by Loui Tucker

Return to Dance Writings Menu

This article first appeared in the April 1995 issue of The Grapevine


I'm sure you've noticed them too. They stand in the doorway of the dance class, peering in. You can almost see the cartoon-like thought bubbles above their head:

"Looks rather small tonight."

"There's nobody here I want to talk to."

"My favorite partners aren't here tonight."

"Energy seems kinda low."

And then, although they have changed clothes and driven half-way across town, they turn around and drive home and turn on the television set rather than join the class.

I've also seen it in the faces of dance teachers.

"What's the attendance like at your class?"

Either (with embarrassment): "Oh, I guess we get around 25 or so."

Or (with pride): "It averages around 90."

       I fear we are focusing too much on numbers and not enough on the activity we are engaged in. I fear we are equating "energy" with "quality" and attendance figures with success and, in so doing, we are overlooking, and encouraging our dancers to overlook, the potential of small classes.
       It's ironic: public school educators and their advocates beg for smaller classes. When the class size rises into the high 30's it gets tougher and tougher to teach an academic subject like math or English or history. But dance -- everyone's goal is triple digits, the more the merrier.
       I believe we need to promote small classes. This does not mean I'm against all large dance classes! I do believe, however, that with small classes there are opportunities that cannot be found when you're just one of the multitude.
       Spread your wings. When there are a lot of dancers on the floor, you usually have to contain your enthusiasm. You can't run quite so exuberantly or swing your arms with the abandon you'd like because you'll run into or hit another dancer. In smaller classes, unless the room is also tiny, there is usually much more room. Instead of abbreviating your movements, you can really let out all the stops when you dance.
       Individual Attention. In a small class you increase your chances for individual attention, whether you're a beginning dancer, or one looking for special help on that one part of Nishar Itach that you just can't seem to get on your own. If you have friends who are interested in learning to dance, you might want to take them to the hottest night in town to show them how exciting that can be, but accompany them to a small local class where they will be less intimidated and more likely to get their more modest requests played. If you're struggling with a dance that is already popular and you never quite figured out, sometimes you can get the instructor to dance with you and help you master that tough spot, or you can arrive early, help set up the equipment, and ask for individual help.
       Big fish in a small pond. In a small class, you're more likely to be able to persuade the teacher(s) to do dances that you can lead or teach. If you become a loyal and regular class member, your input will be welcome. Likewise, if there's a dance you've been trying to learn, you're more likely to influence the teaching schedule in a smaller class than a big one.
       Do you remember some great old dances that you can contribute to the repertoire of a teacher who lacks your experience? Have you been to a recent dance camp that the teacher(s) missed? Depending on the circumstances, you may become a valuable resource for a small class that doesn't always get the latest material or the most challenging dances. You'd never get such a chance in the one of the big dance classes!
       Don't be an energy glutton I know it feels terrific to walk into a room with 100+ dancers and feel the energy being generated, but that kind of energy gives something to you. What about pouring your energy into a class that needs a boost? Instead of turning your back on a small class, join it and inject it with your enthusiasm! Make the evening so exciting that the dancers get on the phone the next day to tell their friends how great the class was because you were there. You never know -- in subsequent weeks, maybe the attendance will increase more to your personal liking.
       Specialized classes. The first thing that comes to mind when you say "specialized" is probably "beginners." Sure, beginners benefit from smaller classes with lots of structure and repetition, but what about a class devoted exclusively to Yemenite-style dances? Or just couple dances? Or just line dances? Or just dances by Moshiko? It might be worth it to try a specialized class in your area, but such a class probably won't have 100+ people coming through the door. So -- does bigger equal better?
       I believe both teachers and dancers need to take another look at some of the small classes in their area and see them as the potential gems that they are. You know that trite old saying: Good things come in small packages.