Acting as if

[ From a Facebook post from June 25, 2015, with an additional note about a possible solution. ]

I have begun recognizing a common debilitating – I think I’d have to call it attitude or maybe mindset that interferes enormously with that student’s ability to allow their body to simply respond in its own way “just to see what happens.” (Common, but thankfully low in numbers.) To me it seems as if they have been somewhat “crippled” kinesthetically, such that instead of seeing someone perform an action, then empathizing in their body with how that might feel, they instead try to mentally reproduce the action by moving their body to match the visual aspects that they notice. Instead of letting their body discover natural movement for a purpose, they try to mind direct it.
The problems, pretty obviously, are that the mind doesn’t and can’t act quickly enough to positionally control the body in a natural and effective way, and that they can’t even see or correctly interpret every aspect of what they take in visually.

I hallucinate that these are people who have never learned to “let go”, or perhaps more accurately, they were taught** at a young age to keep themselves under tight wraps. It’s the kind of attitude where, when someone introduces a game or exercise (in a dance or other setting), the person seems to see it, not as a fun activity to explore, but rather as some form of test.

I wonder about your experiences in this regard, and whether you’ve developed fruitful approaches to help people “forget themselves” and “let go”?

** Ah, schooling, the molder of minds and bodies. We’re taught to behave, and, “An average child who starts school at the age of five and leaves at the age of 18 will probably have sat for more than 20,000 hours during that time.” –The Alexander Technique Workbook. Hey, by that measure and Malcolm Gladwell’s criteria, they are experts twice over in sitting!

A helpful idea? We could use the NLP (Neurolinguistic Programming) injunction to, “Act as if.” So we say, “Observe the teacher, or some person, or think of someone you’ve seen who does this really well. We’re not yet at a level where we can copy what they are doing, and our unconscious body can help us get better and better at this. So instead of copying that person, allow yourself to be that person with all the capabilities that this body (gesturing to their entire body) has in it. Act as if you are that person.

Paint your picture

Coaching wisdom from 50 year pro wrestling veteran George de la Isla, owner of America’s Academy of Professional Wrestling in Pflugerville. Wrestler Ricky Starks recalls George’s words on his first day there, “What I want to do is help you paint your picture how you want to paint it, but I want to show you how to use the paint, how to use broad strokes over here, the small strokes over there. Whatever you paint with it is up to you but let me show you how.”

As reported in the 25-June-2017 issue Austin American-Statesman.

The squeeze, rub technique

Summary: We can use silent, invisible signals that communicate in a positive way to our student or partner, where a hand squeeze indicates, “There’s that thing we talked about,” or “a thing we should talk about.” A back rub indicates, “I like what you did there.”

Please forgive the titillating title for this article, a full title should be The hand squeeze, back rub feedback technique. One of my Austin teachers has a handy (also, forgive the pun) way to unobtrusively give instant feedback. We talk about an issue to improve, then during our practice/test dancing they will give a quick hand squeeze whenever feeling the problem.

Studies show that for early stages of learning, positive feedback can be most helpful: “Yes, do more of that!” Then at higher and the highest levels of skill development, negative feedback, pointing out errors serve best: “Don’t do that!” Wouldn’t it be useful to have an easy way to give feedback in both directions, negative and positive?

Check or X
Now here’s an idea for practice sessions, whether teacher-student or practice partners.

  • Either partner can give the signal.
  • Hand squeeze equals, “I want to feel more comfortable,” or “I want greater clarity.”
  • Hand rub on back equals, “That felt good. I want more of that!” Or, “Nice correction.”

Then,

  • Stop, back up to the step(s) immediately preceding signal.
  • Receiver of signal tells partner what they think the partner wants more of or less of, and why.
  • Hand squeeze is used to say, “May I have a word with you?”
  • Back rub is used to say, “Yes, that’s it!”

Note, however, that the hand squeeze need not interrupt the flow. If you and your partner have already discussed an issue, the signal could say, “Yeah, I felt that thing we talked about.” This could even be applied surreptitiously at the social milonga, assuming that you and your partner have agreed that this is desirable for a particular correction.

It’s also useful to know that we already get these sorts of signals unconsciously from our partners. Pulling the hand in or up, squeezing. Rolling the head or shoulders after a dance.

Benefits:

  • Peer-to-peer
  • Two way
  • We aren’t getting blamed or corrected.
  • We are actively analyzing our own dancing.
  • We may identify issues the partner wasn’t signalling. Maybe they weren’t aware of it but you are. More benefit for the buck.

examples . . .

  • You wanted more space to pass, because you felt like you might step on me.
  • You wanted that space closed off so you wouldn’t think you should move there.
  • You wanted my embrace to slide more so that my step wouldn’t pull you off axis.

This models the best practice for good communications, first seek to understand the other and let them know you understand.

One reason we all love our Argentine tango is the opportunities it gives us for intimate, secret communications that create our dance. When we’re working on improving our dance it can feel nice, helpful, and supportive to receive intimate, secret signals that aid our awareness in a positive way.