Thursday, March 10, 2016

Questions? (or, Am I Stupid or What?)

Some people think I'm the dumbest person in a class, and a few treat me like I have a big red "S" on my forehead, like a tattoo that screams "Stupid!"

All because I ask more questions than many others. I want clarity because it pays back dramatically over time and often I pass my "smarter" peers over time.

If you practice an exercise or motion incorrectly for a couple of weeks or months, you have to go back and unlearn that motion, then learn the correct motion, and often that takes much more time than getting it right from the start.

I've been humbled greatly in classes. Sometimes the movements didn't work for me that day, and I had to see it in a second or third class before I got it. In some cases my initial learning is significantly slower than some others. I can be confused, or frustrated or just hoping they slow things down for a few minutes, so I can see more details. If I let my ego get in the way, it's discouraging because "all the other kids get it" and I don't initially.

I want excellence, and I know if the fundamentals aren't clear to me, it will require relearning later, so I ask now, rather than practice the wrong thing because I'm missing something. You want the details if practical, so you "know that you know." You can then build on those fundamentals and go beyond the initial lesson, so ultimately you are much further ahead, even if the start up is slower.

Once you get the proper motion at a slower tempo you can refine it and within a few days or weeks, accelerate the movement.

The time I minimize questions is when I knowingly attend a class way over my head.

For example, in a beginning class it's fair game to ask all sorts of questions, because in theory everybody is just starting. Sometime I may take a more advanced class because I'm taking privates from the instructor. It's way over my head but I know that if you surround yourself with people at a higher level, you grow faster.

When I attend that type of class, I simply stand in the back and take in as much as possible, knowing I'll miss some things and at points I'm simply an observer, and/or I'm investing in future growth. Too many questions because I haven't done my homework and that's a drag for everybody. There is a balance.

Exercises or movements that are easy for most of the class may be impossible for me with my current experience (or lack thereof), so I save those questions for my privates, where the instructor breaks it down to my level.

(Side note: Try taking a jazz dance class in your mid forties, having NEVER attended a jazz class in your life. It’s extremely humbling and allows me to relate to new dancers in my beginning classes. When someone struggles with a move in my class, I know exactly how they feel!)

When I'm teaching, and there is someone like me who asks questions, I might have to say, "That's an excellent question; let's deal with that after class, and anybody else who wants clarity on that issue is free to join us." Let the instructor handle it if you ask questions that are outside the scope for the class in general. Nine out of ten times, though, the question you have is the same one that six others are thinking but are afraid to ask.

The rule is: Be bold and ask! Your dancing will improve much faster than those who pretend to "get it" when something is unclear. You can just laugh to yourself. Don't rub it in, just keep on getting clarity while you're learning.

In the long run you will be way ahead of others who don't get the fundamentals.
Most people over estimate how much they can do in a short period of time
and under estimate how much they can accomplish over a longer time frame.
-Mickey Carbin

Related Article:
Breaking In At A Congress Or Event

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  1. thank you for showing how to be authentic in salsa-classes!
    do you ask a lot too at big congresses? last year we were on a congress for the first time with a lot of workshops and most of the time, there was no possibility to ask ... only try, try, try and hope you can find it out later :-)

  2. Don, I just wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed your posts. I am also a 40-something year old who took up salsa dancing about three years ago with no previous dance (or music, really) experience. I find myself nodding my head in agreement as I read. My latest resolution has been to stop apologizing for mistakes on the dance floor :)

  3. We're all in a similar boat. If my partner thinks I'm bothered by my mistakes, she gets concerned about her mistakes and both of us suffer.

    If I simply say "relax" that doesn't work. They have to see me having fun even when I make a mistake. I'm my worst critic (except all those guys who don't like me), so I have to relax myself and know tomorrow I'll be better than I am today, but probably never as good as I'd like to be.

    Thanks for the comments, I always enjoy hearing what people are thinking.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero