By Patrick McMonagle
This is a sales pitch on changing a common practice, one I observe causes people to give up on folk dancing before they have a good idea of what is going on. Dance teachers and MC's do this all the time and rarely notice how a simple statement, on the surface seemingly helpful, messes stuff up.
Hopefully I have you curious enough to want to know what I am writing about. (If you don't want to know, flip the page, quickly. Otherwise you'll find out anyway!)
The common practice I recommend against is announcing a dance as "Easy." In my opinion, it would be wonderful if every dance teacher would forget the heinous word "Easy" completely. Here are a few reasons to back up my opinion.
Stating "This Dance is Easy" is a judgment delivered in spoken shorthand.
Communicating "Easy," usually means something like this list:
- Don't be afraid to try this out.
- This is a dance that lots of people enjoy, even ones without experience. It has advantages for people who haven't learned it yet.
- The footwork can be seen well enough to follow.
- The music is clear enough to follow.
- The dance itself satisfies me enough that I still enjoy it after many years.
- And there is enough room to make mistakes safely, without injuring anyone.
That is what I usually mean when I say a dance is "Easy." Unfortunately my meaning is not as important as what a person might hear when I say "Easy."
A person might not come here to learn "Easy" things. The person is here because watching Jeopardy on television after a day before a computer doesn't challenge them. They want something difficult. When we say a dance is "Easy," it demotivates them. I want to motivate them.
Some people want to skip the "Easy" stuff and get right to the "Cool" dances. When they hear that a dance is easy, this person might sit right down and save up energy for upcoming "Good Stuff." I want them on their feet.
Some people are not sure how trustworthy our evaluation is. And everybody has different experiences of what is "Easy." If I say a dance is "Easy," and they think everyone noticed them turning the wrong way, they may decide not to trust me next time.
Not everyone finds the same things "Easy." A person might be very uncomfortable touching strangers, for instance. Evaluating a mixer dance as "Easy" can be so irrelevant to this person that I waste my breath mentioning it.
When I judge a dance as "Easy," a person may hear that I judged their skills instead. When a person is not confident, they might hear "Would you like to dance this easy dance?" as being a polite way of saying "Even a klutz like you, with the dance skills of a left footed mollusk, might get through this dance without injuring either of us. And, since my attractive partners find this dance boring, I'll try it with you." The saddest thing; this interpretation has gained a foothold because a few dance snobs really mean "It's easy" almost that way. I want to be inclusive and give people a chance to discover these dances are fun.
For all those reasons, I prefer to abandon the shorthand "It's Easy" and describe more clearly why I think someone would enjoy dancing with us. Perhaps I describe the dance more directly using a few of the points under the Communicating "Easy" list above. I hope I have talked you into going along with the idea. Thanks, at least, for considering it.
Used with permission of the author.
Originally published in the Northwest Folkdancer, Volume 59, Issue 5, May 2014.