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by Martha Ogasawara (9/97)


As an instructor, choosing which dances to teach is probably one of the hardest things you have to do. When I first started teaching, not having enough dances to choose from was one of my biggest problems. I taught almost anything I could get a step sheet for. Now it's gone to the other extreme. I have access to so many new dances, many of them ones that I would really like to teach, that it's really difficult to pick and choose.

Our club is holding a dance festival this November with special guest instructors Jo Thompson and Tim Szymanski. Some of us got together recently to go over the various dances that were proposed for the festival and decide which ones we would actually use. I thought it might be interesting to write about some of the criteria that we used in making our decision.

First of all, let me explain a little about the festival. It's a 3-day affair and it's predominantly workshops going on in one hall. If you count the review time that is progammed into the schedule, there are 15 hours of workshops altogether. However, we are only teaching 7 new line dances. 4 of the hours will be devoted to couples dancing, mostly beginning Two-Step and Night Club Two Step. 5 hours will be used for new line dance workshops. The other 6 hours will be spent on review - 2 hours reviewing dances from last year's festival and the rest reviewing things taught at this year's workshops.

Why do we spend so much time reviewing? Because the people attending the festival want us to. We programmed a lot of review time into our schedule last year, and yet still one of the most frequent comments we got was that people wanted more time just to do the new dances they'd learned. Most of the people are very low-frequency dancers. They range from a couple of times a month (that's mostly our club members who are the highest frequency dancers) to a couple of times a year. I certainly know how frustrating it is to me when I go to a dance festival in the U.S. and learn a new dance that I like, but only get to do it once in the workshop and maybe once more that night at open dancing, and then never see it again.

So how did we choose those 7 dances that we'll be teaching? Let me tell you, it wasn't easy. There were easily 3 times that many dances that I wished we could teach. I got the original list of dances by sitting down with Jo and making a list of some of the dances that she's currently teaching, and then adding some of the dances that I'd either learned or seen and liked during my recent trip back to the U.S.. There were about 20 dances on this list, which I narrowed down to 12. Then nine of us got together last weekend and learned all of the dances, after which we voted for the ones we wanted to include in the program. Here are some of the criteria that we used in making our decisions.

Before a dance could even be put on the list, we had to be sure that we could get an authentic step sheet for it - either one directly from the choreographer or one from a very reliable source. We also had to be able to get a copy of the music suggested by the choreographer. Even if we occasionally end up using different music to dance to, I want to know what sort of feel the original music had.

The next obvious criteria is that the dance must flow well and be balanced. Some dances are a lot of fun, but for some reason you always end up with say a cramped left leg after doing them. That's okay if you only do them once a night, but since we plan to dance them at least 7 or 8 times over the weekend, you don't want to unnecessarily overtax any body parts. The other thing is that the music has to be really good and it must really fit the dance. The music has got to make you want to get up and dance to it.

Along similar but less obvious lines, the dance has to be one that you won't get sick of right away. Particularly with beginner level dances, there are some really fun or cute dances, but after doing them 9 or 10 times you hope to never see them again. The same is true for the song it's done to. We don't want to choose any dances that we're going to be sorry about a few months from now. You'll get tired of doing the same dance Eventsually no matter how good it is, but hopefully that time will come later and not sooner.

Whenever possible, we try to choose dances that are generally popular in the U.S.. That way, there's a better chance that we'll be able to dance it the next time we go to a dance festival in the U.S..

There's another set of criteria we use when choosing multiple dances like we are for our festival. We try to get as much variety as possible. We want different kinds of music, different moves in the dances, different feels to the dances, a variety of BPMs, different choreographers, etc.. Not only does that help keep the interest level high, but it also helps to keep the dances from all blurring together after you learn them.

There was one final consideration for the dances that we'll have Jo teach us. We tried to pick dances that we couldn't teach very well. Upper body movement (body rolls, shimmies etc.) are very difficult for us. Therefore, we purposely chose a couple of dances that had breaks in the music where you had to do something creative with your body for 4 or 8 counts. None of us ever wants to teach dances like that because although we know what we'd like to be able to do there, our bodies just don't seem to listen to our brains. Hopefully, after Jo leaves, we'll be a little closer to our ideal. We especially want Jo to teach us about good technique. If it was just new dances we wanted to learn, we could get that from watching DanceLink.

And so by now, you must be curious about what dances we ended up choosing. Not all of the dances fit all of the criteria, but I think we have a pretty rounded program that fits our needs. The dances we chose are - drumroll please:
Ridin' by Dave Ingram done to "Ridin' Alone" by the Rednex
Shakin' All Over by Peter Metelnick done to "The Shake" by Neal McCoy
Slap, Stomp & Roll by Jamie Davis done to "God Blessed Texas" by Little Texas
Uno, Dos, Tres by Sherry McClure done to "Maria" by Ricky Martin
The Rock & Roll Waltz by Max Perry done to the same song by Scooter Lee
Whatcha' Gonna Do by Sal Gonzalez done to "Mary Lou" by Delbert McClinton
Twistem' by Jo Thompson done to "The Twist" by Ronnie McDowell

I'll let you know more about the festival itself after it happens. Until then.

Martha is a C/W dance intructor in Japan and a member of a social dance club called Nagoya C/W Dance Fans "Crazy Feet". She was born and raised in Indiana, but has lived over half of her life in Japan. She comes back to the U.S. once a year to try and keep up with the current dance trends.