A year ago I asked the question, ‘Will I ever know what it’s like to dance like a dancer?’ It feels timely now to explain the non-stop questions that have followed and the resulting decision.
Initially rhetorical, I managed the answer on Monday this week. That was 24 hours after competing at the UKA Premier Medallist of the Year Festival at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool. Scroll and whizz to the bottom for the result, and you’ll see why it also took another 2 days to get back down to earth and be able to hold a conversation again.
Or read on to hear how the first iteration of ‘Dance Bot’ grew wider in so many ways; not least with the team of support which grew and with whom I have such deep respect for.
Empress Ballroom 4th October 2015
Initially realising the significance to me of the meta learning approach from Tim Ferriss; deconstructing learning and concentrating on ‘material not method’, went hand in hand with the first Raspberry Pi-Cam and Google Glass project with my fab-u-lous teachers at North Leeds Dance Academy.
Using an AR perspective with Pi-Cam, gyro data for a performance analysis focus and reviewing a partner’s steps through Glass, the road to ‘More than steps in the ultimate dance algorithm‘ for me began.
Lightbulb learning to learn moment
It was possible and if I pieced together a work-life balance that was about to significantly change again with the Jam Packed Computing Tour then I could actually learn substantially more through dance along the way. That was always the fundamental aim.
As an educator the prospect of learning something new gave me opportunities to test ‘learning to learn’ strategies and explore my own preferred styles and retention. To turn the blurred lines of opportunities from a range of tech interests from work, additional projects and social circles made sense when they became the tools to realise the ultimate dance algorithm.
Using data analysis with collection through physical computing and wearable tech projects was important to me to integrate performance analysis and data science techniques. I wanted it to inform my progression of learning and lever next step questions.
Step by step data approach
That alongside performance techniques that I knew I needed to incorporate into ‘Dance Bot’, including psychology and attitudes to successful learning approaches, was a tough gig for any teacher.
Not least, knowing that I wanted to question every step literally every step of the way as a learning tool and track impact of those personal gains.
Towards Outstanding through Outstanding Teaching:
To my teacher’s surprise early on, my confidence with dancing weaknesses was perhaps a little too strong. Flat refusals to learn using some strategies (knowing they wouldn’t make a difference to my understanding) were recognised from the start and luckily the somewhat hidden-before-then data geek in him emerged too.
I renamed the low benchmark as ‘towards outstanding’ and each lesson became more and more in awe of the range of successful teaching styles and visualisations used at the academy.
Learning to Learn with NLDA
The tech and performance strategies were always tools in addition to the teaching styles delivered across the academy, so on the basis of a deconstruction approach using data, only the latter was bespoke. And my preferred learning style with progression, of course.
It was my intention to use tech to enhance my own development which encompassed dance performance and activities relating to learning. Often directly linked to work and other projects. For that I’m grateful to the team of teachers who supported me with the approach and gave me the opportunities to tinker through dance.
Using data to improve performance:
Realising the elements of the deconstructed dances which would impact most on specific and overall performance meant that I could explore projects with a range of tools:
- Physical computing devices with an accelerometer and gyro to impact on parts of a dance such as the spin turn. I have a track record of over-thinking and ‘bottling it’.
- Wearables to track, collect and analyse posture and body balance. My top line and frame were fundamentally flawed at the onset; now they’re ‘towards outstanding’ 🙂
- Wearables collecting data with sleep patterns and general health and movement tracking.
And other tech tools:
- Circuit tools and electric paint with dance shoes to act as a trigger to support me with heel and toe. Yes, really, it was very much needed!
- Wearables to bling up the dress with LEDS – when the rules say no rules it makes you start to think! In the end the dress didn’t hold any LEDs as it was still the accelerometer that held more impact with the turns.
- Google Glass for partner perspective. Again, back to the Four Hour Chef re-reads and experiences.
- New Spotify Playlists – really, the roads to Hull and Salford this last year have paved the way to many a counting the music and hearing the beat sessions. El Tango de Roxanne became a firm favourite!
The wider team:
Spending more time at the dance school and touring with Jam Packed Tour gave more opportunities to engage with a range of people about their learning to impact on my own progression. I’ve taken advice from dancers and non-dancers upwards of 3 years and perhaps the latter’s advice of ‘high on your toes and smile’ was one of the most significant for performance!
I asked some of the children at a recent exam about their learning focus, as a way to explore my own potential marginal learning gains, and got incredible insights that I’ve used at competition level. As I’ve deconstructed particular dances, their pointers about performance, posture and reach have been powerful.
Marginal Learning Gains
Through Jam Packed there was also the visualisation moment of truth when I learnt that the morning shower was the best time and place to run through my finest performance. One of many learning nuggets!
Sounds insignificant but we shared an empathy with the meta learning approach for like-minded individuals with a computational thinking focus. The world of flamenco dance merged with Maker and added to my dance performance…..
I also met a number of fellow ballroom dancers, young and more mature, on the tour and swapped stories of learning gains and difficulties as I asked for tips.
Those additional variables to add to the steps in the algorithm became increasingly important as the significance of the overall performance itself became clear.
The thoughts, anecdotes and tips gleaned from others including contemporary dance teachers, computer scientists, a psychologist, a team of medics including a psychiatrist (yes – that became more useful towards the end), family and friends all fed into the design of the ultimate dance algorithm.
‘Hold your nerve’:
It was perhaps 3 weeks ago on one of my lonesome commutes to Hull that the enormity of that support team hit home. As the year progressed the team increased and general conversations which had started with ‘Have I told you that I’m learning to dance?’ had shifted towards specific questions about my latest focus.
The realisation was pivotal because in that moment I dismissed everything I’d read and assimilated through reading The Chimp Paradox and momentarily resorted to Take That to clear my head. A mistake that didn’t take long to remedy and which impacted highly last weekend.
As last minute doubts, uncertainties and fear of forgetting the routine set in I managed to counteract the negative thoughts. Probably a little too much as the final positive self-statements were closer in accent and confidence to a Jack Nicholson performance rather than my usual talking manner. Must’ve been the dutch courage (gin).
Just one of the strategies used with the intention to meet the judge’s criteria on the day, and keeping my mind focused was tantamount to success. I never did find a tech support tool to help me keep my head left and attention on the dance straight and narrow!
Moment of clarity:
Ten minutes before I danced I asked a young dancer from the academy about her thoughts each time she steps onto the floor. With a look of puzzlement (why do I need to ask, it’s common sense?) she told me, and as a junior champion I hold her opinion highly:
‘Nothing, I don’t think anything. You know your steps, you know your routine and you just do what you have to do. There’s nothing else to do, is there?’
At which point The Chimp Paradox came back as a strategy and not as a voice.
Teaching. That’s been the crucial element for me with the biggest impact on my own performance and confidence in my abilities. I knew that anyway and I’d been on a learning journey with data to support those decisions.
For that reason I will forever be in awe of the oustanding teaching, energy and motivations from Nicola, Mark and Ashleigh x
What happened, then?
In simple terms:
4 dances in 4 stages resulting in 4th place in the final.
Waltzing into the final
Not an LED in sight!
4th – eek!
Where do I need to be and how do I get there? I knew that as soon as I left Winter Gardens. Put simply, the deconstructed elements make it clear for me to understand after listening to exceptional teacher guidance.