While preparing a lesson plan for a Steppin' Class, I encountered an article that I hope will help to explain, why I encourage dancers to "RELAX" as they are learning to Step and while learning different combinations and footwork patterns.
The article discusses the phenomena of what happens to our (human) perception of time, when we are stressed or under pressure. It happens in dance classes, when we rush thru movements that we feel unsure of, or when we make mistakes - that we just knew we were gonna make. It turns out that scientists have been studying the issue.
Shanhar Vedantam, National Public Radio social science correspondent, explains that "it works in the way that anxiety generally works". In that, if "you're afraid of making a mistake; you sometimes become more likely to make a mistake."
Many of us encounter this anxiety experience when we are tasked with making new or unfamiliar movements in Steppin' classes. On several occasions people have expressed that a new motion is "weird" or "awkward" - until they develop a competence or discover the fun in that motion (if they persist in overcoming the challenge of new movements). For some, the new movement becomes a favorite movement for their dance.
Vendantam references that Gordon Moskowitz, a psychologist at Lehigh University, "was interested in whether disparities in fields ranging from how doctors interact with patients to how police officers might shoot unarmed people might be driven by this kind of anxiety."
The issue is at the crossroads of anxiety and time perception or how anxiety can skew our perception of time - or in the case of Steppers, our perception of timing. For these reasons, we strongly encourage new and developing students to focus on the music that they are dancing to. As the Phamily Steppers logo indicates (See Diagram), the music is the guide for both the Lead and Follow Steppers in this "structured-improvisational partnered dance".
If you are now, or have been, a student of the dance with Phamily Steppers - you know "the first thing we do, when we hear music". When you establish that point of reference, you will have a consistently repeating reminder to both remain calm and regulate your cadence. If you "use" your music in this way, you will also have a "quality control" baseline - by which, you can gauge the impact that the anxiety may be having on you.
You can listen to the full article (See Below) and consider the issues. Remember to Keep Calm and Relax while Steppin'.