Colin James – “As a Competitor You Get All the Information and as a Teacher You Get to File it” | The Teacher’s Corner
You teach, you have the power to change things.
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Like all beginnings this also wasn’t an easy road. At that young age I didn’t want to do it, I did not want to dance. I was heavily into football, and that was my passion. My father wanted me to do ballroom socially, so it wouldn’t be a handicap later in life. Dance was also a different way of connecting with my mother, because she could enjoy it as well, she felt she was a part of it, watching a football match in the rain wasn’t as interesting for her.
Once I started, at first I kept getting asked “Why do you dance? Boys don’t dance, girls do.” It was the same rationale as “Boys wear blue. Girls wear pink.” What a primitive and obsolete way of seeing things you may think, but it was something that went through a lot of minds in the 60s. Hopefully, with time the perspective also changes. But that’s the reason why I kept to myself at the beginning, I had only one friend that knew and I worked hard without being too vocal about it.
Why did I keep doing it? I enjoyed mixing moving with movement, I found fascinating how two different things are so intrinsically linked. Dancing is developing constantly. It’s like a bug. And it’s about friendships, music, movement and competition. A rhythm has some visual quality in it, that’s why you’re on a constant research of what is possible to movement in music. Also, I have a very competitive side to me and whatever I’m doing, I go into it with the clear desire to win.
Everything has become much more structured and forward thinking after I met Lina, my partner in life and in dance. The Danish mentality put our couple on a different track. Although we might have laughed about it at first because it sounded far fetched and quite unreal, our vision soon became to go for the world championship.
Practicing has the biggest role in becoming a world champion
We both had day jobs, me and Lina, because it was the only way to support our dancing. We worked from 8 to 5 and then we would go for dance lessons. We could afford only one lesson a week but when we were in London we would go to a different dance studio that ran a practice. We went practicing every evening. You got told this is what you need to do and you would spent the week trying to do it. One lesson per week is more than enough because we needed time to absorb the new things into our body. From my own studies, I reckon that for every lesson that you take you need to put 20 hours of practice.
Teaching was a natural progression from competing
It was a natural evolution from competing that you follow up and you feel the responsibility to pass the knowledge. Perhaps with time it also become a challenge to understand it a bit more, when you’re deeply involved in it you understand the words but you need to stand back to see the full picture. Therefore, teaching was the next step to self-discovery.
You have to grow from the inside out
You teach the things that you have learned yourself from others but the hardest part is to find the expression to deliver that. In the beginning it was a little bit weird for me, in as much that to learn to dance I had my dance school teacher and when they wanted me to get better they would get me to another teacher who would give a private lesson. As you were developing, your teachers passed you on. One thing that you never ever did was to learn how to be a teacher. You have to take exams but nobody can teach you how to teach. As a teacher you refine the way you teach based on how others did it for you. It’s quite methodical and books are a big help.
At first I was following the kind of lessons that I had, and then I started to see what you need to change and improve to make it your own method of dancing. It’s hard to find the right ways to say what do you want your student to do.
Six fundamentals of teaching: music, technique, character, choreography, presentation and charisma
As a teacher when you start educating, there are some things that have to be carried out: music, technique and character, choreography, presentation and charisma. The first three things people need to understand. In a competition any judge will put 20% value on the first three things. On the other three you would have maybe 15% on choreography, 15% on presentation and 10% on charisma. If you total that up you got 60% in one and 40% in the other.
You need to teach every aspect of that, not necessarily A-Z, you may go from A to B to G back to C, you may need to switch that around depending what the student can actually do. But in the teaching aspect you need to stick to those fundamentals. Also, you need to have a diverse vocabulary to be able to put that across to each individual because they’re all different.
You are a dance lesson archiver
You would remember the lessons that you had and you’d start to put them into boxes and areas and then refining them. You basically give yourself a filing system of all the years of your dancing. That’s when you start to develop yourself as a teacher, you make it methodical but I found that reading books on it also educated me on that, which I didn’t do before. As a competitor you get all the information and as a teacher you get to file it and put it into different categories so that it makes much more sense.
The dance teacher is a central figure in dancesport. A teacher can have a decisive role on the career of a young dancer. Think that you are developing the mind and help build the future of a future champion. There will always be pressure in the dance world as there is in life. That’s why it’s important to stay focused and true to what you are doing. Live up to the role of an educator.
Photography: V.studio photos
Colin James is a Blackpool and UK Open Amateur Champion, and a second-time Grand Slam winner. His partner was Lene Mikkelsen and they have been finalists in every major international Professional Latin competition with his partner, Lene Mikkelsen.