still keep up? Often there are very valuable lessons to be learned in simple introductory lessons that form the basis of a greater skill. Often we will justify the absence from class in the following manner - "I know how to stand - what do I need to re-learn that for?" Sometimes you think you know something - but you could be missing the nuances of the skill. This means that missing the introductory lesson will not allow you to move up that Conscious Competency Ladder! While you may think you are consciously competent - if you skip that introductory lesson you will find that you are actually unconsciously incompetent!

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

I am no longer Muddling in Moodle - 
I am now Swanning Around!

I am pleased to say that I have finished the on-line course for my PID Program. I have come away with some great information and valuable resources that should make my foray into adult education more enjoyable. As I began the course I was struggling to find the focus of this blog but I forged ahead and found that providing the information about learning was actually quite interesting. As I proceed from here I will try to keep the focus on learning but I may be a little more specific and focus on the subject of learning ballet.

I started in ballet classes when I was about 5 years old. The memories I have of the first class I took were that the teacher was the most graceful lady I had ever seen and she had beautiful red high heel shoes on. That day was the start of a love affair with dance that continues today.  While I have always loved to dance - I also soon learned to love to teach. What I found was that when my mentor (Betty Caplette) asked me to help her with the little children I would have to do things slower, more pronounced and with better technique. When you slow something down and define the parts you will inevitably become better at the performance of the task. I soon became a better dancer because I was a teacher - but I never had the burning desire to dance for anyone other than myself. I loved the stage - but I loved pleasing myself by mastering levels and steps for myself. I know I have found the "sweet spot" in turning a pirouette, a fouette and many other complex moves.

The love of teaching has not diminished. I love the moment when a light comes on in a student's eye because they see the subject differently because I explained it or demonstrated it to them so their brain could figure it out. While my kids were little I held ballet class one day a week with small classes as I felt it was good for my two daughters to take ballet for strength and coordination. More recently I have worked as a trainer for Elections Canada (Langley electoral district) and also Elections B.C. (Langley electoral district). I have found that I want to engage with adults in their learning process. I have used my self confidence of being a dancer to present myself in front of adults and I find that this is what I want to do when I grow up! With only one more course in my diploma program that qualifies me to teach adults - I am excited to find more things to teach and more ways of teaching.

Finally - for those that might not get the reference of the name change of the blog I will explain what Swanning Around means to me. While the phrase is an English euphemism for posing or posturing (Victoria Beckham is always swanning around in a little Gucci dress) - I will use it for another purpose. The swan is a predominant character in ballet (i.e. Swan Lake) and many dancers aim to be as graceful as a swan. What you may not realize about a swan is that while they are seemingly graceful above the water they are most certainly working like mad below the water to move their bodies around the pond. What we as dancers must do is appear to float from the waist up while the lower portion of the body does the bulk of the work with strength and support.

Does talking through something help you to understand it better?

While I was teaching my adult ballet class last night I stopped between barre exercises and talked about the mechanics of the moves, the muscles that we would be using and the sequence of moves for the exercises. When setting up the choreography of the class I worried that the sequences may be unusual or difficult to master but my students have not let me down with their performance of the moves yet.

The secret to their success is the fact that I usually give them an opportunity to "talk through" the moves they are going to make. I encourage them to use my words or to find their own words to connect the moves together in to a viable sequence of events. Here is an example of how this has worked for us.

My students have been learning about releves. They are basic ballet steps that involve balance and core body strength while using alternating legs as support. The action of the releve can be found in this video.

The ballet jargon goes like this -
Releve devant, releve derriere, releve passe en arriere, releve fifth.

What I have suggested to my ladies to help them remember the sequence goes like this -
front foot - down, back foot - down, front foot to the back then stay where you are.

So the question needs to be re-asked - Does talking through something help you to understand it better? Research shows that talking to yourself can be a good idea and that it can indeed help you optimize your performance.I think my own classes have shown that for pyschomotor learning you need to allow your brain to connect to the subject matter with words that can be quickly assimilated into movement. When you are presented with something complex and you are able to perform it by talking your way through it - you will ultimately positively affect your self confidence level. Increased self confidence will allow you to then try more complex moves and the circle expands again.

Once again we have found a topic that goes back to the performance of the brain!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Today I am climbing a ladder! I promise it is safe and I will not fall off...Conscious Competence Ladder Diagram
The Conscious Competency Ladder
The  ladder of learning can be steep and other times quite flat. Today is the day that my students will be able to decide which rung they are standing on. The beautiful thing about adults in the classroom is that they will be happy to take responsibility for their learning and accept that they need to learn more. Sometimes the skill comes easily and other times it is a struggle. Usually when they discover where they are on the ladder they will make great strides to move to the next rung!

Noel Burch, an employee with Gordon Training International, developed the Conscious Competence Ladder in the 1970s. You can use it to manage your emotions during a potentially challenging learning process.The model has four learning levels:
  1. Unconsciously unskilled (Unconsciously Incompetent) – we don't know that we don't have this skill, or that we need to learn it.
  2. Consciously unskilled (Consciously Incompetent) – we know that we don't have this skill.
  3. Consciously skilled (Consciously Competent) – we know that we have this skill.
  4. Unconsciously skilled (Unconsciously Competent) – we don't know that we have this skill (it just seems easy).
The model can be a useful guide for your own learning, but you can also use it when you are coaching others, to guide them through the emotional ups and downs of acquiring new skills. What rung are you on in your learning?

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

This week I was asked why I want to teach adults and it has led me to do some thinking about all that I have learned since I have entered my Provincial Instructor Diploma Program. Why indeed!

I think the greatest factor is that I feel I can bring things to life and engage learners in the subject matter. When I first began training people (through the election process in my local electoral district) I thought of myself as a performer. Yes - I was "the Sage on the Stage" and here we are almost a year into the diploma program and I realize that while I do have a "performance" side - I also have an ability to engage other adults and present material and allow them to make their own decisions. I realize now that the better teaching scenario is to "Guide on the Side" by allowing adults to take responsibility for their learning and to assist them as they see fit. These characteristics are what make teaching adults an enjoyable experience for me.

Characteristics of the Adult Learner

Adults are a pleasure to teach as they are generally motivated and eager to be in a classroom setting. I enjoy the interactions they provide and the input to the curriculum that they provide from their own life experiences. In particular I love that moment when a student has an "a-ha" moment and the concept cements itself in their own mind or body.

The word to describe adult learning is Andragogy. Quite a coincidence that this is the majority of my name? I think not! It is quite obvious that I should be involved in this experience.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Today a friend told me that I tickle her brain. What a sweet and funny sentiment! It has occurred to me that it has taken me exactly 10 weeks to effect a change in one of my student’s lives. This certainly tickled my brain!

To put it all in context – I was teaching my adult ballet class and I always start by asking the ladies to speak about something that happened in the last class that has stuck with them for the week. I feel that this interlude brings their minds back to the dance studio and gets them remembering what we worked through the week prior and hopefully “gets their head in the game” before we begin the class. It always surprises me what is meaningful to my students and also what has stuck!

The surprising thing that was brought up this week was our discussion last week about how exercise can actually fight debilitating diseases like Alzheimer’s. There is a good article about this subject by US News. Another of the ladies said she has been struggling to get her legs to do the correct exercises at the ballet barre and last week she stopped focusing on her legs and focused on her posture and body structure. Her big surprise was that when she shifted the focus off the legs onto her body – her legs suddenly started doing exactly what she wanted them to do. Again the brain is an amazing machine!

Just to keep my ladies going I promised that I would stop teaching them about their brains and teach them about balance and core body strength. I am just wondering how long it will take them to figure out that no matter what I teach them about their body – it always relates back to their brains! I guess they will figure it out when reading this blog! Just in case you want to know why you have a brain – I have found a TED Talk by Daniel Wolpert that explains it beautifully!

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The sun is out - the birds are singing and I feel like I want to break into song. Happy by Pharrell Williams comes to mind first off... but you don't want to hear me sing.

  So while Pharrell has produced a wonderfully popular song that has stayed on the top 40 for quite a while - it started to bug me last night. Yes - it is very repetitive. And the funny thing is that I was talking to my ballet students about the virtues of being repetitive! What can repetition do for us? In a song it is pleasant for a short time and then after a while it just starts to grind on my nerves. BUT - in motor-skill development repetition is wonderful. Why do we do it? To create muscle memory!

What is muscle memory? It's training our muscles right? Wrong! We are really training our brain! Of course you know that as everything you do is managed by your brain. Here is the interesting part - while you are training your brain to respond in a certain manner you are also rewiring your brain. You are creating new neural pathways and stimulating brain activity. This happens in physical exercise (you have to think about it to do it well) and it happens when you do something like Sudoku. By creating new neural pathways you are also fighting brain degenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. So get out there and be repetitively active!

The saddest news I have for you is that research has found that it generally takes about 10,000 hours of practice to reach mastery of a skill. I am sure that is why you may want to start very early in life learning physical skills. If you want to check out more information about muscle memory I have two websites for you to visit - one from lifehacker and one from Sports n' Science.

Now go back and crank up Pharrell and dance - only 9,999 hours and 56 minutes still to go to reach mastery!!!