Sunday, January 20, 2013

Slow Learner? Not Really

“Why doesn't that work for me?”
“Why do all the other kids look great and I’m struggling?”
“If I was 19 again, this would all be easy.”
“I guess I’m a slow learner, or I’m having a bad hair day.”

Ever feel silly or self-conscious in a class?
Does it seem like others are getting it faster, and you're the only one confused?

I used to think I was just slow, or maybe just slower than most of the other guys in class. Maybe you've felt the same way at points.

The instructor would show a pattern, move, or series of steps and I was confused. Sometimes I wouldn't get it during class. Other guys around me would get the moves, but I'd be missing something and feeling a little foolish. There was a glitch in my matrix, and I'd be shaking my head wondering what's wrong with me. Of course, the more I noticed the others getting it, the worse I felt.

As I’ve matured, I worry less about getting it the first time. Even if the moment isn’t fun for me, I know I'll get it at some point. Talent is wonderful, but persistence and repetition are often the difference between no-go and making it happen.

After a nap, or the next day, or seeing it the second time, and/or working the move slowly, I often have that "ah-ha" moment. Then it works for me and often wonder why it was so difficult the first time. Even with my teaching background, it's not always easy when it seems like everyone around me is getting it faster. In the heat of learning mode, some movements simply don't work for me initially.

The funny thing is that after a few months, I’m often farther along than the other guys who had it from day one. Many "got it" in class or sooner than me, but they missed the details and the finesse.

We’re all in the same boat. Some patterns or moves "feel right" in the beginning, and some go against your grain, requiring more time and effort to learn. For most, it's about relaxing and getting what you can the first time, then doing it again later, and later again if required. Competing with yourself is the best course of action, rather than worrying about how others are progressing.

Some moves take minutes, some weeks or much longer. A few may require reviewing or strengthening your fundamentals and take months or years to master. However, once you have them, they are yours forever.

Over time, "harder" moves become much easier as long as you continue to grow.

Persistence, a decent attitude, more repetition and constant learning means you'll dance better tomorrow than today. Slow or fast learner, as long as you don't quit, it works out over time.

Let me know what you do to keep the right learning perspective.

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Originally published in April 2009.


  1. I definitely had one of those rough days in a rueda class this week. Honestly I'm not used to the feeling anymore, and that might not be a good thing. I think I need to find some new classes that routinely push my limits.

    Thanks for the reminders that everyone experiences that "two steps forward, one step back... occasionally three steps back" frustration.

    How do you balance teaching and being a student? Is it ever awkward, maintaining the image of someone worthy of students' hard-earned dollars while taking classes as well?

    I do realize instructors often deal with this by going to congresses, where there peers are and their students aren't (unless they're halfway to being peers)...

  2. Reminds me of a cha-cha move I learned at a workshop over a year ago. You lead a cross-body with an outside turn; but just before she's about to do the final 180, you check the front of her hip with your fingers and send her back. It requires perfect coordination, and I could barely do it in class, even though the women knew it was coming.

    So I practiced walking through it many times at home, tried it social dancing, and flopped completely. But it seemed so cool that I kept practicing, and occasionally tried it again at clubs, always failing.

    Then, maybe 4-5 months later, I tried it socially... and it worked, getting a nice surprised smile from my partner. It was like learning to hit a tennis ball: You need to have perfect timing under a variety of conditions.

    Just recently, I've found that I can do the same move in salsa, even though it requires quicker reflexes than the cha-cha version. And it seems natural and easy.

    I guess the lesson is that we're not just learning things intellectually, but developing physical skills. And just like in sports, these take practice over extended periods of time.

  3. "There was a glitch in my matrix"

    I'm going to be borrowing this phrase. Heavily.
    I had one of those moments in class just today.

    (You will be given full credit. :-) )

  4. The more dance you take, the easier it is to pick up the new stuff. When I'm in class, I will frequently anticipate the next part of the pattern because he's done similar patterns in the past.

  5. Don't get me started. I am definitely a slow learner. I've got enough experience now to not let it bother me.

  6. Sooner or later everyone reaches the edges of their ability and the slower learners amongst us hit these limits earlier and have to learn how to learn. Sometimes, the guys who get it easy to start with have a shock when they, too, reach their personal limits and they have not yet learned how to learn. Quite a few promising dancers seem to drop out at this point. Whilst the slower learners continue to improve and grow and eventually excel. I've seen this lots of times.


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero