What does it mean to be a good student?

Over the last year, I’ve been teaching Argentine Tango and Lindy Hop to a small group of people in remote California. The students aren’t particularly quick learners, and they aren’t generally athletic – but they have an advantage I don’t see in most workshop classes I’ve attended. They are good students.

In a society where we are inundated with workshops, it’s easy to believe we are good at learning without actually being good at it. Most people breeze through classes believing that because we ended in the right place, we did the move right. However, that’s not always the case; we’re usually missing something important.

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Here are qualities my students practice at every single class – qualities which make them truly great students.

They practice basics (and more) without prompting

It’s one thing to practice basics when the teacher tells you to – but it’s a whole different thing to practice your basics without prompting. Without fail, these students are already practicing when I arrive – and more often than not, it’s their most basic moves. They even show up early to class to get a few more minutes of practice in.

They ask questions

These students are constantly trying to understand the dance better. They do not hesitate to ask questions when I’m teaching a new move. They also think about the move critically when I put on a song to practice, and when we reconvene after 3-5 minutes, they almost always have a question about the technique. Even better, they often bring questions to class from their practice during the week, after a move didn’t work in their living room or on the social dance floor.

They think critically

When I teach a move, these students are constantly trying to figure out the next step. I repeatedly watched as two of my Argentine Tango students pieced together two separate moves, one of which they’d learned in a class with a different teacher. It was a new and complicated sequence which no one had taught them – they just connected the dots, and it was exciting to watch.

They give and receive feedback well

One of the hardest things to learn is how to give and receive feedback in class. In partner dancing, it’s hard to know who is right – especially when we’re all learning.

These students are not afraid to say “I think it might work better if…” or “I don’t feel the lead for…” And when they offer feedback, it’s often with a touch of humility: “I might not be leading it right, but I think this is where something is going wrong. Can we try it again?” I’ll find that these students solve many of their own connection challenges without my input, and it makes them stronger dancers.

Best of all, these students receive feedback well. They never act offended or self-righteous. Instead, they start over, move slowly, and ask for my advice when they get stuck.

The same people show up for the beginner and the advanced classes

One of the challenges of teaching in a rural community is that I am only one person, and I can only teach so many classes. Every two months or so, we start over so that we can invite new people to grow the scene – and that means it’s often hard to move on and offer more advanced material. But my advanced students show up no matter what I’m teaching. Furthermore, they approach each beginner class with the same critical mind they bring to the advanced class. As such, I can confidently say that these students are always working on their basics – and that’s worth admiring.

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