Monday, November 16, 2009

6th-9th November 2009 Salsa Workshops @Red Hat Salsa, Reading (Afterword)

A week has passed and with things having settled down a bit, I can make a more detached assessment of the workshops. Although I'd prepared feedback forms for use after each session, it transpired that there wasn't a chance to deploy them. Instead I've had to rely on anecdotal responses collected from Red Hat and corroborate them with my own observations.

Taking the positive points first, as every educative critique should:
  • Most attendees said that they learnt a lot, from a really different, interesting and refreshing perspective.
  • They felt it was good to hear from someone of my background and experience.
  • Even self-confessed non-instructor dancers learned more than they thought they were going to.
  • A number would attend my workshops again.
Great! On the downside... :
  1. There were a few who felt it was a little biased towards my way of teaching and therefore not sufficiently relevant to themselves.
  2. Many felt the Saturday was too long.
  3. A couple said there was not enough dancing.

Thoughts on Point 1
It's clear from the title, schedules and course blurb that the 'Year In A Day' is exactly what it says on the tin - progressive over one year and skills-based.

But I surmise that the comment comes from a different place: from those who conduct mainly stand-alone combination-based sessions. I'd sensed that a few couldn't see the relevance in possessing a Hierarchy of Development plan which extended beyond a discrete one hour lesson.

I would have to disagree on the basis that such lessons would still be reliant upon returning students in the short-to-mid term, and that therefore a Hierarchy could be applied to the benefit of the individual at remedial level. Such a treatment would add value to the learning experience, augmenting it above commodity level and convert returners into the mid-to-long term. However there would be an increased effort cost that some instructors might be unwilling to pay.

Thoughts on Point 2
In terms of duration, the Saturday was advertised as beginning at 10:00hrs and ending at 18:45hrs; it actually ran from 10.30hrs until 19:00hrs.

I suspect that this comment was more in response to the sustained cognitive load generated by the session; "long" is an expression used commonly by students to describe learning saturation. The onset of saturation could have been delayed if the stream of concepts had been broken up with assimilation practices, but that was not an option available.

I have, however, already taken this under advisement and will make much firmer recommendations regarding session content in future.

Thoughts on Point 3
Again, this I would interpret as being an alternate expression to Point 2 - the desire for more assimilation time at the expense of content. It's a piece of feedback that I'd anticipated, and one that I wholeheartedly agree with.

In Conclusion
The dryness of the feedback shouldn't be allowed to overshadow what a pleasurable experience it was; to meet so many engaging instructors who take their own personal development, to the benefit of their students, so seriously - Ali, Penny, Sharon, Chunky, and Marco to name but a few. It's been invaluable to keep apace of the challenges they that face in an increasingly competitive arena.

Also reassuring, to me personally, was the affirmation that there is indeed an audience for an alternative skills-based approach; and that I had all the facilities at my disposal which allowed for effective delivery of content, by way of literature, music and instruments. Special mention must be made of the LP compact congas which really came into their own that weekend.

"Some people have been really raving over how great they were", said Sharon.

That's good to know.

Loo Yeo

Monday, November 09, 2009

6th-9th November 2009 Salsa Workshops @Red Hat Salsa, Reading (Part 2)

Mercifully, Sharon had scheduled a mid-day start and I spent a relaxed Sunday morning preparing the musical examples, making notes of time codes, and refining teaching points for the first session: 'The Route to Improvisation'.

This workshop on improvisatory dancing required the most attention, not due to a lack of familiarity with the material, but because I wasn't as fluent with the structure as I would have liked - the Hierarchy of Development of a stand-alone session is chalk and cheese to a long-term progression. Also, I was concerned with the management of expectation; where the only exposure that the majority of dancers have to improvisatory dancing is through the routine of shines.

Bar Risa on Friar Street was only six minutes' walk from the Mercure St.George, and I stepped through the tradesmen's entrance well ahead of time.

There were just eight takers for this session, but reassuringly they were all dance instructors from yesterday. It told me that the material from 'A Year In A Day' had resonated with two-thirds of the teachers present there; strongly enough for them to want to know more. Fantastic! I quickly adjusted the delivery to suit educators, cut out the redundant material, and obtained their permission to take the session into greater depth.

The couple of hours passed as an eye-blink and it proved an unqualified success: there had been plenty of discussion, practice, and sharing of little-known hard-won material. But it must be said that this was could not have been possible without the tremendous amount of hard work invested the day before.

Two non-teachers, an interested musician and journeyman dancer, joined us for the final workshop: 'Dancing Beyond The Count'. This was potentially going to be difficult, what with 80% of the class already being so far ahead in terms of development and groundwork information. I discreetly sought Sharon's advice, as the promoter, as to whether she wanted me to deliver focused on the incoming duo. We decided to continue targeting educators as the primary audience and that I would address the newcomers at remedial level and during the breaks.

Once again, we proceeded well beyond the original schedule and I tied it back in the content of the workshops before, culminating in the dancing of the son montuno to Sierra Maestra's cover of Arsenio Rodríguez's Dundunbanza. I'm fairly certain that this was the first time the son montuno had ever been danced in Reading.

And then my weekender was all over.

I book-ended my trip by attending Red Hat Salsa's Sunday evening session at Jongleur's upstairs of Bar Risa. It was a nice way to unwind, meet more of the dancers and say my goodbyes.

Well, now it's time to pack up. There's a train to catch.

Loo Yeo

6th-9th November 2009 Salsa Workshops @Red Hat Salsa, Reading (Part 1)

It's Monday. The salsa weekend is hours passed and I'm in my hotel room packing for the return trip to Sheffield. With a belly-full of breakfast, there's no better time than now to get a first-impression assessment of the workshop sessions.

My introductory glimpse into Reading's salsa scene began with dinner at Sharon and Ed's on Friday night. It was the ideal way to make our personal acquaintances, talking about how Red Hat Salsa came to be; the regional salsa scene; and for me to understand why they left the beaten track in engaging me to run these far-from-typical sessions. Sharon's genuine appetite for knowledge is vividly striking; something reinforced, unsolicited, over the next days by teachers who've had occasion to work with her.

For dessert, we hopped into the car for a trip to Bracknell.

It was their monthly shindig at the Hilton Hotel where I was at various times during the evening an irrepressible beginner in Sharon's lesson; tripping the fancy stuff with the local salseros; trading wit with the two other teachers that evening, Penny and Chunky; taking in the happenings on the floor; and listening to the kinds of tracks coming over the PA. It was a precious chance to assess the Latin dance scene, at ground level, ahead of time.

Saturday dawned beautifully, but its promise was marred by a tardy taxi which landed me thirty minutes behind and starting on the back foot. The wintry community room was filled with two dozen dancers; half of whom were instructors, some having flatteringly travelled from near three hours away. It was never going to be easy - the extensive content and the compressed time-frame of delivery made sure of that. But having to make up more than thirty minutes, AND re-pitch the specification from a secondary to a primary target audience of teachers on-the-fly without losing the non-teachers... okay, this was going to be a robust test of preparation and experience.

The detailed nature of the workshop specifications were the biggest safety net there could ever have been. I kept to the schedules as much as I could because of the coherence already built into them, omitting or skimming over the less significant; and in so doing increased their value as post-session reference documents. Sadly a portion of the time allotted to the practical exercises, the most valuable aspect of any workshop, was sacrificed in lieu of content coverage. The day had a feel more akin to a seminar than a workshop and I've braced myself mentally for that as feedback. To avoid the delivery becoming dry, I made use of plenty of musical examples, including an impromptu rendition of 'El Carretero' as a son element.

The Saving Grace came in the latter part of the day as dancers and teachers warmed up to exchange their experiences in free-flowing discussion. That, arguably, is THE greatest benefit of any well-facilitated session. It told me that despite the less-than-ideal combination of factors, a true workshop-style learning environment had been established. I adjusted the content and presentation at every moment of the day, taking on the feedback articulated or expressed through body language, and making sure to solicit the opinions of the silent during the breaks. The vast majority was positive and helpfully constructive.

Nine-hours of high-intensity delivery left me depleted, and I dropped off my things at the hotel with relief before venturing out to the Oracle, Reading's rather snazzy shopping district, in search of food.

I'd spotted a 'Yo Sushi' bar on the way through, and decided to salve my spirit with some Japanese food. I never eat alone at these places because the hypnotic conveyor-belt of morsels seems to open the gateway to conversation. With Dave the visiting American, we chatted about a Brazillian restaurant we both frequented in Singapore; with the Nepalese sushi chef it was knives, especially the 'kukri' - the knife of the Gurkhas; and the English and Nepalese waiting staff, about the dishes they favoured at the establishment.

What the Oracle looks like after a Japanese fish dinner

Retreating sated to the stillness of my room, I began rallying for the challenges of the Sunday ahead.

(On to Part 2)

Loo Yeo