Swing Scene

reflections, rants, & raves about swing dancing, dancers, & dances

Post Class Surveys

Posted by spectaprod on March 1, 2009

I just finished teaching a month of classes for NSDF.  They collect survey responses at the end of each class, which I think is a great idea.  That is something that I always planned to do when I was running Music City Motion (but I never actually did it) and I think is a good idea for every event, with the following caveat: make sure it’s a useful survey.

The results from the class I taught were mixed, most people had good reactions to the class, a few had stellar reactions and a few were disappointed to varying degrees.  That didn’t bother me much (though my partner was quite upset that we didn’t get rave reviews from everyone).  What bothered me, is that because of the way the survey was formatted, I can’t use the results to learn or improve anything.  

All I know from the survey is that a certain percent of the students were “very satisfied” with the class, yet a few of those “very satisfied” students thought our teaching was confusing and unorganized (which I will admit, there were times when I was confusing and unorganized). We don’t even know if it was me, or my partner that was more confusing to the students (I’m guessing it was me, simply because I talked much more than she did).

If you are going to survey, which I recommend you do, survey well and prepare your survey carefully (beyond making sure that spelling and grammar are proper).  There are a few things you need to consider as you build the survey.

  1. Goals for the Survey – What do you want to accomplish?  What do you hope to get from the survey results?  Do you want to know what you should change?  Do you just want an ego stroke?  Before you make your survey you need to know how you plan to use the survey, and ask your questions from that vantage point.  The more you want to get out of the survey, the more complex and deliberate your questioning needs to be.
  2. Audience – How many people will take the survey?  This is important because if you can’t use the same survey with a small group as with a large group.  Small groups are more difficult to evaluate because one or two extreme opinions (positive or negative) will skew results.

    With a small group you have to have much more open ended questions (especially if you don’t want to give them a survey that is pages long) in order to get useful information.  With a larger group you can get away with fewer open questions as long as you ask specific questions that can give you what you’ve decided you want to know.

  3. Precise Questions – Don’t ask a bunch of generic questions unless you want generic answers.  “Please rate your instructors” isn’t going to tell you much unless you follow up with questions about specific areas of performance.  You could easily wind up with very high, or very low ratings on very good, or very bad instructors because one of two things dominated the opinions of the students.  Unless you break down the rating, you can’t know why the instructors got that rating, and the instructors don’t learn anything useful about how their teaching was perceived.
  4. No Double Questions – Don’t lump questions together if each question could have a separate answer. “I thought the instructors were well organized and easy to understand” is a bad question because there are two parts: well organized, and easy to understand.  Each of those, while related, are different and could easily have different answers.  When you write out your survey, look for these “and” clauses.  If you’ve asked two questions either make it two questions or figure out which one you actually want to know and leave the other out.
  5. Test – For my real job, I do lots of testing, split testing, multi-variate testing, etc.  I have learned the value of testing everything I do that provides me feedback, so that the feedback I get is the most useful.  That old measure twice cut once adage.

    After you’ve built your survey, give it to a sample group (I’d recommend that if you are going to survey at the end of something, midway through ask for some volunteers) and see if the responses you get are useable (you may also learn something you can improve upon before your event/class/etc is over).  If your results aren’t that helpful you’ll be able to see pretty easily which questions are at fault.  Than change them, and if you have time test again.

  6. Dissect the Results – Don’t just tabulate results and report the % responses to each question.  Drop all the raw data into excel and use filters to see how answers of one question impacted the answers of another, and what the open responses you received to which kinds of satisfaction ratings etc.  That is where the real value is found.
  7. Don’t Wait for Perfection – If you don’t have time to do all the above, go ahead and survey.  But promise yourself to evaluate and modify your survey with the results before you conduct your next survey.  It is often better to survey imperfectly than to not survey at all, just remember to take your results with a grain (or whole shaker) of salt.

There are many FREE resources on the web to help you build your survey.  If you just search you could probably even build your survey by just copying and rewording some of the sample questions you’ll find out there.

If you survey well, your results will be far beyond the ego stroke that most surveys provide.  You’ll learn what to change and how to change.  You’ll learn why something (or someone) is satisfactory to some and unsatisfactory to others.  And that is when a survey because useful.


Posted in Instruction, Local Swing Scenes, National Swing Scene, Swing Dance Events, Weekend Workshops | 4 Comments »

Swing in Seoul?

Posted by spectaprod on January 22, 2009

I’m hoping (fingers crossed, knock on wood) that I can have my first international Lindy Hop experience this March. I’m headed over to Cambodia and on the return flight I have the option for a 24 hour layover on Seoul, South Korea. I’m currently scouring the web trying to discover if there will be any dancing that night (March 21) and if it will be anywhere I could possibly get to with exceedingly limited knowledge of Korean that I will have by then.

Does anybody have any thoughts to help me in my search?

–Update– not going to happen, I wound up with only an 11hour layover that leaves Seoul at 6pm. Maybe next time though.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

The growing homogeneity of lindy hop

Posted by spectaprod on January 11, 2009

Because of shifting priorities and the growing complexity of my life I haven’t studied lindy hop outside of my own laboratory much in the past few years. As a result my exposure to the current trends in Lindy Hop is second hand and I have an interesting perspective as I judge competitions, teach classes, and make the travels I do get to take.

I started to dance in the height of the “Savoy” vs “Hollywood” vs “Wiggle-hop” days. A well travelled dancers could quickly and easily pick out regional styles, the influence of individual instructors, and there was some pride in dancing so that people new you were from Chicago, or San Francisco, or DC, etc.

As I watch You Tube, as I watch dancers throughout the southeast, as I watch various instructors I am disappointed by what I see as a growing homogeneity. And the ultimate irony is that the current trend was initially created by a few exciting dancers seeking out the rawness that exists in plenty in the archives of Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers.

Events like ULHS are also accomplices. Created to counter the sterilization of ALHC it has also become a bastion of “dance like us”. Don’t misunderstand me, the dancing at ULHS is fantastic and entertaining, it’s just looking more and more the same with fewer and fewer competitors taking the risk of dancing their “own” way (Todd Yannacone and Peter Strom come to mind quickly as exceptions, as do Mike Faltesek and Sky Humphries – but they helped to create the “raw” trend). The big exception I see is in the Solo Charleston contests, where individualism is often the deciding factor.

I don’t like the homogeneity, I want the variety back. I’m tired of dancing with followers who can’t/won’t follow what I lead because it’s so far removed from their paradigm, even generally recognized exceptional followers. I want to look forward to an event because I love the way they dance in such city. I miss the focus placed on leading and following in classes, skills that allowed you to dance with anyone regardless of how they liked to dance. I miss watching the diversity on the dance floor, not just of levels of experience and talent, but of musicality, interpretation, and even just basic swingouts.

I want people to start trying to dance they way “they” dance again and stop the driving pursuit to dance just like “he” or “she” dances. I want judges to again qualify good dancing apart from “cool” dancing and I want to see a return to instruction about how to do what you want, rather than doing what is cool.

Posted in Instruction, Lindy Hop, National Swing Scene | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

Review: Lindy Focus VII

Posted by spectaprod on January 11, 2009

I love Lindy Focus. Every fall I look for their announcements and anticipate a wonderful time with dear friends and acquaintances from all over the South East (and increasingly from beyond). I love the dances, the classes, the music, and the organizers.

This was my 5th year attending, and for the first unfortunate time, this was the first year that did not exceed my experience of the previous year. I still thoroughly enjoyed myself; I had fantastic dances, “sat” in on some fascinating classes, and danced to fabulous music. I missed the awesome distinctively southern atmosphere of past years though.

The biggest contributing factor, I think, was the teacher lineup. For the first time Lindy Focus became a “Rockstar” event. The teachers read like a who’s who of the hottest names in Lindy Hop right now. This is a big departure from all previous years when South East regional instructors dominated the lineup with a few from outside the region. That resulted in a big difference at the dances as the Rockstars were (typically) noticeably absent from the dances most of the week and when they were present most were quite exclusive with their dancing (except for the New Year’s dance).

There were some notable exceptions. I was very impressed with Ursula Lederberger whom I watched dance with students nonstop the whole week, and Evita Arce, Bill Borgita, Laura Glaess, Mike Roberts, David Madison, and Andrew Sutton were all generous and gracious with their time.

Something that I had always loved about Lindy Focus being a regional event was that the barrier between students and instructors was minimal by nature of the regional-ness (to coin my own adjective) of the instructors. I was sad that was missing from year. (A brief aside, this is also one of my favorite aspects of Swingout New Hampshire, that the instructors are present and social with the students all week)

I only took a few classes, some were excellent, one I was quite disappointed by. The excellent ones were the two performance classes taught by Nathan and Evita. The class was made of a diverse mixture of levels, and was taught beautifully. I have never before seen a performance class of such caliber. Nathan and Evita are masters of craft of teaching choreography. They created a group routine that masterfully showed off the group, diminished the weakness of the dancing of some members (without resorting to “hiding” them), and allowed the attention to be drawn to the stonger dancers without “showcasing” them). In every sense it was a group performance rather than a group performing individual choreography.

The other choreography class I took was the Tranky Doo taught by Aba Browning and Bobby White. This was a tough class for them to teach, it was the end of the long week and was a 90 minute class. As the time wound down the energy wallowed. It was far from an ideal setting for teaching, especially individual choreography. With that in mind, the class wasn’t bad. It started very strong and they were able to pull it all together in the end, and they never “lost” the class, but it was a struggle.

I also jumped in a the class that Marty and Kelly taught the 4b group (the advanced performance dancers). I had high expectations for this class and it just didn’t live up to what I hoped for. It wasn’t a bad class, it just wasn’t really good. The explanations were vague, it felt hodgepodge with little conviction, or passion, more like a toss off class that they didn’t really care about and put together at the last minute.

The last class I literally sat in on, it was an elective taught by Gina Helfrich and Evin Galang (little known fact, Evin and – at the time Noel, now Noah – were my very first ever teachers). I wish I had been there for the full class, they were teaching some stuff I haven’t seen taught in along while and I think is sadly missing from current Lindy Hop repertoire.

The final weakness of Lindy Focus VII I’ll mention was the bands. None of the bands were bad, all of them were excellent on their own. The problem I had is that they were all cut from the same cloth (except for Crysta Bell and the Jons). Everything was small band, bouncy music, that only barely feels like Lindy Hop. If it weren’t for the DJs (who were extraordinarily picked and planned by Rob Moreland) there wouldn’t have been any big bands – no Basie, no Ellington, no Ella, no anything remotely like that. But the DJ’s delivered, and kept the floor dancing far more than you nearly ever see when the band goes on break.

So what were the things I loved about Lindy Focus VII?

  • The DJ’s
  • Nathan and Evita’s class
  • The New Year’s Eve Show (Nathan and Evita, Mike and Laura, the one man dance, the girls routine, Andrew and Karen’s routine)
  • The Boilermaker Jazz Band
  • Mark Kapner, Sarah Munsell, Megan Adair performance
  • Tremendous competitions
  • Michael and Jaya

The vision continues to evolve for Lindy Focus. Michael and Jaya should be proud of their product, it is an excellently run event that delivers everything they promise. The differences I had with this year’s version are merely preferences and I’m excited to see what they will try next year. I’ll be there again most likely, and I hope to dance with you there.

Posted in My Favorite Events, National Swing Scene, Reviews, Swing Dance Events | 1 Comment »

Oh, the Addiction

Posted by spectaprod on December 8, 2008

Thanks to Reuel leaving for a month, I had the pleasure of teaching a handful of private lessons in his stay. One of the students (I’ll call her Sarah) is new to dancing completely.

Sarah is one of the reasons I love teaching. I’m not usually a big proponent of brand new swing dancers learning in a private setting for a variety of reasons, but since Nashville doesn’t really have any beginner classes available right now I didn’t refer her to a class to start with.

She showed up with all the typical trepidations of a newbie coupled with an utter lack of confidence in her own ability to keep a beat or move her body with any grace.  She claimed to be completely unable to find or keep a rhythm, but she always wanted to learn to dance, and she was finally going to do that.

In contrast to all her worries, she turned out to be a very quick study. She asked smart questions and thought through the basics with keen sophistication I don’t typically see in beginners (or even many more intermediate dancers).

After the 1st lesson I convinced her to go dancing that night with the promise that I would be there and would dance with her and answer any questions she had.  By the time I showed up at the dance (late because I’d been listening to Vanderbilt become bowl eligible for only the 2nd time in my lifetime) Sarah was drenched in sweat and barely had time to dance with me.

We had a follow up lesson a few days later and she showed up all aglow with excitement, jubilation, anticipation, all those feelings that can make one’s eyes twinkle. She was addicted, she loved it, and was desperate to learn more.

Oh if everyone would embrace being a beginner with such abandon.

Posted in Instruction, Local Swing Scenes | Leave a Comment »