the language learning curve


We all learn differently, some by seeing, some by doing, and some have our own unique way of figuring things out after the fact.

Horses were, and still are the one place that feels like home to me. If I’m learning something new, it comes fairly quickly, watching at first, then doing. In my life though, I’ve tried my hand in a few hobbies, and some of them had a sharper learning curve than others.

The examples that resonated the most with me, were ones I developed working in a ballroom dance studio. The first came years ago, during a private lesson with a staff instructor. In the beginning, the step he tried to teach me was one I thought I already knew. I was mistaken. I showed him my version, he laughed, and then showed me the correct way. At the time, I couldn’t put together the muscle movements that created the fluid motion of the cuban walk, and it frustrated me. I watched him a few more times, to no avail, and we moved on to something else. I remembered everything he told me and showed me though, and just let it marinate. A few weeks later, I was at Wal-Mart, land of all things strange that nobody pays any attention to, in the ice cream aisle, making big decisions… Mint chocolate chip, or chocolate peanut butter? I had a cart, and shoes on with a low tread. Wal-Marts, as we know, aren’t known for being spotless, so in the light dust on the tile floor, I traced patterns with my toe, as I mulled over my purchase. While my mind was pre-occupied, my feet were finding that movement I hadn’t been able to grasp. It didn’t dawn on me right away, it gradually became clear. I stopped, re-traced a pattern with my toe, stopped and thought about it, tried it again, and again, and put together that I had just accidently learned how to perform a cuban walk. I looked around for witnesses, there weren’t any, so I tried it again, pushing the cart a little further ahead, and a little further, in case anyone DID wander down the aisle, it wouldn’t be obvious that I was dancing a Rumba with my shopping cart. The next time in the studio, I showed the instructor what I’d figured out, he was impressed!

The other example also came to me at the ballroom studio, this time under the instruction of two professional dancers seen on Dancing with the Stars, Tony Dovolani and Elena Grinenko. Working at the studio had great benefits, one of them being I could sneak into technique classes like theirs. This time we were talking cha cha. It’s a dance I’ve always loved watching and dancing, but again, I never felt like I was connecting the movements in the right way, to create the characteristic look of the dance. I knew what I was supposed to look like, and I knew that I didn’t look that way. Elena began to explain, that sometimes, it was as simple as thinking about a step in a different way. Up until that class, the basic American Rhythm Cha Cha , inside MY head, went “1-2-3-cha-cha-cha-2-3-cha-cha-cha…” Inside Elena’s head, it sounded like this (and remember, she’s Russian, so allow for pronunciation of the accent, that’s the best part!) “1-2-3-weegle-1-2-3-weegle.” After explaining it, she then demonstrated what she meant, and that’s where the puzzle came together for me. All along I was making my chasse steps staccato, all equal in measure and timing. In her version, her’s ended with what almost looked like a little skip. I wish I could put it into more articulate wording, you need to see her dance to truly appreciate the artistry, but that little hip hitch in the end, made all the difference. It was the same step, in a different language, that made it click for me.

We’ve actually discussed this recently in our group on LinkedIn, and another member had a great example too. For some reason, “heels down” didn’t mean as much to her feet as it did in her mind, but when her quick-thinking trainer switched the instruction to “toes up,” that was all she needed to adjust her position and keep it there. Isn’t it funny, those little edits, tweaks, adjustments, however you need to think of them, can mean the difference between a frustration and elation.



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