I come from a background with a strong culture of "thinking in public". This means openly sharing learning experiences and insights - working with the garage door up.

I believe this practice is crucial for promoting growth and making knowledge more accessible to newcomers.

In contrast, the West Coast Swing community largely lacks this culture of collaborative inquiry. I believe that adopting aspects of “Thinking in Public” would greatly benefit our community.

Photo by Ahmad Odeh

What would "thinking in public" look like in the context of WCS?

Learn in Public

 

The aspect of thinking in public that I believe would be most immediately relevant for the majority of readers is "Learning in Public". You can think of it as tracing the trail of learning.

After you've learned or understood something - share your understanding - in a format that your past self would have found the most helpful. Use media and words/concepts that make sense to you. Create something that you of 3 months ago wish existed!

  • write blogs (and post them here!);
  • ask and answer questions here, on Reddit, etc. Prefer public spaces over walled gardens for this;
  • make explainer YouTube videos;
  • draw illustrations;
  • etc.

As far as I can tell this is basically not a thing in WCS community 😿

Why does learning in public benefit community?

It's great to have different explanations of concepts - using a variety of mediums and models, as more people can find the explanation that works well for them.

Also, there is generally a lack of publicly available well-structured explanatory WCS material out there.

Why does learning in public benefit you?

Teaching is a great way to learn

When I wrote about Lead Projection - it made me clarify the concept in my mind and to expand my understanding of it. I expect to understand it even better as I get feedback from people, who will read through my explanation and point out the ways it's incomplete or confused 🙃.

Refining your understanding through feedback

Cunningham's Law: the best way to get the right answer on the internet is not to ask a question; it's to post the wrong answer.

Try your best to be right, but don’t worry when you’re wrong. Repeatedly. If you feel uncomfortable, or like an impostor, good. You’re pushing yourself. Don’t assume you know everything, but try your best anyway, and let the internet correct you when you are inevitably wrong. Wear your noobyness on your sleeve

People think you suck? Good. You agree. Ask them to explain, in detail, why you suck. You want to just feel good or you want to be good? No objections, no hurt feelings. Then go away and prove them wrong. Of course, if they get abusive block them.

- Learn In Public by swyx 


One objection I can imagine hearing about Learning in Public is that skills in WCS have a lot of depth and people tend to develop their understanding of the skill gradually - starting with a rough conceptual model and filling out the details over time. 
So wouldn't it be misleading if someone were to publish an explanation of rougher early-stage model?
I don't think it's an issue, for several reasons:

  • The process of explaining your model to someone else would usually draw your attention to the parts of it that are fuzzy or seem inconsistent - prompting you to refine it.
  • I think it's good to have rougher models out there
    • simpler models can be easier to grasp and apply and so it can be valuable to have them as a way-point to understanding a deeper model (for example Newtonian Physics is still widely used even though it's incomplete and has been refined with General Relativity)
      • ideally though you'd have a sense that there is a deeper model and an understanding of how a simpler model maps onto it
    • if a model is misleading or incomplete - this will come up in discussion and would benefit the original writer and other people who formed a similar model on their own but didn't externalize it

Thinking in public works well both for people who are earlier in their journey of understanding and for people who are trying to push the current frontier of knowledge. Here are a few specific scenarios I envision:

Finding better ways to teach

Example: Eric B. Jacobson reflecting on his experience of teaching WCS in different ways found that moving from the center * helps people to improve across multiple different dimensions of dance.

Developing better conceptual models of how dance works

Initially as you develop a movement skill, you often have an implicit model of how it works/should feel like.

When you recognize that you've developed such an implicit model - there is often a value in creating an explicit model of how things work, which allows you to refine your technique and apply the skill more broadly.
Having an explicit model also makes it easier to communicate the skill to other people.

Example:

It's a fake example because I don't actually know if things happened in this way specifically, but hopefully it serves to illustrate the idea

I imagine at some point someone noticed that it feels "more natural" to lead patterns to the right of you if you've ended up offset to the left side of the slot at the end of the previous pattern.

They probably then talked to some other dancers they knew, experimented together and discovered that doing this deliberately was helpful.
And with some additional experimentation discovered that you can also project pitch, rotation, etc.

Thus Lead Projection was born. (There is remarkably little information about it online, for a simple concept that most people in the community are aware of).

Figuring out good feedback loops that allow one to progress faster

I've found that developing better body awareness has been one of the more consistent sources of growth for me personally.

Aris DeMarco writes about similar things in Search Your Feelings to Learn More Quickly

I'd love for people to share (or collaboratively discover) other ways to give themselves immediate feedback on various aspects of their dance!


In all the cases above - iteration, refinement and collaboration with other dancers are the core part of the process.

Thinking in public allows you to get feedback on your ideas faster and to increase the diversity of perspectives you have the access to. Which helps you to refine your ideas faster and to see them extended to places you did not anticipate.

Importantly for the community, it creates a public log of thinking about a variety of ideas and concepts about dance. Both allowing people to better understand those ideas and to see the history of their development. It also often exposes implicit thinking models, people have, which can be valuable in their own right.

Collaborative sense-making in WCS

 

A related thing that is also missing from WCS community is any large effort to crowdsource existing knowledge into a coherent and accessible form.

In other words there is no active WCS wiki out there where people would collect things like:


The rate at which new knowledge and better teaching techniques propagate through the community is uneven

I've heard "massage the floor" from several people as a recommendation for how to improve foot articulation and weight transfers.

But as linked article describes -  this is an analogy that is easy to misunderstand. For me when I tried doing it - it caused me to dig into the ground with too much force leading to the ball of the foot pain.


Another (somewhat more controversial) example about approaching teaching of anchor: https://www.reddit.com/r/WestCoastSwing/comments/18nz3rr/the_anchor_as_a_concept/

As far as I can tell there is really no currently existing mechanism for widely and reliably spreading new ideas about WCS education. There is nothing similar to, say, International Journal of STEM Education.

https://www.swingliteracy.com/becoming-a-wcs-teacher/ is the best (only) article I found on becoming a WCS teacher. The process it outlines is something like:

  • Get good at dancing
  • Get teacher training (domain independent)
  • Get mentorship from other WCS teachers
  • Supplement by observing Pros teaching at workshops/etc
  • Get feedback, iterate.

I think it's a good article and the level of teaching would be better if people followed the advice in it.

But you can also see that it doesn't really have any mechanisms for people to reliably find out about better ways of conceptualizing dance or better teaching techniques.

  1. Here’s what I do, it works for me, thus, it should work for you too
  2. This is what my teacher told me, it works for them (maybe not yet for me), so it should work for you too
  3. I haven’t tried this at all but so and so said it and I think they’re smart, so you should listen to them

- We can do better: a west coast swing teaching manifesto by Aris DeMarco

The above quote from Aris describes how most people acquire their "teaching toolkit". I'd love for there to be a better way!

My hope is to make Modern Swing Forum to be a place, where people can talk about different educational approaches, discover disagreements and hopefully resolve them by understanding when a given approach work better.

Even when people would struggle to reach a consensus on a given topic, I believe it'd be useful for the community to see the layout of disagreement and what assumptions or ways of conceptualizing dance lead people to disagree.

It's interesting to note that disagreements at the highest level of understanding of dances seem uncommon.


Spreading the knowledge

Making something public knowledge is not sufficient, an article advising against using "massage the floor" analogy has been up since at least 2016, but people were still teaching it to me in 2022.

The knowledge needs to be wide-spread to have an impact. 

I don't have a full picture of how we get there, but here is how I think Modern Swing Forum can help:

  • having a good amount of publicly available reference material is a good start. In the world where this is the case - people can have an expectation that for any given drill or concept they can look up more information about it online and figure out if they understood it correctly, is it a good fit for them, etc.
  • I hope that in time it becomes a hub of intellectual activity in the WCS world and that a popular post here would have a good chance to be read by a large part of the community.

Introducing Modern Swing Forum

When thinking about how to improve on the things discussed above - I kept coming back to the idea of creating an online community space that would encourage Learning in Public, in-depth discussion of WCS related topics and provide affordances for people to collaborate on assembling information about existing concepts, drills, etc.

I'd like to introduce you to Modern Swing Forum. It's a:

My hope for this community is to encourage more in-depth conversation about our dance and to become the source of common knowledge for new ideas and better teaching technique. I'd love for you to join me and help make this vision a reality! 

How can you contribute?

  • Write about your experience of learning/teaching WCS and post it here!
  • Contribute to the Wiki (the intro page has a few requests for content that would be great to fulfill)
  • When you find a resource that is helpful - share it
  • Ask and answer questions
  • When you hear contradictory information from different people - start a discussion to get clarity

Appendix

Would having more publicly available educational material interfere with pro's ability to earn a living?

I don't believe so. My understanding of how people primarily earn money as pros in this dance is:

  • private lessons
  • providing feedback in other forms (e.g. video analysis)
  • Routine choreography, ProAm routines
  • getting hired for group workshops (at events or locally)
  • there are several online platforms offered by pros, which usually have a mix of educational content coupled with coaching
  • there are also things like shoe and clothing sales, JT swing teams, etc.
  • (I'm sure there are many more, but these are main things that come to mind)

The only plausible case for interference I can see here is for online platforms. But if present I think it'd be minimal, as:

  • The platforms provided by pros usually combine educational material with coaching, and the latter is I think where a lot of value comes from.
  • In Software world plenty of free resources happily coexist with a lot of premium resources (that'd would go deeper on topic, provide better learning structure, etc)

My hope is that this platform would be beneficial for Pros as well as other community members

  • In as much as it is able to lower the barrier for entry for new people - it'd create more demand for pro's time
  • I hope that the availability of better public material about concepts/etc would make the experience of private and group lessons better. It's common for me to ask a teacher - is there a place I can read up more on a concept they are talking about to understand it better and the answer is usually - 🤷‍♂️
  • Discoverability is a big issue (especially for newer pros) and I hope that repositories like "Who are the WCS pros teaching in the vicinity of SF Bay Area?" would help with that.

Existing resources

Blogs

There are a few existing blogs that embody the "Thinking in Public". I'm happy they exist, and I learned a lot by reading through them!

Two best examples covering a wide variety of WCS related topics:

Specifically focusing on DJing:

Misc:

Community

Podcasts

Events and locations

I think a big contributing factor [for what makes someone more intellectually active] is having some kind of intellectual community / receptive audience. Having a social context in which new ideas are expected, appreciated, and refined creates the affordance to really think about things.

- What makes people intellectually active?

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I would be so super hyped to get the WCS community engaged in true collective reflection and learning! I often sense a bullshit attitude like "everyone has their own way to enlightenment and it is rude to interfere" from my fellow westies.

About concepts and wiki. I feel like WCS is currently at the gymbro level of discourse. There are tons of popular, utterly wrong ideas, and many good, correct ideas get criticized and shot down because they don't align with the fashion or hurt somebody's ego or financial prospects.

A wiki is a good way to start making sense out of it. It might need to accomodate contradicting opinions, though. Certain teachers are even famous for contradicting a lot of "common wisdom" and yet their performances and workshops gather huge crowds. :)

About creating a hub. I saw a few attempts at creating some kind of a hub for WCS -- sometimes large-scale like a party registry, or smaller-scale like a blog, a scene website or a YT channel. Unfortunately, more often than not they did not "find traction" and faded away. Some stayed though! WDoD, the /r/westcoastswing subreddit and Nerdy WCS YT channel are good examples.

This got me thinking about how some activites manage to get a good, deep, "infosphere" going and some don't. Like, chess has always had a huge amount of content and deep discussion at all levels. Programming of course too. Boardgames are fragmented per-game, but have huge common hubs and conventions anyway. Tabletop roleplaying is probably too group-specific to have meaningful discussion beyond sharing adventure pieces? There are some minor game design hubs though. Video game design has a huge infosphere, but it qualifies as programming I guess :D Parenting, as I'm currently discovering, has a top-down (from bloggers/authors/researchers) information flow, but not that much lateral discussion, it is kinda similar to WCS I guess? What about sports? Is there a wiki for basketball where I can read how to do whatever ball tricks they do? How about skateboarding, is there a wiki that explains how to nollie?

IMO it can be useful to look at other domains that have or don't have the kind of wikis and hubs that we are trying to create and see what similarities we have with them. This can help us identify the issues we might face with traction and maybe even hint us how to solve them.

For example, I feel like in WCS we are suppressing the lateral (student-to-student) information flow and promoting the top-down (teachers to students) instead. This does not lend itself well to wiki-style hubs. This means that we need to promote contribution harder -- for example, create a list of "wanted articles" and publish specific "calls for content", emphasizing that we welcome article seeds even from beginners. Just as an idea :)

For example, I feel like in WCS we are suppressing the lateral (student-to-student) information flow and promoting the top-down (teachers to students) instead. This does not lend itself well to wiki-style hubs. This means that we need to promote contribution harder -- for example, create a list of "wanted articles" and publish specific "calls for content", emphasizing that we welcome article seeds even from beginners. Just as an idea :)

This is why this article has a big emphasis on "learning in public"! 
https://modernswing.forum/concepts/ has a bunch of requests for content, but I probably should highlight that more here in a more coherent call to action!

This got me thinking about how some activites manage to get a good, deep, "infosphere" going and some don't.

This is a great question, would love to find a good role model in some other movement focused activity 🤔

About concepts and wiki. I feel like WCS is currently at the gymbro level of discourse. There are tons of popular, utterly wrong ideas, and many good, correct ideas get criticized and shot down because they don't align with the fashion or hurt somebody's ego or financial prospects.

A wiki is a good way to start making sense out of it. It might need to accomodate contradicting opinions, though. Certain teachers are even famous for contradicting a lot of "common wisdom" and yet their performances and workshops gather huge crowds. :)

 

Yeah, figuring how different models of the dance fit together is definitely part of the mission 🙂. It's is often the case that things are not actually contradicting, but use terminology differently.

But there are definitely cases where people just view/conceptualize dance differently - I think it's valuable to have laying out of the arguments and models from both sides in that case.