Posts Tagged ‘dance’

Venn diagrams are such fun tools.  I wrote a post a while back about the career planning Venn diagram that I ran across.

Career Options

And that is still what’s driving me.  Where to find that intersection between Enjoyment, Skill Set, and a Paycheck.

So let’s talk about another Venn diagram (I promise I’ll loop back around to careers in a moment).  Two of the things that I enjoy most are programming and dancing.  Can I make them intersect?  The default diagram appears to look like this.

Programming - Dance

But wait, dance is heavily influenced by music, there is a mathematical aspect to music (especially the way I think about it) and programming bears a striking resemblance to mathematics.  So here is my intersection model for programming and math.  Pretty, twisted, no?

Programming + Dance - Simple

In any case that leads to the core point of this post, which is that I’m taking a new turn in my reboot process and investing some significant amount of time into a project that really is an intersection between programming and dance.  I’m building a web site and suite of web (and possibly *phone apps) to help dancers find music.   Along with that I’m spinning up a new blog to help shape the ideas that go into the site.  So if music and dancing are things that interest you, please hop on over to my new blog.

And as promised, back to careers.  This lands me squarely on this version of the career diagram.


If the stars align I hope to bring the paycheck circle back into an overlapping state.


One of the things that started me thinking along the lines of “Reconcilable Differences” was a pretty firm case of “Context Matters” with a sprinkling of “Language is Hard”. I was working on Triangle Pose (Trikanasana) in yoga and the teacher kept telling me to isolate my upper body. Well in the competition dancing that I did as a youngster, the phrase “upper body isolation” was almost always used to refer to making your ribs go in the opposite direction from your hips. This is of course different in different kinds of dances, but for the kind of dancing that I did, it was a core enough concept that this kind of upper body isolation was part of my routine warm-up.

So when I heard a very similar phrase in yoga I immediately started moving my chest away from my upward hip, which body-feel-wise was amazingly close to the Latin dancing upper body isolation that I’ve done a million times. And of course, that was the exact opposite of what the teacher intended. In order to achieve Trikanasana, the chest has to be aligned with the upward hip and by moving it away I was making the problem worse. After several repetitions and a physical correction from a very patient teacher, I figured out my mistake. And since I have spent a lot of time doing “upper body isolations” I was able to make a good deal of progress quickly once I understood the issue, although this is still really hard. And dealing with nuances of language that have been heavily skewed by years of dance while trying to hold yoga poses is still really hard too, but it is really cool when something filters through my excessively think skull.

And while I’m thinking about dance and “Context Matters,” I have to relay my very favorite example. It is in the different ways that one “Partners” in ballroom dancing and Kung Fu. In Ballroom, the lead (which is the role I danced nearly exclusively) does everything possible to project to his partner where he is going. This is very very important to avoid foot trampling and other unfortunate incidents. But when sparring, you want to do everything possible to prevent your partner from knowing what you are about to do. This is very very important to avoid injury and humiliation even in a ‘friendly’ sparring situation. So I guess it’s a measure of my insanity that I actually went back and forth between doing these two kinds of partnering for years. Perhaps I should have switch to following in dance?

So while drawing on past (or even present) experience that seems relevant to what I’m currently working on is useful, understanding where they are different is equally important.  And of course language always matters!

Note: If you just stumbled upon this post, it’s part of a loose series. There is no need to read the whole thing, but you might want to scan this post for context.

One of the things that I value most about teachers of physical skills is where they are able to translate their knowledge to the context of my body. I’m a middle aged man who did nothing at all resembling physical activity from for my teens and early twenties, I’ll never have the same kind of physique as even a middle aged man who kept in shape his entire life.

So what are some of the differences in body type that have affected my practice of Kung Fu, Yoga, Dance, etc.?

Age, sex, muscle mass, stretchiness (there’s got to be a better word for this one), proportion of length of arm to length of leg, difference in core strength, proportion of torso to limbs, lots of other internal proportions, nimbleness of ankles, proportion of my height to my partner’s in partner dancing, proportion of my everything to my partner’s when sparring. Okay, I’m getting the bit off more than I can chew sensation again. But let’s see if I can take a couple of these to illustrate and I may have to come back to this list later.

The incident that spurred this line of thought was in yoga class. The (female) teacher was taking the class through a pose that was fairly new to the series that the school is putting together – the finger stand pose – (if anyone can tell me what the sanskrit name for that pose, I’d appreciate it). The way this teacher had been teaching the pose previously was to advise people to work their hips up and back between their hands until they could kind of fall into their hands an lift their legs. The last time she taught it though, she gave an alternative of thrusting your hips back and using the momentum to pull your legs up. When I asked her about it after class, she said that she added the alternative because a male student noted that he was incapable of doing the particular hip contortion that was necessary to manage the first variation.

But I do worry that male/female differences in yoga practice in particular can be overlearned. My favorite counter-example is Urdhva Dhanurasana (upward bow pose) – my sister used to do this all the time when we were growing up. I tried it a couple of times and failed (when I was 5 or 6) and assumed that it was something that was just easier for girls so just gave up. But that particular pose was introduced recently in a class and not only could I do it, but it feels really good. Beware of overlearning.

Another body type of difference that has been top of mind recently is the proportion of heights when partner dancing. Mrs. Reboot and I have been taking various forms of beginning swing lessons recently (East Coast, West Coast, Lindy) where holds are relatively loose and substantial height difference can pretty easily accommodated. We’re taking group classes where you might end up dancing with twenty partners of radically different heights during the course of the class. It is amazing to see the number of leads who lift their hands the same amount (or at least try to)when turning a sub five foot tall follow as a six foot tall follow. And then the worst variation of that is when they blame the follows on the extreme end of the height spectrum for not doing something right (I’m not quite sure what the “something right” is in their heads). But one of the great things about taking a group class like that is being able to quickly go through the various adjustments one can make to accommodate partners of different heights.

An alternative for a specific activity might be to find a coach who is as close to my type as possible. That’s never worked very well for me. Possibly in part because that tends to poke at my competitive instincts, but also the matrix of differences is so big that I’m not sure it’s really feasible to find that kind of match in all dimensions. So that brings me back to valuing coaches who can do the translation from their type to mine. And where partners/fellow students are involved both observing and learning from what they can do differently based on their physical differences.

One of the things that I’ve been struggling the most with in my attempt to teach programming to high school students is to get them to experiment.  This is particularly hard for me because when I learned to program I had no formal instruction for the first four years, so experimenting was by far the most used tool in my toolbox.

Because of this I’ve been emphasizing that there are many different ways to do things and showing (or getting the students to demonstrate) different solutions wherever I can.  And then I try to get them to compare the solutions again emphasizing that they both solve the problem and where each solution has advantages and dis-advantages.  But in so many cases, they seem to get into a mindset of doing something the ‘right’ way and then they get stuck.

As I was settling into yoga practice this morning, the teacher said something that really connected with me.  We were doing Child’s Pose, which for this style of yoga is one of the most basic and oft-repeated poses.  As such, you kind of feel like you know it after the first class.  But even though there weren’t any new students in class, she spent a couple of minutes encouraging us to experiment with the pose, settling differently in the hips, holding the hands wider or narrower, same with the feet, etc.  Because even in the most simple things, you can train yourself to do them more effectively.

That, of course, led me down the path of other physical training I’ve done including Kung Fu and dancing and marking patterns in how things are taught and how I learn them.  I’m not going to attempt to dump all of the details, but whenever I’ve found a teacher that takes the approach of “your body and your background is different than mine, so let’s try this a bunch of different ways until we land on something that works” I learn much more than the “this is the way it’s done and I’m very successful doing it this way, so let’s get you doing it exactly this way and you’ll be successful too” type of teacher.

So how does this relate to programming?  I’m pretty sure it’s almost the same concept.  For instance, almost any language has a bunch of looping constructs and you use them differently for different tasks and there are plenty of ways that you change up how each of those constructs are used depending on any given task.  And of course as anyone who’s worked with programmers for any period of time knows, there will be endless debates about what the ‘best’ way to solve a particular problem is, with the line often blurring between style and function.  Which is almost a direct parallel to conversations I’ve had with martial artists and ballroom dancers, now that I think about it.

And while I don’t think many of my 15 year old students spend a lot of time practicing yoga (or ballroom dancing, or Kung Fu), I suspect some of them have trained in high school sports like basketball and soccer.  And it seems like the same concept would apply.  Does anyone out there have a good example I can use in a more familiar (to a 15 year old) sport?  Or thoughts on how to draw such a story out of the aforementioned 15 year olds?

By the most strict definition, it’s been 9 months since I started this reboot project.  But for various reasons I’m going to write off about three months of that time and call this my six month check-in.  Not the least of which is that I hadn’t really gotten to the point where I felt like a top down check in made sense in April…

Here is a paragraph from my very first post which I need to keep coming back to as it is way too easy to get lost in the details:

I’m taking a minimum of a year off of full time employment to dive into this experiment, if this ends up being a year of self-improvement and self-discovery, I’ll count it as a success but not be thrilled with the outcome.  My overall objective is to accomplish the brain reboot and in the process discover my next big thing, which I hope will be a project/career that will both improve the world around me and provide a sustainable living.

And to do this I developed a what I can only describe as a self-directed curriculum.  I’m going to just blatantly cut and paste my original ‘curriculum’ post from October here, as I didn’t really remember it in detail and I’ve been living it…

—–Begin Excerpt—–

Because I am fundamentally a reductionist, I am going to divide my efforts into three broad categories.  One is large goals that I intend to spend something measurable in hours per week over the course of the year to achieve a specific objective.  Another is what I’m thinking of as tools and techniques – experimenting with different methods of learning on small things or specifically aiming at acquiring a particular skill that I believe will help my ability to execute on my larger goals.  The final category is the scatter-shot learning of anything that strikes my fancy.

Well that’s completely amorphous, you say?  Let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve already mentioned the top four big things:

  1. Learn a language – there are two major questions to answer here. The first is the language, I’m leaning towards Spanish, but some of the other contenders are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic.  This certainly deserves at least one blog post of its own, so stay tuned. The second is technique. I’m not even sure where to start with a discussion on how to learn a language (although I’ve been accumulating ideas from various sources) so again, stay tuned.
  2. Music – While my initial measurable goal is to learn an instrument to some level of mastery, I’d also like to dig more into music theory and develop sight reading skills. Contenders here are piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, harmonica, vocals and upright bass.
  3. Programming – I’m not even going to try to attack this in a small paragraph.
  4. Writing – Well, let’s start with blogging, perhaps more will come of it.  Although I did just notice that nanowrimo is next month. Hmmm…

And some of the skills that I’m hoping to develop:

  • Speed reading
  • Memorization techniques
  • Analysis/Critique – If nothing else I am going to start reviewing books and teaching company courses that I read and listen to.
  • Math – there is certainly room for a ‘big’ learning subject here as well, but my initial interest is in exercising basic math skills to see if that help stretch my brain and make some other activities easier.
  • Physical skills – Keep doing yoga and dance and perhaps re-introduce an eastern martial art of some kind – I am certainly strongly planted in the strong body helps a strong mind camp.
  • Typing?

I’m not sure that the last category is actually a separate thing, but I’m including it as a reminder to myself to  strike a balance between a disciplined approach and making sure that I have a blast in the process.

—–End Excerpt—–

And of course I gave myself full permissions to morph the curriculum as I went (including calling 9 months 6 months, just because).  So where am I now?

At a very high level, I feel both very good about what I’ve accomplished and pretty frustrated at the pacing.  But a large part of the point of this whole exercise is to get better at learning in general and while it’s very hard to measure that explicitly, I feel some movement in the old noggin’ so that has to count for something…

At the next level, I have stuck with my top four major objectives but would say that physical skills which I had originally placed as a minor player actually ended up getting elevated to top tier status.

And for a quick brain-dump style status report, here’s what I’ve got:

  1. Language: I landed on Spanish and spent some time listening to Pimsleur audio + their minimal reading writing accompaniment.   It was slow progress at best.  I certainly wasn’t able to absorb this information without reviewing multiple times per lesson.  So I broke down and signed up for a small class size Spanish 1 at a local school.  This seemed to get me over a bit of a hump.   I’m just starting level II and fell like I’m making real progress.  I think there is some chance that I will hit at least minimal functionality sometime in the foreseeable future which is definitely further than I’ve ever gotten before with a language other than English.
  2. Music:  I landed on Piano + some ear training supplemented with a bit of music theory.  I made it through a level one piano book quickly as it was mostly review.  I stalled out a bit on the level two stuff but can see myself getting back to that soon.  I am pushing hard on the ear training as it feels like a breakthrough on that would be more fundamental in my general brain training than incremental improvement of keyboard skills.  I am also having a lot of fun going through the Billy Joel songbook (and will add Brubeck as well) – this is definitely not an example of deliberate learning, but may start slopping into flow.
  3. Programming:  I’ve some thoughts on branching into iOs and Android programming, but for now I’m playing with some ideas that have been floating in my head for years for some dance music tools, and I can do initial implementation of that nicely in the Microsoft universe.   In fact as I’ve started spending a bit more time on this it’s pretty easy to get lost in it and not want to do anything else, which is great.  Also, I signed up for a volunteer gig to teach intro to computer science to high school students, so I’m busily training to teach this stuff.  There will definitely be more on that here shortly.
  4. Writing:  Most of my writing has been in the context of this blog.  Alicia and I took part of an online fiction writing class, but stalled on it as we both manage grammar pretty well and there was a bit too much emphasis on basics in that class.  But one of these days some fiction may escape me…
  5. Physical Skills: I’ve had a blast starting to learn to tap dance, which is something I’ve never tried before.  Learning a new physical skill has definitely been a key part of helping me think about how I learn in general.  I’ve also dug deeper into yoga, adding a vinyasa (or flow) style to my practice and spending more time working with poses on my own rather than just pushing through them in class.  This is definitely a place where I’m playing with deliberate practice, but I certainly have a long way to go.

For the small random things, I’ve spent considerable time on speed reading as I think that’s the biggest bang for my buck.  And of course I upgraded physical skills to a major skill.  I haven’t been great about attacking small projects though and that’s a little disappointing.  Although if we were to add cooking and canning into the mix, they might count.

And of course my progress on the top level of what I want to do when I grow up is on the slow side.  But re-awakening my joy in programming and taking a stab at passing that on to others in a new way has to count as a good start, right?

As I immerse myself further into this process of trying to improve the way that I learn, I keep finding ways that learning primarily physical skills and primarily mental skills are deeply related.  I think I have some resistance to this idea, having spent my teens and early adulthood deeply entrenched in brain exercise and shunning physical exercise.  But when it comes right down to it the brain is driving the muscles in any physical skill so I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that the line I was attempting to draw between physical skills and mental skills is certainly fuzzy and probably completely artificial.  Perhaps the only way to really place them on a spectrum is how many calories they burn.

I first encountered the term chunking with respect to memory techniques.  The idea being that it’s pretty hard to remember a number sequence like one nine four two two zero six one seven eight nine three one four one five nine, but if you chunk it into the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Seattle area code, year the bill of rights was signed and the first six digits of PI (assuming those are things that you already have referents for), it’s perfectly easy.  This and similar mechanisms are what allow us to think about more information than what our 7 +/- 2 slots of working memory will hold.  Another classic example is master level chess players who chunk the layout of the whole chess board as on ‘piece’ of information.

But what struck me as equally obvious (in retrospect) chunking behavior was the patterns that the tap teacher was using to warm up in class the other day.  He started with a broad pattern that obviously no-one in the class had learned before .  Everyone was able to get the pattern and even do a reasonable job of keeping up even when done pretty fast, this includes yours truly who is taking tap II for the first time along with a bunch of people who obviously have a deeper background in tap.  But then he threw in a heel step between every step in the broader pattern.  So if we started with A, B, C, D where each of those is a different step, the pattern then becomes A heel, B heel, C heel, D heel and there is something going on twice as often.  So for anyone who had enough experience to throw in that extra heel step there was just a little extra information and not a whole lot of additional difficulty.  But for myself, who has only done heel steps in a couple of very limited circumstances, it pretty much doubled the information and the difficulty.  The point being, that’s very close to the same situation as the memory exercise above.  This is also probably related to the multi-tasking post from a while back (if you haven’t caught the comments on that post it’s worth a [re]visit).

Then just as I was thinking about chunking and physical skills, I had the opportunity to take a back to basics version of the vinyasa yoga class that I’ve been working on for the last few months.  A large part of the class is structured around variations on the Dancing Warrior sequence.  The idea being that you have a small series of poses A, B, C, D and then you add extra stuff in between (sound familiar?).  The thing that was neat about going back to basics is that we did the series a dozen times during the class where in a normal class you do it only a few times and enough extra stuff gets thrown in the middle that you don’t necessarily even see the overarching patterns sometimes.  So learning the pattern by getting the basic sequence down and then being able repeat the pattern as one chunk is useful as a student and probably essential to the teacher.  One of the reasons that this popped for me was that we had a back to basics class because it was one of the first times this particular teacher had taught this type of yoga.

And then I have been playing with a new (to me ) code library to do some scraping of information off of web sites for one of my other reboot projects.  It took me a little while to get spun up on the library.  But once I did, I had the chunks in my head for how to use it and my ability to code the scraping of the tenth site was literally ten times faster than the code for the first site.  While some of this was because I ended up extending the library for my own particular needs, much of it was that once enough of the system in in my head I definitely get into a flow state while coding.

So I can obviously chunk information in a domain that I’ve lived in on and off since I was thirteen (programming).  I think I am starting to chunk a physical skill that I’ve been practicing for three months, but I’m obviously much less effective at that.  So it seems to me that part of what I need to do is get better at chunking in new domains.  I can see how that’s done in specific domains.  For instance, when playing the piano, there are many defined exercises like scales and chord progressions.  For tap, there are basic technique exercises.  Are there more fundamental chunking exercises that would help in all of these domains and the many more that I would like to explore?


On the face of this it is probably one of the weirder ideas that I’ve had recently (and the bar is pretty high).  But please bear with me, if I can get this across I think it sheds some light on some of the body consciousness aspects of yoga and exercise in general that I’ve been trying to get a handle on.  And by some strange coincidence I was recently listening to a man that managed The Grateful Dead for twenty-five years talk about that  experience – and his refrain was (paraphrased) – It was the weirdest thing, but weird can be good.  So hopefully this is some good weird.

I’ve been reading this book about debugging, which purports to be a generalized book about how to debug problems of both design and implementation in technical systems as well as more generally.  I’ll post more about it if it holds up to its promise.  In any case it got me thinking about applying my own pretty highly refined but also very specialized diagnostics experience to the domain of learning and refining yoga poses.

And then, coincidently, I ended up in a very crowded Bikram yoga class over Memorial Day Weekend and was in a position where I could not always see myself in the mirror and even when I could there was a seam in the mirror that was distracting.   Which got me to thinking about how I use the mirror when learning to exercise.  Now this isn’t particularly profound in and of itself, but it is a way to see if I’m standing straight and how limbs are aligned with respect to my body and the room around me.   But in Bikram studios in particular you generally have a mirror in front of you but not to your sides or behind you, and the class is run in a way that discourages one from moving around to, for instance, see a side angle of one’s self in a particular pose.

Now switch back to the high tech world. I’ve spent the majority of my professional career writing programs that are generally classified as diagnostic tools, and a good chunk of that time on a kind of program that is actually called a debugger (I still get a kick out of that term).   Debuggers (and other diagnostics tools) generally allow a programmer to look at some part of the internal state of a program while it is running or records that state and lets you look at it later.  Thank you any non-techies who have actually stuck with me this far, I appreciate your patience. At this point I hope everyone can see that there is a pretty obvious parallel between a mirror (or for that matter a video camera) when debugging a physical skill and a debugger (or profiler) when debugging a program.

The thing that makes the parallel interesting to me though is that there are some (for myself) well internalized caveats with using a debugger or other diagnostic tools to find a bug in a program that translate over to the use of debugging tools like mirrors and video cameras when learning a physical skill.

First and foremost is that while these tools (in both domains) are incredibly useful, getting too dependent on them may restrict your ability to actually master the skill.  In the case of programming, being able to catch an error in the debugger and blindly fix it is not a substitute for actually understanding how your code works, as this is an excellent way to introduce regressions.  In the case of yoga (or Kung Fu or Dance), depending on a mirror to help with a pose may interfere with thinking deeply enough about how your body is working because you’re depending on the surface level understanding that is, literally, right in front of you.  So you might, for instance, get yourself into a situation where you can’t figure out if you are standing up straight, as I noted in my post on overlearning.   I believe this is why the very traditional Kung Fu school that I studied at for many years had a dearth of mirrors.

Then there is the issue that if you’ve become dependent on a particular tool to diagnose issues with your program, you will inevitably run into a situation where the tool won’t help.  Whether that’s because it’s not available on the machine where the bug is reproduced or any of a dozen other reasons, there is some variation of Murphy’s law that states that this will happen when your job is on the line.  And of course I lead with why this is true for yoga – even in a very standardized Bikram environment there will be times when you just can’t see yourself well in the mirror, should that be a reason for your practice to suffer?

So where does that land me?  Well, I’m not entirely certain.  But I think that for now I will take it as validation that at least some parts of my brain that have perhaps been overdeveloped in one domain can actually be useful in new domains.  Because what I’m really trying to do here is optimize my ability to learn in general, so it seems that some kind of cross domain transfer is an essential part of the process.

I just finished re-reading This is your Brain on Music by Daniel J. Levitin.  It’s a general overview on how the brain processes music and includes a number of deep dives into things like his theory about the evolutionary basis of music, how one becomes an expert musicians and how music interacts with our brains.

I first read this in 2007 when I was hip deep in frustration at work and remember the biggest take-away being the wistful sense that I’d like to start playing an instrument again.  But perhaps it was an early seed for my reboot project. The brain is a strange an mysterious place and I certainly can’t be responsible for understanding my motivations 100% of the time.  Sorry, but it’s true.

In any case, on a re-read I realize that this was the book where I first encountered the 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to expert status hypothesis that I had most tightly associated with Malcom Gladwell’s book Outliers.  And this figure keeps cropping up.  Not just in the two books I’ve already mentioned but also in Moonwalking with Einstein that I mentioned in my Okay Plateau post.  And a friend who I swear I didn’t prompt brought the 10,000 hours to expert subject up at lunch last week.  While eating Pho. So I decided to go hunting up the source.  It looks like all of the references that I’ve cited lead back to K. Anders Ericsson and his work. (I wonder what the “K.” stands for?)   So now I probably have some heavier reading to do.

But in the meantime let me attempt to drag myself screaming back to my original point.  The point that I almost completely lost sight of in the process of looking up dates and following sources.  Which is, how in the heck am I going to find 10,000 hours for each of the several things I’m tackling this year?  Oh wait, I guess that’s physically impossible.  Huh. The rough math is that it takes about 40 hours a week for 5 years (40*50*5) to get to 10,000 hours, or 10 hours a week for 20 years…

Which is the point where I have to forcefully remind myself that I’m not actually trying to attain expert level for most of these things.  If I can hold a reasonable conversation with a Spanish speaker I will count that as good.  If I can enjoy my own piano playing that’s great (I’m actually almost there for this one). If I can have fun with tap dancing and maybe pull in a bit of improvisation that would be really cool. I don’t have to be good enough for other people to enjoy watching me dance much less make a living at it.

So I’m all right with my breadth first learning for now.  But I think there is some hope that there are generalized learning skills that I can hone over the course of the next year or so that will make me more effective in whatever I do next.  I’m certainly going to dig into the “deliberate practice” part of Ericcson’s work, because perhaps 1000 hours of deliberate practice is what I need to get where I want to go with a particular skill, rather than 10,000.

If nothing else, forcing myself to write on a regular basis has got to be useful, right?

I’ve run across a couple of instances in the last week of people answering questions in a quite different way than the straight line A-B direct response that one generally assumes a non-politician will use.

The first one was.  Wait for it.  Yes, my tap teacher.  I am interested in doing more practicing to music, so I asked him if he could share what the range of tempos was of the music was that he has played in class. He looked at me for a second and then said “Well, I could do that, but here’s how to find music that you’ll enjoy practicing to.”  And then went on to detail some ideas about playing with half time and double time and how certain techniques would be more easily practiced to swing music and others to music with a more regular 4/4 feel.  The aggregate of which was much more useful in picking out music to practice to than knowing the tempo of the music that he had played during class. The point being that as a teacher or mentor it’s often more important to answer the question that should have been asked than the literal question.

Another slightly different example of this was that we went to a reading by Jessica Hagy of her book How to Be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps).  It was a fairly short reading followed by a pretty long question and answer.  Based on some of the rather dull questions that were asked, it could have been a quite a drag. But she did a great job of not necessarily answering the questions asked (sometimes she did), but making sure that fun stuff got said and kept the audience entertained.

I’ve found in both a mentor role and when running meetings in a work environment, thinking through a question enough to give a thoughtful (or useful) answer to a question that might not be fully formed in the mind of the person asking it is an essential part of those roles.

The counterpoint to this is that in real life when someone asks you if you want to go out for a drink (for instance), it’s not only not necessary but also not productive to try to figure out all the implications of such a question and give a broad answer.  Yes and No are generally perfectly acceptable answers to such a question.  Or possibly – “Not now, but would tomorrow work?”

I think the difference is that when one is in “expert mode” there often a concrete reasons to veer from the direct answer approach, but when in “real life mode” at best that’s just a whole bunch of energy wasted and at worst it’s frustrating to the person asking the question.  So here’s to not overthinking (raising the drink that he was smart enough to just say ‘yes’ to).

P.S. For those of you who know Ms. Hagy’s work or followed through to the link on the book, here’s my rather lame attempt at diagramming this post:


I’m not quite sure why tap is doing this to me.  I really did just throw in this particular skill as an afterthought in my curriculum more because I’d like to have fun hoofing with my lovely wife if and when I make it close to her league rather than as one of my initial big chunks of brain re-trainings like language or music.  But for whatever reason things in my broader agenda keep clicking while in tap class.  So here is another installment of what I learned in tap this week that is only tangentially related to the dance form.

The teacher asked us to turn our backs on him and he tapped out a rhythm.  We were then asked to do our best to copy the sounds that he created using any technique that we knew.  He started out with extremely simple examples and when he got to just plain simple which resulted in total cacophony from the class, he stopped.  But he explained that this was a way of learning to improvise.  In the tap sense it’s pretty close to some of the ear training that I’ve been doing in music.  And of course back in my youth I really liked the concept of jazz improvisation, but was never all that great at it – probably because I didn’t spend enough time with ear training and building my vocabulary.

Did I just say vocabulary?  Yes, I did!  The thing that really connects everything together for me was that the teacher went on to describe how he thought of improvisation in tap.  He said it felt like learning to speak a language.  Your objective isn’t to figure out the sentence that you’re going to say ahead of time, mapping out the whole structure and then spitting it out.  The idea is that you should have a working vocabulary that is rich enough and natural enough that you can just start talking and you form the thought as you go.  Dance, music, language, choreography, sight reading, speed reading, writing, composing – the same brain does all of these things.  Maybe training in one is actually going to help others.  Who woulda thunk?