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Some thoughts on getting good and "teacher eyes"

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

Hey gang,

Geoff sent us a couple questions after our first AMA and we had a really nice back and forth that really got me thinking and some idea came up that I thought it would be fun to share. So, I asked Geoff if I could present some version of our correspondence and he was down, so here goes:

Geoff asked about how to improve one one's own, specifically how to work on the ability that many good teachers have which is to be able to see someone's movement and be able to break down what's working well and what could be improved. Naomi and I tend to call that ability to see how to help someone (even yourself) "teacher eyes".

Here's a bit of what Geoff wrote for context (I've added the bold for emphasis):

"I've been mulling it over and I'm noticing more and more that the people I admire most as teachers are folks who have this innate ability to spot body mechanics and their consequences (good or bad) and address them... Peers and teachers are not as accessible as they always have been, so I wanted to know if you guys had any tips on developing this with only yourself and maybe a camera as a resource... Part of me feels like the answer is two parts: 1) Git gud, and 2) know how you did it and how others do it too. It feels right now like I have a much clearer direction on 1, but a lot less with 2."

My response has a lot of things that I'd like to share with all of you, so here it is:

"I think your 2 points are good ones. In reference to point 1, I think a common problem is that folks who are inclined to talk and ideate about this kinda stuff can be prone to thinking without dancing, which often results in them never "gittin' gud". This of course doesn't stop them from having lots of opinions and rules etc etc. So this is all to say, number one thing is really to try to work on your own dancing so you are on the right track there.

As for your point 2, it is in some ways harder - in particular to know your own dancing - but here are some thoughts that I hope are helpful.

What I have found is that the hardest-won elements of my dancing are the ones I am able to share the best while often, the things I do most naturally are more difficult to impart. I have taken a lot from the struggles I had learning things so I would advise you to mine your memory for things that were hard for you to learn/get good at and see if you are able to pick those out well in other folks. It's great way to jumpstart your "teacher eyes", seeing the things that you will have mastered in a more conscious way.

It has also been my experience that teachers, including myself sometimes, tend to notice things with their "teacher eyes" that A. comport in general with their theory of the dance, and B. reify their latest dancing epiphanies. As for A, this is not to discount having some ideas about or general theory of the dance, I think it is helpful and necessary to being a good teacher. But I think it is best to think of those ideas not as revealed truths about the dance so much as lenses through which you can view the dance. In the teacher trainings we have done I have been amazed by how blinded by their own ideology people could be sometimes. When asked to describe a dance step we showed them, over and over again people would talk about cores, and centers, and connection, and rhythm etc etc and we had to work very hard to get people to see and say, "they stepped on their left foot on count 3" or "they let go of the hand on 5" or "they turned this way".

So my advice here to avoid this would be to try to watch some good dancing and then try to give a sort of "primary source", concrete description of the movements and timing without inferring too much about the feelings and forces involved right away. Teachers need practice opening their eyes and letting dancing in and not letting their own technique or theories cloud their vision. I firmly believe that however complex and beautiful one's unified field theory of partner dancing becomes, there will always be some great dancer out there who dances in a way that breaks your rules and is no less great for it. The more good dancing you watch with eyes really open, the more ready you will be to try to find out (and hence see better with your "teacher eyes") how it works.

As for B, it is a bit of a corollary point to A in that your dance epiphanies collectively sort of make up your theory of the dance. This is why we must go back to your point #1, "Git gud." If you are always improving, you are much more likely to have more varied epiphanies about connection, timing, aesthetics, and just dancing in general. That means you will more frequently update the operating system that your teacher eyes run on and you will be able to see more things and you will process more quickly.

Well I've more than matched you here ramble for ramble, but here are a couple more points I'd throw at you about this:

1. Watch good dancing a lot.

2. Watch a lot of old jazz clips, tap clips count here (you'll see so much idiosyncrasy if you open your eyes and it will make you much sharper)

3. Steep yourself in really good jazz music, old or new - it just helps with a general sense of taste and aesthetic that becomes more and more important the longer you dance/teach

4. Get a ton of experience - probably the single best thing you can do."


Thanks Geoff for getting this conversation started - being inside the context of a conversation is so clarifying and helps so much to get these thoughts out. If anybody has questions, ideas, or just want to nerd out, drop us a line and we'll try to put the baby down for a minute and rap it up with you!


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