When I’m not teaching dance, among other things, I teach an undergrad university course. As you might expect, many undergrad students are very concerned about their marks. And so, it is an inevitable as a snowstorm in January that students will complain to professors about the mark they received on an assignment or test. This is especially so for evaluations that are highly subjective on the part of the professor, like a presentation or an essay question. Professors have several choices for how to respond to students’ appeals for extra marks (assuming the lost marks are not the result of a marking error): Many will simply deny the request and not hear the student’s argument. Some will enter into a conversation with the student through several rounds of emails, and finally give in with a few extra marks. Assuming it’s not my mistake, I engage with the student so that they honestly feel heard, then put the requested marks into a more realistic perspective, and redirect their energy and effort to the fundamental basics of the course material.
In the case of the university course, attention to the basics might include fully understanding the analytical frames of the subject matter. It might involve how those frames are applied to real-life situations (as opposed to simply the textbook examples). It might go further to understanding the “so-what?” effects of applying the basic techniques to real problems. In other words, it’s all about applied basics and real situations.
It’s not all that different in the dance world. There is often that one person (or many people) we want to impress with our moves to the extent that we consider each dance is a test of sorts. Can I execute this fancy turn combination? Can I lead this person through a crazy pattern that will blow their mind? Will this out-of-this-world styling attract all the eyes on the side of the dance floor? (For some humorous examples, see this and this.) In other words, can I get a few extra dance marks?
If you are already a great dancer, you’ll likely know that you get “extra marks” from your partners by helping to create a great dance experience with them, rather than trying to impress them with fancy, intricate, or complicated moves. The natural flow of your dance will often suffice to create a peak dance experience with them, without the need for augmented fanciness. Last summer, for instance, one of the hottest salsa dances I enjoyed during out entire summer season was with a friend who had only worn flip-flops that evening, and so was limited in what she could do. We danced an entire song with only the basic step and cross-body leads, and it was an amazing, intimate experience. No fancy turns, flips, tricks, or complicated patterns. It was, on the other hand, a great demonstration of the advice I recommend to my university students—focus on executing the fundamental basics really, really well and the rest will fall in place when we…
See you on the dance floor!