Friday, July 28, 2017

The Heart of Teaching

This last year as a teacher has helped me learn so many things about what it means to be a teacher and I wanted to share my thoughts.

I teach adults partner social dancing (Kizomba, bachata sometimes salsa).
I coach high school girls on volleyball.
I teach 7th grade students Math.

At first, I focused on learning the skills and content because I loved it. I spent a lot of time learning to be good at dancing, volleyball and math. I then spent time learning how to teach in a school, coach a sport and teach evening recreational classes to adults.  I would go to a coaches clinic for volleyball coaches or take classes on how to be a better teacher, etc. My teaching methods were tied too closely to my content.

One thing to know about me is that my mind works to find common elements in everything I do. I love finding a pattern for disparate things: what did that have to do with setting a volleyball or dancing or solving equations? I decided that if I have a pattern that works for many things, that's a great thing! Perhaps its me being lazy or inherently efficient. I guess I just think the more things I can find that I already know and can apply, the less I have to remember.

I already do many common things across all the different disciplines and students groups that I teach: it only makes sense and it saves my energy and sanity for the differences I do have to deal with. Recently tho, one other thought has popped up in my head about being a teacher. Its crystalizing more and more as I just finished taking a week long course called "Designing Groupwork in Math".

The course title describes the course accurately but says nothing about what I learned and believe to be the HEART of the course.

A bit of context setting about the course: Groupwork comes from Complex Instruction (or CI). There's a lot about the research that went into CI by Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan. It stems from the need to make learning more accessible to everyone. By everyone that includes some very loaded things like learning styles, cultural bias, gender, race/ethnicity and many other social issues. What this body of learning and practice brought to light for me is to get student engagement, a teacher must address (among other things) the issue of social status in a classroom (or team).

There was lots of great stuff that I'm still marinating in and the one big idea that I'm really resonating with is this:

Learning is most powerful with collaboration. In order to get students to learn collaboratively, we as teachers need to help our students learn about who they are as learners and influence their beliefs  about what it means to learn. As teachers, we ourselves have to be familiar with our own beliefs about learning and be thoughtful about the words and actions we take with our students because we are usually working to shift a mindset which can only come from practicing and coaching the behaviors and actions that support a learning (or growth mindset). 

Have you noticed that nothing I've written since I mentioned the title of the course even mentions math (the content that is being taught)? Did you also notice that none of the language is about being right or wrong?

As a teacher, I am responsible for creating a classroom/community that supports everyone to recognize their strengths and weaknesses and work collaboratively to learn more content. 

Another person expressed things this way: if you change the way your students think about what a classroom is and focus on that community of support through communication and collaboration, the learning takes care of itself.

I soon to realized that while I am actively thinking about what to do for my math classroom, why not also think about what I can do for my coaching or when I teach social partner dancing classes? I started to think about my own biases on how to learn and realized that they way I teach reflects a lot on the way I myself was taught and often those teachers who I love and respect, were not really teaching with the same focus on how students learn.

I also assume that adults as learners will already know who they are. The truth is, students are students no matter what the age group and its important to remember that as a teacher, I am modelling how to learn and how I view my students' learning status in the ways I speak and act with them and in my community.

Sure, I want to teach my content but before content can be taught, I have to recognize that learning happens best when those who learn have access to the material in a supported and collaborative environment. I realize more and more that the way I teach has come from following the practices of teachers that I learned from and respected a lot. Its no wonder that there are some things I don't do very well and its because I don't myself believe in them intrinsically.

I personally love learning. I think its a state of mind like no other: it allows you to be open to possibilities, to be creative, to put yourself in a space of pure discovery without judgement. I am energized when I'm learning because it teaches me about myself, the world around me and the people I interact with. Of course,  there is also that satisfaction of getting something done, of having accomplished something whether its being finally be able to do a triple turn on one foot without falling over OR solving those damn rate problems without second guessing.
What is the HEART of teaching? I believe its this ability to recognize who my students are as learners, support them by helping them recognize their strengths and weaknesses, and giving them access to information in all different ways to help them see the connections they can make in themselves and with their community.
Its a pretty big task and a powerful thing but I love it. I have some ideas how that will look like in my 7th grade classroom for next school year. I'm not quite sure what that will look like in my dance classes or in my coaching but I'm pretty excited to figure that out. I'll share it as I go in future posts but if you have something to share, please comment and reach out, I love to geek out about this sort of stuff. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Hello, Let's Try This Again

Wow, its been a while. My silence doesn't mean I've run out of things to say. There were so many things going on in my life that I felt like putting thoughts into concrete words on a blog just didn't quite cut it. I was also embroiled in lots of  things that my "be happy" self censored from writing because "that's just not me".

Its the 1st real day of my summer.

For the past 2 years I've been teaching in the 7th grade of a private school (6 through 12) that my niece and soon my nephew attend. The job landed on my lap quite unexpectedly on October 2015 and I, with much trepidation, took the chance. A leap of faith with so many uncertainties and insecurities. Just about the only thing I had faith in was that I would be earning a steady income again.

As I ponder what to focus on for this particular post, I'm most struck by a conversation I had with a parent of one of the students I just taught this past year. It was a conversation that I was apprehensive about because I wasn't sure what we were going to be talking about and I really wasn't all too thrilled about a talk with a parent about potentially stressful topics on my 1st real summer day.

Instead, what I was gifted with was a wonderful conversation filled with many, many connections and beautiful insights into am amazing person that I briefly got to know as a student in my classroom. Just goes to show, that sometimes things are never what you would expect them to be and indeed, all's well that ends well.

Or maybe I should just say: "What a great way to start my 1st day of summer!"

For the last 3 years or so, I've been in a weird sort of limbo. Events in my life left me questioning myself and what I wanted and I found myself at a loss to connect with the spirit I had when I started this blog and when I started my fun-employment. It was a state of mind that I was not used to: I'm usually extremely optimistic, open-minded and able to find the shiny silver lining in everything. I felt a little tired and unmotivated. These things that I used to find so much joy in were no longer a source of joy. They made me tired. They made me doubt myself and my choices and they made me want to retreat. Even dancing wasn't as enjoyable (oh yes, saying this IS a big deal). While in this state, the introverted side of me took over while the extrovert in me was at a loss for what to do.

To be clear: I didn't hate my life and I wasn't sad about anything in particular. I was tired, and I felt disconnected and uninspired. There were still moments of enjoyment and happiness but there was nothing that I ever really got excited about and when someone suggested I reconnect with the purpose that originally gave me a lot of joy I was stumped: what was it again? That thought just made me tired and then I wanted to just retreat to watching and reading my guilty pleasures: anime and manga.

I found comfort in being with my sister's family. My niece and nephew are growing up fast and they continue to have the magical ability to make me smile. They do ignore me from time to time and I no longer can get them to smile and do something cute for me but they still give me hugs, which I love, so I'm milking that until the day (hopefully never) when they say "ok, no more hugging."

What was interesting too was that the judge in me also took a hiatus. I wasn't really doing anything earth shattering or life changing. I was just coasting. Normally the judge in me would be making me feel guilty about the misuse of time, of wasting my life doing nothing, or making me feel guilty about not living up to me full potential. Throughout this limbo, that voice was absent. Ultimately I told myself, this way of being is ok for now. I know things will evolve into something else eventually.

In the midst of that there was family crisis and old injuries resurfacing and my body going through change. All these things would create moments of emotion, but nothing that drove me to do anything differently. In fact, when I started to think about things more, I just got more tired.

For a while I wondered if I was suffering from depression. Here's a list of symptoms and I underlined the ones that applied to me:

  • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • Changes in appetite — weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
  • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
  • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
  • Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
  • Feeling worthless or guilty
  • Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Sure, if I was depressed it was certainly in its early stages but I thought, why worry? and fell back to watching and reading and sleeping. Occasionally I would go out and socialize, bake goodies for friends, make toys, fold origami and take classes to learn something new. These moments took a lot out of me but they were good: it connected me to the things that I always enjoyed and had fun doing and it made me be more of myself and not this person that wasn't interested in much else in life.

About the only thing that drove me was teaching in school. For some reason, I felt it important that as a math teacher to 7th graders, the one thing I didn't want to be is "that" math teacher who scars a kid for life and makes them "hate the math".  This drove me to try different strategies in the classroom and it made my teaching year quite fruitful and rewarding and slowly but surely, the state of limbo is starting to dissipate.

Teaching dance wasn't the same. I felt that my dance "career" was in limbo as well. It was a place where my expertise and relevance were constantly being questioned or unappreciated or overlooked. I wasn't really up for some of the drama that comes with the territory and when I did surface, somehow drama found me and I just wanted it to "go away". Dancing itself was fun when I danced. It was hard because old injuries aggravated my body so the pain and maintenance after was also tiring. There were moments of light: learning from other instructors, collaborating with some other dancers and many people who told me how much they appreciated what I've done and accomplished (thank you all!).

So here I am, ready to write again. (slowly but surely) which also means ready to re-engage. I'm still taking things slowly but they are starting to change. Limbo is not an option anymore and I'm slowly getting acquainted with who "me" is becoming.

Friday, February 19, 2016

This Thing Called GINGA

If you type ginga on google (at least as of today), you get this on the top:

GINGA IS soccer. It's swinging your body from one side to the other to deceive. Ginga is creativity. It's the pedalada and trivela. Ginga is the opposite of boring. It's the opposite of mechanical soccer. It is having fun with the ball. It is grace. It is being fluid and coordinated. IT IS SOUL. IT IS DANCE

damn...that Brazilian has got Ginga!

I love this definition. Sure, its context is mostly in soccer (Brazilian) but for dance, these parts resonate loudly with me:

Ginga is creativity
Its the opposite of boring.
Its having fun.
It is grace.
Its being fluid.

Read that and let it soak ... let it simmer and then read on. 

This thing we call Ginga is something that ultimately has to come from inside of us. Your Ginga comes from YOU: the individual, the dance partner moving with someone to the music through dance. 

Since I started dancing Kizomba, I've heard people say that to dance this dance well, "you need to have Ginga". I thought, they are just talking about body movement right?  So I studied how to move my bunda, my feet, my chest... and then someone said, that's not it. So I sought more clarification. Along the way I heard many different definitions for ging and someone described it as styling. So, following my experience with learning salsa, I sought out these ladies styling classes. During my very first set of lessons about "styling", my instructor said: "styling should never interfere with the lead and follow dynamic of the dance."

Since Kizomba is danced in close proximity to your partner, I thought there was a contradiction with learning individual body movement. Why are we learning these movements that we may not be able to use? Unlike salsa where there is so much space to express, there doesn't seem to be any at all in Kizomba where we have to move as one.

Another aspect of ginga also that came to my attention: what's the "right" ginga? I heard people comment about how one person's ginga was not natural and how another's was perfect. When is the movement natural and expressive versus contrived and interfering with the lead? How do you practice it? These were all things I pondered as I worked to find my ginga. I started to ask my friends who led me to let me know how it felt when I applied different movements to my walk. I also asked them to articulate what it was like to dance with different people so I had a point of comparison.

As I focused on this aspect of my dance, I had to redo, undo, retry and try many things as I received coaching from other instructors and peers about what the appropriate body movement is. Some said my body movement was just fine, some said I had too much (those salsa hips going out of control), some said it was too sharp, some said whatever I did was fine. It was quite the conundrum for me. How was I to get validation with so much mixed feedback?

My aha moment arrived when I realized that the reason I was getting so much mixed feedback was because I was trying to hard to dance the way I thought I needed to dance instead of just trusting myself to dance. I was working with another instructor who was trying to explain a nuance in the movement. I was very confused with what he was saying so I just decided to stop thinking and just move with him and he exclaimed - "That's it! You got it."

Many of us suffer from Ginga - Envy: we see someone else's bountiful bunda and the movements resulting from their expression and grace and we want "to be like that". In that moment of wanting to be like someone else, we can easily forget that to truly have ginga, we each have to find OUR OWN way to move with grace and soul.

One part is practicing movements to extend your range of motion and get to know the muscles in your own body and how they can move independently and in concert with other body parts. I call this part the mechanics of understanding your walk and how to flow naturally with it, how to extend movements when the music allows and where it can be extended while still staying connected to another person.

The other part, is learning to love who you are: wobbly bits or skinny bits or whatever you think kind of bits - ALL OF IT. We are each blessed with our own beauty that often times we ignore and to really develop your ginga, you need to embrace all of you. This way, when you move, you move with all the confidence and grace that is uniquely yours.

As you are learning about how to move and how your body works, spend LESS time in the space of "do I look like that person?" and MORE time in the space of  "do I feel and look good about how I move?".

I got this suggestion from my belly dancing instructor when we were working on our "freeze" pose. She said "Don't be afraid to look at yourself in the mirror and try different poses to find your best one." No one is looking so try a pose that highlights everything good about you. Its can be difficult to do (and it sounds so narcissistic) but this exercise of looking at yourself can help to make you appreciate who you are.

I think this might be the hardest part about learning ginga: loving what you can do with your own body. You can take all the movement and styling classes you want and in fact I highly recommend it. But, don't lose sight of the fact that you when you're dancing, you to have love who you are, love how you move, love how it makes you feel and then love how you can connect with your dance partner when you dance.

Friday, December 4, 2015

I Must Be Crazy


I guess this is one of those life experiences that can't be predicted or prepared for. No matter how well you read up or plan or anticipate, sometimes crazy stuff just happens.

Here I am, in pursuit of this idea that I have about cultivating creativity and learning through dance and the other activities I enjoy. I've been looking for opportunities to increase my financial stability as well and have been taking up different types of jobs.

I teach dance (group classes and privates), I teach and assist with arts and crafts for children and I work to manage the operations of a business that provides training in the HR field.

My niece stated at a new Middle School and participated in a volleyball camp which I decided to volunteer for. Just like old times. Its been almost 3 years since I touched  volleyball so I thought, why not? This in turn led me to a coaching position for the Girl's High School JV-C team which then let me to a long term teaching position to teach Math in the 7th grade.


What crazy? So many things!

Burning both ends of the candle: School starts at 8:00am and I dance till about 1am. Oh buy! I've had to cut back and I'm still testing my limits so we'll see how that goes.

7th graders (12-13 year olds): Ah! God bless all Middle School teachers. What an interesting age and one that I have the hardest time relating to. The great thing is that the school is small enough so I'm getting to know my students - all 52 of them - little by little. Some of them are so adorable and some, well, let's just say that they could use a good spanking.

Grading, Planning, etc: A teacher doesn't just teach, there's grading, planning, advising and so many other things. I'm remembering how balancing all of that with my own other interests can be a challenge.

Free time? I got used to making my own day and just lazing about when I can. Now, there are more deadlines and commitments to keep up. Its not a bad thing, just something to get used to again.

What's the trade off?

Stability for the time being. Money has never been one of the top things that drive me. Don't get me wrong, I know that it's necessary and that I need to live within my means. I too have dreams of not needing to pinch pennies and all that. I do think that the pursuit of dreams requires some strong introspection about the kind of life you want to lead along the way to achieving that dream. I now have a job that pays a regular salary and benefits which helps - a LOT!

Teaching despite all its challenges for me personally provides a sense of giving back to and contributing to someone else's life in a positive way that is quite unique and gratifying. Math is subject that has its own set of negative stereotypes to overcome and what I think the kids I work with are in need of is this need to validate "am I right?".  I do my best to teach them that with Math, you can at least check your work and thus gain the confidence in yourself and your learning. Its just taking those first few uncertain and scary steps to build that skill and confidence. I love it when I can give a kid a high five for acing a math problem they previously thought they couldn't do.

I'm still Dancing! and so the compromise is still workable. We'll see how that goes.

I still get to do all the trips that I planned before I started to teach. It was part of the agreement with the school which is not an easy thing to do because if you teach, you know that being absent during the school year is a big deal. So, I'm here in Manila with my family for the next month, relaxing and recharging a bit while I investigate some possibilities that could lead to more exciting things.

Changes are still on the horizon and my long term plans are far from set. This is certainly not quite what I envisioned for myself 20 years ago or even in high school when guidance counselors, teachers and parents asked me to look ahead.

One thing is for sure, I am a bit crazy to live with all this uncertainty but for now, its working.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tips for Learning

Being new at something and learning again can be a vulnerable place to be as an adult. There's no shortcut to getting good at something but there is definitely a shortcut to having fun while you're learning. I love learning: it keeps me alive and engages me like no other.

It occurred to me that it would be worth sharing why I feel this way and share some tips to help others who are beginning to learn something new, like dancing for the first time.

Here's what I love about learning:
  • Discovery mode: a mode I associate with young children learning about something for the first time. Its a lot of wonder with a lot of "Aha!" with some things that make you go "hmmmmm!" mixed in. 
  • I'm back at the beginning which is a place that holds an excitement and energy that only comes with being at the start of something new. 
  • Sponge mode: when I'm in learning mode, my mind is more open and focused on absorbing and trying to soak it all in
  • Mind blown: When I'm learning, I'm actively connecting dots in my head as I relate what I'm learning with other things that I already know. Every now and again, my brain gets a bit of a twist when I see something in a different light, get a little confused or just have an "aha!" moment.
  • Geeking out with others: I'm connecting with other people just like me who are learning.  
You may read this list and think "Um, these are the LAST things that are going through my mind when I'm starting to learn something new."

Well sure, BUT that doesn't mean I don't go through some of the other things that a beginner goes through: 
  • Fear of looking like an idiot
  • Fear of not being good enough
  • Fear of being rejected
  • Fear of making a mistake
  • Fear of not getting it
And so, my first tip is:

In my opinion, this is the biggest and most impactful thing you can do. When a child is learning we  tell them that its ok to make mistakes and just focus on learning. Well, that's true for everyone regardless of age. Just because we got a few years older, doesn't change the fact that in a state of learning, you have to cut yourself some slack. In fact, I believe that learning mode connects you to your inner child and well, that's just rejuvenating.

That inner perfection god or goddess that drives you to be good at everything: tell them to take a chill pill and head to the spa for from rest and relaxation. As a student, you're focus should be on learning and absorbing and being part of whatever learning community you find yourself in: even if its is for only one hour every week. 


I am a firm believer that once you say "I can't do that." then you create a resistance that hinders your learning. Its fine if you don't believe that something will ever happen - just don't say it out loud and keep the thought suspended for a little bit.

I remember starting lessons with a dance instructor who basically said "By the end of our sessions, you'll be doing this." and proceeded to demonstrate a spin drill. I just laughed out loud and said "Sure, whatever you say." when what I really meant was "Are you crazy? No way!!"

He walked me through the exercise which was hard but doable and well, it took some perseverance over a few months and lots of practice and while I'm nowhere near the level of my dance director (I've been learning from him for that past 5 years), I can definitely do those moves that I thought I laughed at doing in our first lesson together.


If you consider yourself an expert at something, anything, then when you're learning something new, you should just put all that aside and become someone "fresh" again. Every experience teaches you something, even if it teaches you that you never want to experience it again. Every master teacher that I've admired and aspired to be is a master student at heart. Learning is not just about how good you are or can be, its also about the process so enjoy it and just immerse yourself in the discovery.

OK, that's the mental part, now for the more practical part of learning.


Life is busy, you've finally set aside one hour a week to learn something and that's a great 1st step. If you're truly wanting to get better at something you'll need to set aside a little more time to absorb and assimilate what you learn. This is especially true of dance.

Part of the fun in learning is the satisfaction that you get knowing that you're getting it and improving. So, for social dancing, acclimating your movements to music is a must if you're not used to it. 

A few minutes a day will make a world of difference on top of  just one hour a week. The constant repetition is key to reprogramming and learning. When you're learning to dance, you have to get used to the movement and then map that to music and it helps to do a little bit every day.


Dancing is great because there's this complex thing that happens: you have to move to music you hear and then if you social dance, you have to communicate with your partner how to move with you. When these things align, its a magic moment which you can repeat and enjoy.

Coordinating movement to a rhythm can be done many ways and here's how I like to learn things and it basically starts from the group up:
  1. Learn how the feet move AND listen to the music. 
  2. Learn the rhythm of the movement AND listen to the music.
  3. Learn how the rhythm fits with the music.
  4. Learn how the rest of the body moves.
  5. Learn the signals to communicate back and forth with your dance partner.
  6. Express and have fun with the dance.
The faster you get to 3 above, the better off you are. It doesn't really take a lot - but it does take time. I always recommend counting or sounding the rhythm as quickly as possible to the music. Sometimes you can't do that if you're too busy figuring out how your feet move which is why I recommend getting that out of the way first. So you can do 1-3 above in parallel.

In practicing movement, be more aware of your own body and how it naturally moves. In the beginning, we spend a lot of time mimicking our teachers to look just like them but to truly own your dancing, you have to eventually do what works best for you. You do have to look at the mirror and see what works and it often helps to get feedback from someone you trust and can work with. Mastering techniques for movement is one thing and owning your own movement is another that is equally important.


If you can say "this feels or looks like something I already know" then you learn things faster. As you increase your vocabulary of movement, learning other movements can become a bit easier by association.

Of course, if you're doing something for the first time, there's nothing to associate with but just remember that you can associate movements or leanings with things that you've experienced in other contexts besides the one that you're learning in.


New things can be uncomfortable so you have to embrace being uncomfortable while you learn. When you confirm with your instructor that you're doing what he/she is asking you to do, and it still feels "weird", then just remind yourself that its something new that your body/brain has to get used to.


People try to be helpful and if they can help you, they will, sometimes without you even asking. That's kind of like getting a ton of advice from everyone while you're still trying to figure things out and it can be overwhelming and confusing. Focus on the instructions of who you're learning from, ask LOTS of questions if you're not sure and just be thankful that everyone is so helpful.

"Patience Grasshopper."

That line is from an old TV series call Kung Fu and its what the old master tells the young boy as he tries to master the discipline. It takes time.

Take these tips to heart and the time it takes will pass in no time - at least you'll be having fun while you learn and get better.

Sometimes you will meet and encounter things that are discouraging and negative. Focus on the fun and positive things, cut yourself some slack while you're learning. Remember that struggles are just steps along the way and don't get discouraged. If you do stop having fun, then perhaps a break or pause in the learning might be needed but I recommend pushing through your discomfort anyway and focusing on those times when you have a big smile on your face.

After all is said and done - you have to be happy with who you are and own what you do. This applies to learning how to dance (or anything else): take the learning and make it a part of you.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Opportunity Knocks: I Need Your Vote

Mission Main Street Grants

Life definitely sends you some funny curve balls.

As I enter my fifth decade, I'm three years into finding and living my bliss and I'm at a crossroads to decide what to do to further my dreams. What comes my way? This opportunity to really make a difference.

Its short notice but what the heck right? The Mission Main Street Grant is a $100,000 grant awarded by Chase to 20 Businesses. (Here's more information about the grant.)

I have a deadline of June 5th to submit answers to five questions AND I need 250 votes by June 19 to make it to the evaluation round to be considered for the Mission Main Street Grant by Chase which will be awarded in September.

If I have helped you in anyway, made an impact on your life somehow, if you want to continue to attend my events and participate in some other new ventures I try, or even if you just like me and want to help -

Click on that button on the top of the page and VOTE now

Feel free to share with others and don't wait, deadline is June 19. Thanks so much for your help.

I want to create a Creative Learning Lab that allows people a fun environment to learn, explore and discover themselves with others. I believe that social partner dancing is a key activity that facilitates learning and personal growth and also builds community so I want to teach partner dancing in ways that allow this learning to happen. I also want to create a community that is welcoming and self-sustaining where its members pay it forward to help keep the community thriving. I also want to foster cooperative competition with others like myself who want to to grow through their passions.

My business is teaching partner dance (Kizomba with some Bachata and Salsa) and producing dance and social event for people to learn about Kizomba and connect with a larger community that also enjoys learning, dancing, music and culture. Dancing allowed me to give form to expressing joy through movement with another person and allowed me to participate and give back in a warm and welcoming community so I want to share and facilitate that experience for others.

I'm starting with Kizomba and hoping to grow it past this dance into other dances and other activities that I love: art and cooking. Can you imagine a space where you can do all three? Geek out on whatever you wish or just be a newbie experiencing something for the first time.


  • Continue to bring the best instructors here to Seattle for Kizomba and Semba through weekend workshops and social dancing.
  • Develop a new curriculum of classes that are focused on musicality to help dancers that have grasped the basics to further their dance. EX: I want to try to find a live band to teach with to help dancers hear elements in the music better.
  • Develop other programs that involve teaching dance to help with building confidence and another to help build intimacy in relationships.
  • Bring together Kizomba teachers from all over the US to cooperatively discuss how to teach better, how to build community and how to enable cost effective exchange between communities and have this be an annual or bi-annual event. Expand this to different dance eventually.
  • Develop a Travel and Exchange Program to help bring dancers closer to the cultural and musical context of the dance.
  • Work with the Bachata Seattle team on the same programs to expand the Bachata community. 
  • Find a space or work cooperatively with other studios and businesses to promote the art and cooking aspect of my Creative Learning Lab.
  • Find business partners with strengths in marketing and sales to help me grow my market reach and monetize my ideas to create a sustainable business.

Monday, April 27, 2015


One of the questions I am often asked is "What makes a good follow?" in social partner dancing. Then, there's also the follow-up: "How do you teach someone to be a good follow?".

There are two core things that I believe to be true for ANY role in the partner dance. I believe that social partner dancing is a way to express what one hears in the music with someone else. For me, the beauty and joy of partner dancing is at its best when the partnership is something that both dancers can enjoy.
1) Understand the rules of the dance and the music. The music drives the dance and different dances have conventions that need to be understood. There's no escaping that you have to understand the music and the dance together. By conventions I refer to things that are foundations like the step pattern if there is one, how to step and move and engage with your partner.

2) Understand my body and how it moves. As a dancer my body is what I use to express, respond and connect in the dance. In order to use it well, I have to know what I can do to move with balance, grace and in the partnership with someone else. To develop this understanding, it means I have to explore different kinds of movement to different kinds of music.

As anyone hooked on dancing will attest to, one can spend a lifetime learning and perfecting these core tenants. This is another reason I love dancing, the process of learning and growing never really ends.

One final ingredient is your mindset.

Here's mine:

I aspire to make every dance I dance as enjoyable as possible with the person I dance with. 

This doesn't mean that I sacrifice myself at the expense of my partner. It does mean that I have an equal say in the dance to make it as fun as possible.

Given that I am already working on the core things above, here are some three main skills that I constantly work on to perfect my following:

LISTEN  - I listen to the music so I can understand what my lead hears in the song. I listen to how my lead moves and "hear" his expression of the  music through his dancing. I develop radars everywhere using my eyes, my limbs etc.

For example, in Kizomba: I pay attention to how my lead steps and moves. What are the signals I can use to know that the step is slow, at tempo, faster. What is the indication for me to turn?  Every step is a new step so I focus on how to understand the different ways my partner is stepping.

In other dances, I look at my partner's body and arm position. There are many other subtle clues to what's coming next and the more I dance and the more I dance with different people, the better I get at reading the signs early so I can be ready to respond and eventually respond with time to play (see Express below). 

MATCH - I do my best to match and flow of his movement while still maintaining my own balance: equal to what my lead is suggesting/asking. When there is too much resistance or not enough connection - I know that something is off so I try to adjust: its not a fight - its a flow. 

Matching sometimes means that I hold off on styling to make sure that I continue the flow that my lead has initiated. Matching also means that sometimes, I mimic what my lead is doing, or pick up partway and make a variation of my own. I counter or change time or move in contrast to something he just did.

Matching also means using the same force and energy that I am led with to complete my movements. It become a cycle while the music plays: energy and movement is absorbed, transformed and then sent back between the partners in the social dance.

EXPRESS - I keep my presence known so that my lead knows that I'm dancing with them to the music. Sometimes that means I yield to the lead's musicality and expression because we're in sync anyway, sometimes it means I suggest something without interrupting their flow. Oftentimes its a combination.

Expression is where I get to be who I am in the partnership and it is where I can share what I hear in the music with my partner. It is where I can do one or more of these things to make the dance I have as much fun as can be, to inspire, complement, enhance or expand the experience for myself and my dance partner.

Its only three points but there's a lot within each one and if you keep thinking about all of them at once, well, your brain might explode and your body just freeze with too much to do. There are also so many teachers and helpful souls out there that want to give you advice. Just remember that you know yourself best and give yourself space to learn, absorb, apply and integrate.

Challenges can drive you but they can also discourage you and depending on where you're at in your learning cycle and confidence, it can easily cause you to want to stop dancing. Don't let it. What I recommend is:
1) Have an open mind and be patient. You know the deal, Rome wasn't built in a day right?
2) Be true to yourself and what it is you love about the dance. Its easy to get swayed by other people. This is after all an activity that is very extroverted and feedback from others is always around whether you want it or not. Not all dances will be fun and some of the people you will meet are definitely not your type. When in doubt, look to yourself for validation and find your support system and the people that care about you for help. Don't let some jerk or negative experience define what you do or trap you into something that makes you miserable.
4) Take a break and come back to it when you need. Sometimes, you just need to reset so reset! Dance will always be there and being welcomed back after a long absence can be a very much needed boost to a tired or weary demeanor.

My experience with learning is that each of these things are like layers: when one layer becomes so much a part of you that you don't have to think about it anymore, then another layer comes into focus OR you have time to perfect the next layer. Also, as you learn and your sensors and movements become second nature, you're instincts will take over and then BAM! more magic happens.

What I love about following is the I have last word in the interaction and I can influence the next move. I love that as a follow I an open up possibilities for my lead in the dance, whatever level they might be. What I love about partner dancing is when my lead and I are on the same wavelength with what we hear in the music and that we can be ourselves while appreciating and inspiring each other in the dance.