Teaching Tips


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Dance Instructors…

Have you ever exaggerated something to your students?

Did you know this might be slowing down their learning and encouraging them to stop taking your lessons?

Allow me to explain…

Clarifying the Benefits of Exaggerating

First, I’ll clarify, there can be benefits to exaggerating.

For example, when used with isolations, exaggerating can amplify what you want them to see. Just be careful that you are actually isolating the exaggeration. Otherwise, any additional movements you add to the exaggeration will distract from what you want them to see.

Also, exaggerations can be used for comedy.  Just be careful to use them at the moments they work best.  After all, timing is everything in comedy AND in teaching dance.

If you are using exaggerations before, or without the Minimization Technique (described below), you may be losing both the build up for your comedic timing AND the chance to dramatically affect the dancing of a large number of your students.

Plus, the more you exaggerate, the more likely your students will start to think they no longer gain value from your classes (even when they still can)…which can encourage them to stop taking your lessons!

Why might exaggerating slow my students learning?

VERY FEW dancers associate their own movement with an exaggerated example.

If you tell your students not to do something and you over-exaggerate it…yes, they will probably agree with you that it is something not to do, but it also becomes something that they think you are explaining for the benefit of someone else (or to make a joke). It isn’t them you are talking to because they are not doing that (at least not that obviously). Heck, even if they are doing it that exaggerated, they probably still won’t associate with it. Some part of their subconscious won’t admit it is them you are talking to.

Reality check: If you tell your students not to do something, and then a few minutes later they are all still doing it, it might be because no one realized you were talking specifically to them.

The Minimization Technique shown below will speed up your student’s learning while keeping them coming back for more!

Benefits Of Minimization Technique

1. Your students become more engaged

It is very easy to zone out during class and miss some of the most helpful tips. Even the top students do it. If you are showing things that are obvious, most of your students will slowly disengage. However, when you ask someone “What is the difference between example A and example B?” and make it a very small difference… if they can’t figure it out immediately, they will ask you to do it again and maybe even from several angles. Now they are actively engaged in your material and their ability to learn has skyrocketed compared to when they were passively taking your class.

2. Gives your students a very strong reason to take classes from you

Students love to learn something new. When you exaggerate something for them NOT to do, most dancers feel it is pretty obvious and so they think they are NOT gaining new knowledge. But when you present them with a question that they can’t immediately answer, it shows them that you know something that they don’t, giving them the realization that you have something valuable for them to learn. It is truly an amazing technique because you can take something they thought they knew and show them how much more you can teach them about it.

3. Improves your connection and musicality

Being able to change the degree of subtlety in your dancing is a extremely beneficial skill for your own dancing. Most dancers have an “on/off” switch mentality in their dance ability. They either have good or bad connection. They are either musical or not musical. Good posture or bad posture. This is a very one dimensional (or maybe 2 dimensional) way to look at dance and it can limit your dancing. Instead, think of everything you do as being on an infinite scale and constantly practice your ability to adjust to different places on that scale.  This gives you the diversity to provide more accurate partner dancing with each dancer you encounter and allows for more textures in your dancing.

4. Your teaching becomes personalized instead of one size fits all

Improving your ability to show various places on the infinite scale (see #3 above), allows you to personalize the exact same material for different audiences.  Basics are something we can all benefit from practicing at all levels of our dancing, but not too many advanced dancers want to be treated like an intermediate, nor do the intermediates want to be treated like beginners.  Watch out for the one size fits all exaggerations, and personalize your teaching so your students see how to improve from where they are at.

5. Dramatically improves your students

Instead of telling your students “Don’t do this really exaggerated thing” that most people can avoid without too much difficulty, you are now requesting much more of them. Look at the difference between these two examples…

  • Exaggeration Example: Follows, your lead is leading you at 3 mph and you are going at 10 mph. Let’s try to improve that.
  • Minimization Example: Follows, your lead is leading you at 2.5 miles per hour and you are going at 2.6 mph. Let’s try to improve that.

With the minimization example, everyone is shooting for a much more accurate goal and even the ones who were going at 5 mph are going to come much closer to the goal than if they were given the exaggeration example goal to shoot for.

6. Makes your teaching stand out amongst the average teacher

Just by being aware of this, you are already a huge step beyond many dance teachers in the world today and you have the opportunity to take giant leaps to surpass the skills of many other instructors.

7. Allows you to teach higher level dancers

The higher the level of the students, the more accurate they will want you to be with your isolations and minimizations. As you improve your minimizations, you are training yourself to be able to show higher level dancers that you have something valuable for them to learn.

The Requirements

1. Practice isolating the change you want

It is very easy to exaggerate to a point where the actual thing you want to change gets lost amongst all the other things you are adding in to exaggerate the problem. For example, you might tell your students not to let their shoulder disconnect from their body and then in your demo you stumble or say “ouch” when you show the disconnected version. The students see the stumble or hear the “ouch” and assume their arm must be connected since they are not stumbling or getting hurt, etc… but the reality is that most people can still dance with a disconnected arm and never notice it because the end result is not always as obvious as a stumble, or getting hurt.

So a more effective technique would be to isolate the issue by showing version A, dancing well with a connected arm, and then showing version B, still dancing the best you can but with a disconnected arm, only letting it affect in the fewest possible ways (which will also be a great minimization).  This takes practice.

2. Retrain your body & your brain that you can dance well with ‘bad’ techniques

You might not realize you have the skills to dance well without a connected arm (see #1 above) or whatever else you believe is needed to have a great dance. However, that is probably NOT TRUE. You have the skill to do it… but you probably trained your mind (or been trained by others) to believe that it is simply not possible to dance well without that “good” technique. So if you want to isolate and dance well disconnected (or with any other “bad” technique), you will be fighting the years of accidental (or purposeful) training that has made you believe this isn’t possible. That takes very purposeful training to overcome. It is not hard to do, but it requires pin point focus and repeated practice.

The 6 Steps

1. Ask students: Does anyone see the difference between Version A vs Version B? (Version they are doing vs Version you want them to do)

Try to make the difference so small that no one can see it (but make sure there is still a difference so you are not about to lie).

2. Pause briefly to let confusion set in. Before any can respond, say:  For those of you who can’t see it yet, let me show it from several angles. Then show it from 1 or 2 more angles at the same minimization.

This allows those who didn’t see it at first to feel like they got a fair shot. It will also either help confirm they don’t know what you are about to share or allow them to feel like they figured it out on their own.  Both are great!

3. Let 3-4 people share what they think the difference is without giving away the correct answer.

Students learn more by sharing than by being told.  Plus, it gets them more engaged!  If over 50% get the answer correct, you might want to practice your ability to minimize more.

4. Say: Let me show it again with an exaggeration.  Show it again while amplifying the one aspect you want them to change and explain the difference as you are showing each example.

Tell them exactly where to look (elbows, hips, etc).  Be sure to isolate the issue and avoid excess changes (like stumbling).

5. Say: But you all are NOT doing it that exaggerated.  You are doing it more like this.  Then go back and show them the minimized versions again.

Most of them will now be able to see it and if anyone can’t you can do a slightly less minimized version for them. Allowing them to see the minimization again is a key step in this whole process.

6. Say: Everyone try Version A & now try version B. Let them experience both versions & then practice the version you want them to do.

In order for someone to be sure to make a change, it helps to let them experience both versions side by side.  If you only try to get them to do your version, they might continue to do theirs without realizing it.  When they compare them, they can more easily tell if they are making a change or not.  Compare first, then let them practice the one you want them to do.

Your Homework

Apply this knowledge! The more you do, the more you learn & improve.

1. Use Minimization In Your Next Class

Pick one technique that you would like to teach with minimizations and practice teaching it.  Perfecting the teaching skill is easier to do when you don’t have to constantly adjust.  Once you become comfortable using it with one technique, you will naturally and easily start implementing it in the rest of your teaching.

2. Share This Technique

Sharing is a great way to learn & it’s nice!  Try one of these:

  • Teach someone about Minimization vs Exaggeration.
  • Share this article and mention one thing you learned from it.
  • Share one situation where you would use minimizations in the comments below.

Please use the minimization technique and let us know how it goes for you! Add your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.

  • What would you use the minimization technique for?

    For Example:I find it works great when explaining jerky vs smooth leads.The difference between connecting to your partner vs connecting to your partner’s entire body.

  • I found this article really interesting and helpful.  I was not aware of using minimization as a technique.  Thank you for all the details.  The idea of using exaggeration (or amplification 🙂 ) after minimization is also an interesting and exciting one.  It makes me think that it could be fun and effective to also involve my students more actively in the teaching by having select students minimize and amplify — as a form of learning, but also as a form of play.  I’m thinking that if they can notice the subtle changes in their bodies and develop the ability to move back and forth between less-desirable and more-desirable positions, that it would increase their mental and physical agility, as well as their sense of empowerment.  I work with kids from kindergarten to fifth grade.  Very cool suggestions.  Thank you.

  • @Julie  “it would increase their mental and physical agility, as well as their sense of empowerment.”  Absolutely!  Well put!  I would love to hear how it goes. 🙂

  • My favorite teachers, I would love to hear your thoughts (agree or disagree) on this concept. 

    Alfredo Melendez Amanda Gruhl Mayer Andy Reid Barry TheMan Douglas Brenda Russell Campbell Miller Cc Wagner Chris Mayer Christina Musser @Cristina N Ladas Damon Stone Dax Orion Hock Deborah S Székely @Doug Silton Evita Arce Flouer Courtney Evelyn Frida Segerdahl Greg Avakian Hanna Lundmark Hasse Mattsson

  • Heidi Fite Homer G Ladas Jenny Thomas Jeremy Lightsmith Joseph DeMers Justin Riley Kelly Howard Kyle Redd Marcus Koch Mario Robau Mattias Lundmark Mihai Banulescu Mike Legenthal Myles Munroe Nick Jones Nina Gilkenson Orville Zharoff Robert Royston Ruby Red Ryan Francois Sarah Breck Sarah Vann Drake Shawn Hershey Steven Mitchell Sylvia Sykes Ted Maddry Timothy O’Neill Virginie Martinet Jensen Whitton Frank

  • This is just one tool out of many to add to the tool belt. Use it when it helps, and use something else when that will help (or just to have variety). That said, my advice would be… when you are about to exaggerate something, think twice before doing it and check with yourself as to whether or not a minimization would work better. In my experience, it often does. 

    I also think that the exact method of using minimizations can be improved by adjusting it for each situation as you gain experience in using it. However, if you are new to using minimizations, the method above will bring added value over a misused exaggeration. 

    Using Exaggerations… I wrote this from the perspective of someone who constantly sees teachers using exaggerations in situations where minimizations would probably work so much more effectively. Above I mention a few situations where exaggerating or amplifying could be helpful but I honestly can’t think of a situation where exaggerating (not amplifying) is more effective than minimizing when used on it’s own. I am sure there are some situations where it would be, but my blinders are on right now. 🙂 

    If anyone has any examples of situations where exaggerations (not amplifications) would be more effective than minimizations, I would love to hear them!  Even if it is super specific and might only happen once in every 1000 students, I am always trying to improve and refine my ideas. 

    This was a reply to the following conversation about this topic in Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/groups/When-do-you-use-minimizations-4335917.S.5917390354054656001

  • Exaggerations might be better if… 

    A. You were going for humor & it was something that everyone was already doing the way that you wanted them to, then exaggerating gets the comedy without wasting time on an unneeded minimization.

    B. You were not capable of doing the minimization.  (Although in that case, I might just avoid the topic, or describe it to them with words and explain that you aren’t able to do it that well.  In this case, be clear to explain that just because you can’t do it, doesn’t mean they can’t.  A teacher doesn’t have to be as good as their students, they just have to be able to improve their students.  For example, sports coaches often don’t have anywhere near the talent of their players, but they have knowledge on how to improve their players.

  • The minimization vs exaggeration concept is meant to cover both when you are teaching them the look and the feel.  

    Here is an example using the concept when you are working on the feeling:

    Let’s say that we are trying to teach someone to have a smooth transition in connection instead of a jerky or rough one. Now let’s say there is a scale of smooth to rough where 
    0 = smoothest transition you ever felt 
    10 = roughest transition you ever felt 

    Let’s say that all the students are currently transitioning somewhere between levels 3-6 and you want to get them closer to a 0. 

    When teaching them, you have a few options: 

    Option 1 (Exaggerating): You can have them feel a rougher transition at an exaggerated example of level 7 vs feeling your most smoothest transition of level 0. 


    Option 2 (Precision): You can have them feel the exact level they are doing (3-6) vs feeling your most smoothest transition of level 0. 


    Option 3 (Minimizing): You can have them feel a slightly rougher transition of level 1 that is still smoother than what they are currently doing vs your smoothest transition of level 0. 

    In my experience, it is most effective to start with Minimizing, then go to Precision, then go to Minimizing again. (sometimes using Exaggerating after Minimizing & Precision have already been done). 

    If you start with Exaggerating (or even Precision), you are much more likely to have your students assume that you are talking to someone else and zone out or start thinking about other things because what you are doing is too obvious or they think it doesn’t pertain to them. 

    Starting with something less obvious (Minimizing), gets them to focus, pay attention, and feel they have something to learn and improve on, and in my experience, they learn much faster this way too.

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    About the author 

    Andrew Sutton

    Andrew Sutton is a Vice World Champion Lindy Hop Instructor, and one of the original founders of the Fusion partner dance movement. He uses his extensive research in over 254 cities across 38 countries (& 44 dance forms) to help dance instructors be more successful in their teaching & finances during their pursuit to help their students...Make Every Dance Amazing!

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