Europe Will Follow

Europe Will Follow

Wherever you go in the world American music is King.  In Germany, even the biggest movie hits are dubbed into German before release to the public, but listen to their music channels and American music abounds.  All types including hip-hop, rock, etc. are readily available.  Not to say they do not have their own stars and native songs, but often the most successful also have an American flavor.  Fashions would also be familiar to most Americans immediately, including clothes, designs, lay outs in magazines, and even TV Shows where the most popular shows have like stages and special effects.  So it is only a matter of time that Europe will adopt the American systems of teaching dancing.  This is natural, not because the American system is inherently better, but just because the system is more adaptive to individual needs as opposed to the group mentality that enabled the European class system to flourish in previous years.

I have, in previous columns, noted some of the differences inherent in Europe’s approach to sports as opposed to America’s, not the least of which was Europe’s effort to expose a broader population to more sport’s earlier and longer through their school systems.  This meant while in Europe and in School in the early teen years, the School sent a notice home that the time had arrived for all of my class to meet at the Wendt’s School of Dance for what was certainly going to be nightmare for most of us that were happy with soccer, tennis, track, etc.  Yes, young teenagers in Germany were no more ready to dance with girls then Americans are.  The difference was the European system or parents provided or expected the youth to do it before we had reached the age where one would actually say “No” to our parents.  Upon arriving at classes, all the embarrassing things that could possibly happen did, but something else happened also.  By the time the initial series of classes ended, some of the awkwardness and embarrassments had worn off.  Doing it with your actual classmates of a few years did mean you were more comfortable with them than with strangers.  While many did not go further everyone had at least some appreciation of the skills and enough knowledge to be able to come back to it later without having to go through the embarrassing phases again.  Note that the school did not provide the classes only the structure to allow it to go forward.

American emphasis on sports has been on parental selection of sports with an awfully early emphasis on making the team so to speak.  This means many kids will never be exposed to sports their parents know little about.  Schools, at least when my son went to school, offered no gymnastics, swimming, even though we lived in Florida, and only enough of the team sports to determine who would make the team, and forget the rest.  Furthermore most of the other sports, tennis, soccer, polo, etc., fell outside the influence of schools.  Physical education meant if you could make the basketball team you could use the gym, and if not stay out and out of the way.  The “develop the star” mentality remains and though it leaves many late bloomers out entirely, it has one distinct advantage.  Private tutelage, special instruction, and individual and small group instruction have flourished.  With that students have learned that the embarrassment is reduced when receiving private instruction, and money and intensive training can replace normal development.

Now in Europe dance schools are faced with a dilemma that Americans have long been accustomed to.  That is namely the children are ready at a much earlier age to say, “No”.  Television and society have evolved enough to the point that German children have made up their minds long before their parents have, and parents all too often acquiesce.  Germans have acquired more team sports and the desire to be competitive earlier has arrived.  Many more young people still attend dance studios than in the States, but all too often it is for an audition to compete in stage dancing and not dancesport.  What happens to those that don’t make the auditions?  What happens to the late bloomers?  What happens to the social and dancesport aspects of dance?  If taught at all, they will have to be left till later, or maybe taught in a new way.

That is why I think the American system of instruction is inevitable in Europe.  Not only I have seen it work to the chagrin of old time European studio operators, but also because it takes into account many of the problems they currently encounter.  Many older people are now starting classes.  Studio operators are happy as long as they come as couples.  To date they push them into classes, and hope they will only step on their partner’s feet.  In fact many more studios in the States now have more couples than ever before, and are very comfortable teaching them.  What American schools recognize is that one party of even the most amenable couple will only give so much time or suffer so much embarrassment before they are out of there.  Private lessons are the only way to insure satisfaction and offer comfort to those, and people are more than willing to pay the money to learn in a way that provides quick results with no discomfort.

More and more single people are marrying later.  They stay in school, and are getting their careers going before they marry.  Their need for private lessons will grow.  Single professionals will not want to wait as long as it takes to learn in class system to impress that person when the time comes.  They have a plan, and that plan includes school, career, family and success.  The hunt is not part of their plan, and just as more and more young professionals look to personal trainers for fitness in Europe, they will also want personal trainers for their other lifestyle needs.  The biggest hang-up many studio operators have is their perception of American schools teaching only the little old lady.  However as senior European women and men discover that they shouldn’t spend their old age in some home watching the world go by, and are healthy enough to enjoy their old age, the demands of even the seniors may be too profitable for studio operators to ignore.  The only question now is will the current studio operators take advantage of the possibilities or will it require a whole new generation of instructors leaving the old ones in the dusk.

Michael S Reichenbach


Dance Week

October 15, 2004

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