Tips for learning

11th June 2010

"A man's got to know his limitations" ~ Harry Callahan


So, I was at a very loooong workshop last Sunday (writeup here).

It was a long workshop, people had paid a lot of money for it, and there was a lot of information provided by the teachers.

The thing is, I'm not sure all the students got the most value out of it; I've a feeling a lot of this information might have been lost.

So, here's some tips I've picked up, both as a student and a teacher, that may help you to retain information.

Take notes

"If you don't write it down, it didn't happen" ~ Lots of people...

"All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain." ~ Roy Batty, Blade Runner

If I can give you one piece of advice, it's this: TAKE NOTES.

Unless you have a photographic memory, most of the stuff you learn at a class will be lost.

Of course, if you're lucky enough to find a teacher who actually provides class notes, you're doing well. :)

But otherwise, take notes, both during the class and - if possible - immediately afterwards.

What to write

Personally, I find it's especially useful to make a note of insights - something which provokes a "lightbulb moment" in you - that is, a moment where you think "Oh, so that's why...)

You may also want to write down "tips" which you discover (for example, when doing a particular step).

Sure, they may be wrong, or limited, as insights - but if they work for you, right now, that's good enough.

How much to write

Again, personally I find one side of A4-sized lined paper is usually enough for an hour-long class. Your mileage may vary.

What do do next

I tend to write them up on this site - as I did with my recent Edinburgh trip.

I find the discipline of having to write up something for anyone to read ensures that my notes will make sense to me in 6 months' time.

I can recommend this approach, but it may be a bit OTT for you. However, I'd recommend at least typing them up, rather than leaving them in notebooks.

Rest up

"Some of what we say will be important" ~ Stefano Flava.

In a lot of classes, teachers will be talking a lot. We love the sound of our own voices, and we rabbit on incessantly.

Some of this will be interesting, important, and essential. Some won't. Let's face it, most won't.

But listening to people talk - whether vital insights or random chat - does not require you to be standing up - and simply standing on your feet for an hour is tiring stuff.

So if there are seats conveniently-placed - especially if you're doing a long lesson - make sure you sit down whilst the teacher talks. Rest your feet, and engage your brain instead. It also helps in the note-taking area to be sitting down whilst doing it.

Ask questions

"Any questions?"
... silence...
~ Every class, everywhere.

If you don't understand something, please please please don't suffer in silence.

Teachers want feedback - they want to know whether what they're teaching has been understood or not. So you're doing them a favour if you say "this doesn't make sense to me"; it means that they can help you.

You're not paying money to be confused, you're paying money to learn stuff.

So if you're confused, ask.


"Pracrice makes possible" ~ Paul Bottomer

You won't automatically, magically, retain the things you learn at the class.

You'll often need to think about them (using your notes), discuss them with others, and so on.

But tango is a physical thing - ultimately, you'll need to practice.

I'd recommend

Know your limitations

As the great Dirty Harry said in the quote at the start of this article, know your limitations.

Again, referring to the recent Edinburgh festival, there were lots and lots of workshops, over a period of 4 days. Conceivably, you could have attended a dozen 90-minute workshops over that period. And some people attended 4 a day.

To me, frankly, that's nuts. I'm not sure anyone can get real value from that amount of compressed learning. I know for a fact that I couldn't. I did 5 workshops over that entire period - and that was my absolute maximum.

6 hours a day spent learning dance? When on Earth would you get the time to write it up, to discuss it, to practice it? Maybe if you're 18, you'd have the energy, but there aren't that many 18-year-olds learning Tango in the UK.

Surely it's better to retain 50% of one workshop, than 5% of five?

So take your time. It's not a race, it's not a competition. Make sure you maximise your learning, and don't blitz classes just for the sake of it.

In the long run, you'll thank me.

~ David Bailey, 11th June 2010

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