Dancing Brains

Houston Tribune
May 2004

Bridgette Mongeon © 2004

Prior to our marrying six years ago, both my husband and liked to dance. Our dancing was of course with different people. Once we married, we tried to dance with each other, but when we did there seemed to be instant tension. I thought, “Maybe a dance class would help.” We signed up for one of those group classes thinking, “This should be fun,” but we both had a mis¬erable time. Though both of us knew how to dance, trying to learn together left us frustrated.

Yvonne, a student who had been taking private instruction for 18 years, introduced me to The Dance Place. I told her about the difficulties that my husband and I were having. I knew we had different ways of learning and that trying to learn together was very frustrating for us both. Maybe we would try to learn just one more time. I wondered if anyone at The Dance Place could help. Yvonne was extremely insightful and understanding. As it turns out, when she first tried to learn to dance, she too had struggled. She recom¬mended Michael Schedler and said he understood learning styles. If anyone could teach us, he could. I would soon find out he had more to teach us than dance.

Each person has a different learning style, some are auditory learners, some are visual learners, some learn by touch, and others learn intellectually, through patterns. I was aware that the learning styles of my husband and myself were very, very different, but it didn’t really affect us, until it came time to dance. On the dance floor we had to be tolerant of each other’s learning styles, while struggling with our own.

This is probably why we did not do so well in a “group” class. Not only did we have to learn individually but also we had to leave room for the other person. Then there was an entire room of students that would move ahead of us while we were juggling all of the learning.

I was very anxious to try a private class. It was easy to see that Mr. Schedler had a very keen awareness of the learning styles of individuals. He was also able to switch gears throughout our sessions, not only perceiving what one partner was not understanding but redirecting the instructions in a way that each of us could grasp. His talent as a teacher was incredible. At home my husband referred to him as “the mediator, and referee.”

“Most people want to learn to dance, my job is to help them to learn how to overcome their handicap of how they are learning.” States Mr. Schedler. “The teachers job is to find the weakness and to make the partnership work.” I felt a little relieved.

In our first class, Mr. Schedler went over the basics of dance in what seemed like endless detail. I tried to listen to what he was saying, but there seemed to be too many words. A couple of times I thought, “Why is he talking so much? If I don’t move soon he will loose me.” You see my learning style is “feeler.” I learn through the movement. Once I retain the movement in my body, then I have it. These words were not movement. I looked at my husband. He was standing patiently and looked genuinely interested in what the teacher had to say. Later I asked him what he liked about the class; “I like when he went over the basics.” He said, “If I have the parts of things then I can make the connections between the basic parts. I can see it in my head, if I don’t have them I’m lost.” This was the first example of not only how different we are but also of how incompatible our learning styles are of each other. If, in my frustration, I had said something like, “enough, let’s dance” I would have taken away from my husband his opportunity to understand.

I wish I could say I was continually tolerant of my husband’s learning style, but my own learning style kept getting in the way. There was a point in that first class where I did say something. The instructor danced with me demonstrating a part. Then my husband danced with me. The two felt entirely different. I don’t know how they felt different; I just know my body said, “This is different.” I chimed up and said something. I am not sure what the instructor said and he was very polite about it, but my biggest lesson in that first class was “SHUT UP.” Everything inside of me wanted to say, “It is not right, I can feel it’ but I soon learned that the instructor was more than qualified to see the mistakes. As I gave him the opportunity to be the instructor he would very gently guide my husband into the direction and moves that he needed, and he did it using my husband’s way of learning. My husband’s synopsis of the first class and the instruction is that he thought the teacher was very thorough and understanding but most of all, encouraging.

Mr. Schedler said he has never found a student that he couldn’t teach. He did say that he has come across students where their personalities did not mesh with the teachers and he would find another teacher.

In future classes our differences just kept coming out. Both my husband and the instructor chastised me for leading. I didn’t really mean to lead, I knew I shouldn’t, but the desire to do the moves over and over again was so strong. Moving helped me to retain it. Stopping to give my husband time to figure out the pattern fractured my thoughts and seemed to halt my retention. Being reminded to stop moving or leading irritated me, but I tried to be patient. Later Mr. Schedler explained “Intellectual thinkers map out the patterns in their mind. Any kind of doubt in their minds and they get stuck and need to overcome that doubt. They can get stuck on the least little thing. My job is to try and get them to relax and know they can make a mistake. There are no dance police.” My husband later referred to this quote when trying to help me to understand an entirely different aspect of his life, “that’s me,” he said. I have decided I need to remember this about my husband. It may help me to be more patient.

Another aspect of learning to dance is hearing the beats in the music. Sometimes students have a difficult time hearing the rhythm of the music and transferring it into dance. Mr. Schedler explains that with this type of person he will find music with the strongest beat so that the student can learn what to listen for and hear the basic rhythm. He then teaches how to transfer that listening into the movements.

Some students may interpret what the instructor says differently than how he meant it. That is the instructor’s cue to find a different way of saying it. Not louder or more often, as is the case with some instructors, but differently so that the individual can understand it in their own style.

Another learning style is visual learning. Visual learners have an advantage over the feelers and intellectuals. They see what the instructor does and they can transfer it. They may not understand the rhythm but they can copy the patterns.

After our fourth class it was apparent to me that in the past my desire and exuberance about dancing with my husband had added more pressure to him. As Mr. Schedler put it “The one that ‘gets it’ doesn’t mean any harm they just really want to help, however the person on the receiving end just resents it and is frustrated, that is when it is a good idea to have a teacher. The partner on the receiving end won’t want to do it again, they will feel self-conscious and they put up walls of defense. Tearing down those walls can be very difficult, even for a teacher.”

Having our “referee” seemed like the ideal way of learning, but I was concerned about when we were practicing. Mr. Schedler suggests having a controlled environment in which we would practice. And if there are problems, try asking each other “What do you remember him saying?” to see how each remembers it being taught. That did prove to be a little difficult for me; I remembered it in my body. I could tell if it was right or wrong, but to give it a definition in words or remembering what the instructor said was difficult. Mr. Schedler does allow video cameras or tape recorders in his dance class, anything that will help the student learn. He did advise, “If it can’t be worked out then give yourself permission to let it go and seek instruction.” Most of all you must keep it light—dance must be fun.

I couldn’t help but wonder how Mr. Schedler knew so much about learning styles. “I first heard about it after high school. When I began to teach dance I thought about how I could apply learning styles to teaching.” In 22 years of teaching dance he has had some practice. But he says he still tries to figure new ways to teach.

For my husband and I dance class has taught us tolerance and has reinforced the idea that we are very different and that we need to have patience with each other. Our classes have been extremely successful, as our brains are dancing the waltz, foxtrot, swing and salsa, while smiling.

The Dance Place is owned and operated by Michael Schedler and Phillip Stephens. It is located at 3300 Chimney Rock Rd., Suite 500. For more information, call 713-266-0066.

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