Completely by accident, we appear to have stumbled into our 5th year of teaching together. Hitting this arbitrary ‘milestone’ has put us in a reflective mood and the result is the following article. A series of musings on co-teaching, building a career and staying friends.
As a beginning, maybe I’ll start at the end. Or rather, at the present moment. It feels somewhat significant that on our ‘anniversary weekend’, we’ll be in different cities. Cam will be teaching at Leeds Swing Revolution and I will be competing at Savoy Cup. Despite the fact that this is partly due to unfortunate timing is one factor, but despite that, I would always have been heading off to the competition weekend alone. And this is maybe what makes a successful partnership. We sometimes have different focuses and goals, and give each other space to do those things. I am full time with dance and LOVE it. Cam has another freelance business in a different field and LOVES it. I like doing improv comedy, Cam plays rock music. I love crafting, Cam has tattoos. I read fantasy novels, Cam plays computer games. I’m an actor, Cam’s a stage manager. We both enjoy Star Trek. And eggs. And decent coffee. We have different life partners. We wanna swing out hard and we like to make terrible jokes. We like to have a pint after class because we’re like actual friends. We don’t irritate each other, even in the morning (because obviously we don’t talk before coffee), and know when the other just needs to stare quietly at a wall.
We never tried to ‘officially’ be dance partners. We still don’t have a website or a social media page. Nor do we want one. We’re both individual teachers, but we’re definitely top of each other’s list to teach with, and mostly we get asked together. And yes, you might say that after 70 workshops, 550-600 hours of classes and teaching around 10,000 students together we have a pretty solid offering! For sure, there’s no one I’d rather teach or dance with. It’s still perhaps a bit of a mystery in ‘real life business’ terms that we have built such a successful practice without ‘selling’ any product. We’ve always believed in the principles of ‘show up, be present, connect with people and teach bloody good classes’. This is our method of promotion (or maybe it’s anti-promotion?!). We’re lucky that it’s worked. The first 3 in that little list are fairly easy to achieve, but the ‘bloody good classes’ thing is harder. Once you factor in students’ personalities, preferences, expectations, group-think, core technique, beliefs and learning styles you realise that a ‘good class’ must shift and adapt with the people in the room and cannot only be an intellectual planning exercise. But of course, planning helps 🙂
We’ve grown a lot over the years, and have been both weakened and strengthened by harsh feedback, which whilst hard to take for us (we’re both super softies and don’t have the most self-belief) was a useful tool for growth. We started to work harder in analysing what works well and why. Understanding our own preferences and how to express them to students in a way that they feel inspired to try it out, even if it’s different to their own preferences. Having confidence and belief enough in ourselves and our material to be open to students’ reactions, good or bad; to feel their joy and excitement when things are going well and to ride that wave, and to feel their frustration and confusion when it’s not going so well and adapt and shift the class to turn the tide back around. To be able to understand quietness and sense when it’s cultural reservedness, concentrated motivation or frustrated boredom. And most importantly, to always always be authentic. Safe in the knowledge that not everyone will like what we do, but we’re doing it to the very best of our ability.
When we first taught together, we had very little time to plan. We had danced a bit together and both had a high level of respect for how the other danced. Because our dance connection seemed to work pretty naturally, we decided in the first instance to approach the teaching purely from an “I do” and and “I feel” standpoint. What this created by accident was the most effortlessly balanced teaching dynamic I’ve ever had. And we still use this. We frame tips around what we love about how the other does ‘the thing’. And the wonderful thing is it takes us away from right and wrong, and towards- ‘this is how we do it and it feels great to us. Try it’. Over the years we get fewer and fewer moments of distrust from students the more we believe in our own choices and understand how our personal choices make the partnership elements work super well.
Something no-one ever tells you is how emotional the whole teaching thing is. Sharing passion for dance of course has the potential to be beautiful and rewarding, but also has the capacity to leave you exposed and vulnerable. Students pay for YOU. They pay for what you have to offer them that day. There’s little room for having a bad day. And this is the magic of having a teaching partner who really gets you. Who can see the look of terror in your eyes when you think it’s all crumbling around you and can pick up the slack. Someone who will add extra energy you may not be able to give, or say words when you have none, or pick up calling out the counts because your voice is hoarse. And fundamentally, not rag on you later for needing to help you out.
So finally, cheers to you Cam. For holding my hand for all these years, for building a partnership that is so full of love, support and inspiration that it helped me find myself as a dancer and instructor. For making THE WORST jokes that are so bad I think my eyes might permanently roll back into my head. For being my absolute favourite person to dance with. And for being an amazing mate. Here’s to hitting 100 😉
Here’s my best Cam impression at Durham Uni Summer Swing event 🙂