Willem on teaching

posted in: Interviews

Hi Willem! This month we would like to zoom in more on your vision on teaching!

To start, let´s talk about the structure you build into your classes…
I think that if you want to teach, you have to have a certain structure. The basics of the structure are establishing where the average student is right now and where you want to take them to with your lessons. In that structure there are learning goals as well as a time scale on when you want to achieve them. That will get you to the timeline which consists of stepping stones that eventually get you from 0 to 100 and together form a structure. It’s a bit like with music, that wants to tell a story. Maybe your song has theme, maybe you want to convey a certain emotion. People are not aware of it at the beginning of the song, but at the end of the story they feel what you feel or experience what you wanted to express. In that sense, telling a story in music and teaching dance share a basic structure. It is showing the path that you have walked and trying to make clear how others can walk a similar path. To inspire them but also to facilitate your students to develop the skills to actually go on a journey themselves.

Is there a difference in the way you organise your classes compared to other dance schools or teachers, in partner dance specifically?
I think there are a lot of differences. Some choices in organising are very consciously made and  some have a lot to do with the circumstances of the students you have, the personality of the teacher, the goals or greater embedding of the school or even the culture of the scene or the country where you are teaching. Of course a school in Japan will be organised a bit different because of the culture in that country. And every teacher will organise it differently according to what they are like and what works for them. In general, what we do at DA Dance Studio that sets it apart from most partner dance schools is that we really try to analyze very thouroughly what we should do as teachers. We keep challenging ourselves and ask ourselves questions: How do we make the teaching experience pleasant? How can we create an atmosphere in which the students can learn faster? How do we translate what we ourselves do in our body and how we have learned, with all the mistakes that we made and translate this into a didactic model that we can then give to our students? And how can we bridge the gap between being a professional dancer, who has put in 10.000 hours of training and our student who is a social dancer and who is not willing to put in these 10.000 hours?
That in-depth analysis about why we do it, for whom we do it, about what we do and who we are, what fits us and what fits the student, I think that is quite unique in a partner dance school. I don’t think a lot of schools spend that much time on this almost holistic approach.

You mentioned a didactic model, is that something you created for partner dance?
I didn’t create the  didactic model; didactics is a form of simplification where you take out a lot of details so you can focus on what is most important at the stage where the student is in. I specified this model into zouk: in the first few lessons we give them a lot of movement material which is called the first circle of movements, so at least they can start moving. From that little set of skills  and movements, we challenge them to go to a bigger circle which includes more movements. So we constantly keep their world as small they can handle. And once they reached the learning goals we set for them, we expand their world. Constantly we put layer on layer but we start with the core, the most important part. This core consists of the three connections: the connection with your own body, with the music and your partner. The technical structure within the teaching came first. And by continuously rewriting it, it became more and more clear that technique is not everything in dance and definitely not everything to teaching dance. It became part of a bigger perspective as being an important ingredient, that maybe takes 40 percent of everything.

What are your dreams when it comes to dance and teaching?

I have several goals. The biggest goal is the social embedding of dance and the reason why we dance and teach that we spoke about in the last interview. Dancing and especially partner dancing can be an enormous useful tool to change society for the better.

And your stepping stone goals?

My goal for the coming years is integrating partner dance into the Dance Academy structure.I think in Holland we have a beautiful system with dance academies that have a high status within the international dance community. Traditionally the Dance Academy was the place where stage dancers and stage performers learned their craft or learned the art of stage performance. The last 20 years it has broadened it’s mission and also included more social dancing, but this is still focused on solo dancing. African dancing and urban dancing is a good example of that; most institutions in Holland have included it in the normal curriculum. But still this does not include partner dancing the way it is done socially around the whole world.

Integrating partner dance in the Dance Academy is therefore twofold: to raise awareness in the professional dance community about partner dance, because I think that even if you teach solo dance, you should at least know about partnerdance as it is the other way around. And second, it’s untapped resource for people who finish their education at these institutions and are looking for work but cannot find it. It would also enrichen the social dance scene to bring in these experienced dancers as well as teachers and strongly aid to professionalise the scene of social dance as a whole.

Are you saying that by adding partner dance to the curriculum of the Dance Academy, this could change the scene in partner dance?

Yes i really think it would. These dancers are going through four or five years of challenging study, consisting a lot of fysical work as well as theoretical work. By doing that and not getting any money, fame or ego in return, you already select and build your character. If you want to continue with dancing, your primary goal is really the passion for the dance. I would say that with a lot people who didn’t go through this process and made these sacrifices, even though they have the passion for the dance, the ego can stand in the way of being a good teacher. What the ego does, is that it is constantly protecting you from things that harm you but unfortunately also from influences that are good for you, but which might not feel comfortable. And this is exactly the position we want to put our students in. Such a teacher holds back on his own development, because everything that threatens the self image of being the best teacher or being the greatest dancer, is blocked or discarded. By changing this we bring a different meaning to teaching and dancing so we can use it to transform society and that rises above just having a nice way of entertainment or another competitive area where you can be king if you are a good dancer.

This brings us to new subject for us to discuss next month: the DA Teachers Course!!!
Thank you Willem and looking forward to next time!