I’ve mostly been teaching private lessons lately. Between the day job, not needing to rent space, and a few other things, they just work better. Recently, I had one of my transnational fusion students ask me to teach her American Tribal Style (ATS ®) during her lessons instead. For those unfamiliar with ATS, it is a planned improvisational style of dance where dancers learn a finite set of combinations and formations, and cue each other as to which move to do next mid-performance. She’s heard me extoll the benefits of ATS, like the strong component of community (a post for another day) and those appealed to her. As I just completed my Teacher Training certification, I agreed.
This student has studied with me for a very long time. She is a wonderfully expressive dancer who has battled with a few physical issues over the years. My insistence on proper (and healthy) technique is one of the reasons that she comes to me. This is one way that I generally give my perfectionism free reign. It has served me well to insist on proper alignment for myself and my students, and to help students find the right positioning for their bodies.
On the day of our first official ATS class, I threw a whole lot of information at her. I gave her 4 weeks’ worth of information in an hour, and she absorbed it like a sponge. I did this because her previous dance experience allowed her to grasp the information easily, and because it was enough information to start dancing. Through the hour, we talked through the 4 basic movements, rules for formations, how take a turn leading the group, and how to change the leader. As we walked through each item, I corrected her technique both for alignment and the stylization that is used in ATS. I helped her practice the path that she would follow to move in and out of formations. I gave her tricks to help her remember some of the details that are more difficult for a fusion dancer to remember. I talked her through the corrections. She did it all, and adjusted the things we discussed. And then it was time to dance.
I put on an appropriate “fast” song and took the lead position. She stepped in behind me and we started to move. We went through each of the basic moves, and then I shifted the lead. We talked a bit as we danced, me helping her remember some of the details. She took the lead, we did two moves together, then she turned to hand the lead role back to me. I led us through a bit more, then gave her another opportunity to try leading. She didn’t take it. We talked briefly about how to take the front rank, and kept dancing. Then I yielded the position again. We circled around and this time, she took the lead spot, but not quite the way she should. She led us through a few more moves until the song ended.
I turned off the music, and turned to explain exactly how to move into position. But she looked at me, and I stopped. The look of sheer joy on her face kept me from uttering a single word. What I had to say didn’t matter. That minor detail was immaterial in the face of all that bliss. Because regardless of the rules, the technique, and the formations, we had danced. We had shared a perfect moment in the music and enjoyed every bit of it. And that moment reminded me why I keep going back, why I work so hard, and what it feels like to join with other dancers and move. I told my inner perfectionist to shove off and hugged her. A “perfect” transition to lead can wait for another day.