Ken Martlew – The Age Gap – talk at Teachers’ workshop, RSCDS AGM – 2nd November 2012

The RSCDS AGM – Teachers Association Conference – Friday 2nd November 2012

The talk transcribed below was given to the Teacher’s Workshop at the RSCDS AGM, Perth, 2nd Nov. 2012, on behalf of SERTA (South-East Region Teacher’s Association).

I think the topic is very important to debate at the present time, having major implications for the future of the RSCDS.

Ken

The Age Gap Slide 1

Exploring the gap between RSCDS technique as taught and the reality on most dance floors.

It’s not Politically Correct even to mention Age, so I may be locked up after this talk!

However, I think it is important to explore some of the issues it raises, and my apologies in advance if I offend anyone.

There is a lot of ground to cover, and we touch on several subjects that could each fill the available time on their own:

Ken Martlew (South East Region Teachers Association – “SERTA”) – wearing 4 hats:

Slide 2

  •  RSCDS Teacher & Tutor
  •  Musician

I have had the privilege of working with at least 50 different SCD teachers, and 8 different tutors, in recent years

  • Retired doctor (GP) with a particular interest in osteopathy and orthopaedics

Over the years I have many times been called to attend dancers with injuries

  • Married to physiotherapist / RSCDS and ex-ballet teacher

She has specialised mainly with problems of the elderly

The growing gap between SCD as taught and practised Slide 3

  • Mainly, but not entirely, due to ageing population of dancers
  •  Does not apply everywhere

I hope there are some present who don’t know what I am talking about.

I have visited some centres– for example Lyons, Ukraine, Moscow – which have a high proportion of super young dancers.

However:

  • They are young now, but may grow old one day!

RSCDS History Slide 4

Let’s have a look at how it started:

1911 English Folk Dance and Song Society – was founded by Cecil Sharpe

This was an instant success far and wide – including Scotland.

1923 Mrs Ysobel Stewart (of Fasnacloich) – Guide Commissioner for Argyll

Scots never like being told what to do by the English, so she decided to write down and publish some Scottish dances she could remember. The publishers (Paterson’s) sensibly asked for these to be ratified first, and called on Dr Jean Milligan –Lecturer in Physical education (PE) at Jordanhill College, Glasgow

The two ladies:

  • Published traditional Scottish Dances to use instead
  • Systematised the technique
  • Set up classes and teacher training
  • Initially for their Girl Guides and PE Teachers – young fit people

Scottish Country Dance – RSCDS style Slide 5

They instituted detailed description and teaching of :

  • Footwork – Extension, Turnout, Hop
  • Formations

And of course

  • Rhythm, teamwork, covering, etc.

Exams Slide 6

These concepts were crystalised in exams:

  • Teaching Certificate

And more recently

  • Dancing Proficiency Assessment
  • Children’s Medal Tests

Typical dance in London today Slide 7 – videos

I have sat watching dances in and around London , and reckon that at any one time I am lucky if I can see more than 6 people out of over a hundred present who are maintaining reasonably correct steps. Here are some random video clips from typical dances in London this year (taken by Stephen Webb). [laughter at the sight of some extremely non-RSCDS footwork]

  • ? 6% maintaining “correct” steps

Changed pattern in many clubs Slide 8

In the 32 years I have been dancing, I have noticed a profound change in local clubs

  • “Social dancing” not teaching

At my local club’s AGM, 3 weeks after I had passed my Teachers exam in 1992, two longterm members stood up to declare, with murmurs of assent from the floor: “We do Social Dancing, and we don’t want any teachers telling us to point our toes”. Nobody questioned how you “social dance” if you can’t dance!

  • Newcomers learn by “shout & shove”

The club, very friendly, welcomed new dancers without any formal system of instruction. This sort of worked as long as there were enough trained dancers to teach them. But as some older dancers moved on, some new dancers became good at finding their way round dances, and became MCs – never having been to formal classes, let alone a certificate class. So the club came to have

  • MC’s unfamiliar with correct steps and figures
  • Emphasis on complicated modern dances

Those who have been dancing a while want ever more complicated dances, while the technique gets worse and worse.

This pattern I find repeated in clubs all over the country – and not only in the UK.

Locally, we have in the last few years established properly taught classes, and changed things].

Difference between Slide 9

On the video one could pick out 3 distinct groups of dancers with poor technique:

  • “Can’t” – Could once, but now old / infirm,
  • Started too old to learn – the long-term beginner
  • Learned SCD in clubs where never taught technique.

Age & SCD Slide 10

  • Average age of SCD increasing

When I attended a dance a few years ago, I genuinely thought I had arrived at a Home for the Elderly by mistake, and went out into the street again to check the address.

At a recent SCD holiday in French Mountains “for Advanced Dancers” the first two dancers I met in the car park were walking with Zimmer frames.

In the UK, most of the clubs I am familiar with have no-one in the first third of life, very few in the middle third.

  • Beginners classes attract mainly retired people

They are looking for something to do in retirement – or when the kids have left home

Age & fitness Slide 11

  • RSCDS Health Strategy Pack – 8th World Conference on Active Aging 9/10/12

Several recent studies – notably Strathclyde University – have shown that SCD a very good way to stay fit, alert and young

  • Fitness, Fun & Friendship

[The World conference was just before my talk, and I had little information on the studies.

The results need to be looked at carefully before conclusions are drawn:

1. The sample at Strathclyde was small – less than 40 dancers

2. They were dancers who had been dancing a long time

It is no surprise that established Scottish dancers fare particularly well from their pursuit – but quite a different matter to conclude that the same benefits apply when it is taken up at a relatively old age – see problems below.]

Demands of SCD Slide 12

However, SCD (RSCDS style) is

  • High impact, high energy
  • Requires abnormal foot positions
  • Mentally demanding

Problems associated with age Slide 13

  • Joints ligaments, & muscles

Joints surfaces become roughened, ball joints track into hinges. Wear and tear osteoarthritis seriously reduces mobility.

Ligaments slowly tighten, severely limiting range of movement, are less yielding, and more prone to tearing.

Muscles become weaker, less responsive to training.

  • Physical fitness, overweight

Most elderly people are not models of fitness.

Each extra kilo in weight can put an extra 10 kilos through a knee joint with movement.

  • Mental processes much slower

Elderly beginners are MUCH slower to grasp new information and skills than young ones.
(The first-time pass rate for the driving test is almost nil for elderly drivers).

  • Memory: – dances

Anything learnt is rapidly forgotten – short-term memory is bad

  • Sense of rhythm, listening to music.

Someone reaching the 3rd Age without previously having a sense of rhythm, will not learn it then. Some of these dancers absolutely cannot hear the beat.

  • Oedema

Many elderly have swollen feet. There can be a whole litre extra of fluid in the legs before it is readily detectable by a doctors as “oedema”. This has at least 3 effects

a) A lot of extra weight in the legs

b) A lot less flexibility in the feet and ankles

c) Exercise pushes fluid out of the legs into the circulation, which can overload the heart (fortunately this usually makes the dancer short of breath rather than drop dead).

  • Injury

The Elderly are less steady, giddy if spun round (don’t allow it!), and more likely to fracture bones if they fall.
Calf muscles and tendons are weak – simply not up to the strength required for SCD.
But the young take more risks, and may tear muscles and tendons.

Dance programmes Slide 14

The trend on most programmes is for

  • Complicated modern dances

This means

  • The gap between Beginners and Experienced dancers is increasing

While bright young things can “have a go” and survive “shout and shove” in the dance

  • Elderly can’t cope with being “thrown in”

What Teachers currently do to compromise Slide 15

Dancers are often advised by the teacher to

  • “Do only what is comfortable”

But nothing is specified about what to put in or leave out

  • Seniors Class

Brilliant development at Summer School – but it has the luxury of dancers who know what they are doing, and long term memory still serves them well.

  • “No-one is looking at your feet, the steps are not important”

So why bother to teach the technique at all if you are told it doesn’t matter??

How to bridge the gap between SCD (RSCDS) and age limitation Slide 16

We might think about what we could do to bridge this gap:

  • Collectively
  • Individually

Options Slide 17

  • “SCD not for you” – try Ceilidh, Reeling , Ballroom, or English Country Dancing

Are we being fair to newcomers if we don’t spell out that SCD is physically and mentally challenging? Reeling is much easier, maybe only 9 dances to learn, little footwork – popular in London.

Are we being fair to existing dancers inviting in “no-hopers”?

  • Turn a blind eye to failing

Keep calm and carry on.

  • Set criteria of health and fitness as a condition of class

Spell out health & fitness criteria for your class – only then can you reasonably send them away when they can’t cope and wreck the class.

  • More training

Spend time on graded fitness exercises. Non-starter – they want to dance, not do fitness exercises.

  • Teaching technique by stealth

What most of us have to do. “Social Dancing” groups won’t attend a “class”, but “let’s have a look at a couple of problems in the next dance” is OK.

  • Specific graded alternatives

Be prepared to compromise our technique formally in a graded way – so

Specific graded alternatives Slide 18

  • Grade footwork in progressive competence levels – as they do in ballet, Yoga
  • Injury prevention – a) Accident b) sudden injury c) overuse injury
  • Posture
  • Exam criteria
  • Programme management – Beginners Pathway

We will look at each of these in turn:-

Graded Footwork Slide 19

“There is a level at which any dancer can do any step”.

Pas-de-Basque – a) good b) compromised. Demonstrated
Hello-Goodbye – a) Unit 2 pass standard, b) easy, c) elderly with stick.
Skip change – hard to simplify
Slip step – difficult to simplify

Highland Schottische – yes, anyone! – can be marked out with no hop and minimum effort.

  • Danced “correctly”, a dancer should perform 1,000 to 2,000 hops during an evening dance. It is a lot easier if one leaves a lot out (as most do!).

Train the calf muscles.

Injury Slide 20

  • Accident

There are (in my experience) remarkably few accidents on the dance floor.

Most fractures I have treated at dance event have been from falling down steps outside the ballroom.

Health & safety precautions can reduce the risk of injury

  • Sudden injury

Sudden injury – calf or tendon. Elderly are at slightly greater risk – but the young go for it.

  • Osteoarthritis of major joints.

This is normally a long-standing wear & tear problem , but it is subject to exacerbation – e.g. catch something in a joint, rough edges grate.

  • Overuse

It is essential to ease off at the first warnings, but difficult to do in the excitement of the dance – especially Achilles tendons.

Ban Musicians! – A Health & safety investigation would surely ban them! “They kept us dancing long after pain would have stopped us”!

Posture Slide 21

This is a particular problem for the elderly – desks, chairs, computers.
There is much more flexibility & strength when the head sits on top of the spine
Demonstrate a book on a pole

  • One is less prone to injury with good posture
  • Core muscles are in balance
  • Lungs & heart work better
  • The circulation to the brain is much better – helping brain function, especially balance
  • Self-confidence, personality when upright

But are we running a health clinic or a dancing class?

The Warm-up and Cool Down Slide 22

  • It takes at least 20 minutes progressive fatigues for a fit person to achieve full performance, when a sweat will be running

In SCD this is only required before a demonstration , exam, when maximum performance is required immediately.

Sports physios have taken SCD into this mindset – they train athletes, footballers, etc., who must go flat out from the start.

But there are no prizes in SCD for completing the first figure of a dance in 6.2 bars instead of 8!

The unfortunate reality is that dem teams often have to do their thing after sitting for an hour and a half of supper & speeches

  • No evidence that a fancy warm-up is any better than dancing.

I have seen no evidence that a “fancy” warm-up is any better than just dancing – start gently, build up as the body allows.

Walk or run for beginners

The injury rate at dances with no warm-up is no more than classes with a fancy warm-up. If you must devise a clever warm-up, avoid any non-intuitive movements with cold muscles. Demonstrate some fancy warm-up routines that have caused injury

The RSCDS book on warm-ups is well written, and has some excellent ideas for fitness fanatics, but the references quoted are based on chiropractors’ theories, not the results of quality research.

If one follows the references, the bottom line concedes – “The best warm-up exercise is one that most closely mimics what you are about to do”. So, why not dance gently?

The only controlled trial I am aware of was with Australian soldiers – where the group that did a formal warm-up before a field exercise did slightly worse than those who went straight in.

  • Oedema (swollen feet)

It takes me personally 3 dances, or ½ hour brisk walking, to clear the feet

  • Cool-down

Evidence from Sports physios much more relevant here.

Sustained stretches of the major muscles (ideally 1 minute each) removes lactic acid.

This reduces morning stiffness, and can prevent long-term fibrosis from over-use inflammation.

The injured teacher Slide 23

  • Demonstration

I have twice recently played for high profile RSCDS classes where the teacher was scarcely able to walk, never mind demonstrate.

Neither used good dancers to demonstrate instead!

This is surely outrageous for an Intermediate class – when deputies could be found.

RSCDS exams Slide 24

  • Dancing Proficiency Assessment

This is a brilliant idea – providing benchmarks of our discipline.

However, initially this was much too biased towards accurate footwork – level 1 should be very encouraging to any dancers who have made an effort to learn RSCDS technique.

Level 2 should also be encouraging, while showing in the marking what is missing.

Level 3 is there for good dancers.

  • Teaching Certificate

What do you do with the injured candidate?

Assessment of their dancing is at the Examiner’s discretion – but a pity if the candidate’s peers say “He would never have passed if he had been fit!”.

  • Children’s’ Medal Tests

I don’t have direct personal experience of these, but they appear to be better sorted.

No-one fails the lowest level – why not same for adults??

The Manual (Blue Book) Slide 25

  • Incorporate grading concepts discussed above?

Pathway for New Dancers Slide 26

Very few places cater for the next step from the Beginner’s Class

  • Dances for Less Experienced Dancers

Beginners need to experience a real dance by attending one graded to their standard.

The gap from elderly beginner to the average public dance is huge

  • Traffic Light system

This incorporates dances of mixed difficulty, colour-coded so there is something for everyone:

Beginners, Beginners with good partner, Experts only

  • Regional Repertoire

New Zealand – There is a national repertoire, 6 dances from it to be on every programme

Summary Slide 27

  • Today’s RSCDS dancers much older than in 1923 when our SCD established
  • Changing form of SCD – emphasis on complicated dances, not technique
  • Possible compromises in graded teaching
  • Pathways for beginners
  • The elderly beginner
  • Health issues – injury, posture, training
  • RSCDS Health Strategy impact

This is a promising initiative, especially for the elderly – BUT [– has it been suitably researched,] and are we set up to receive them?

[There was limited time for questions. I quote an important one:

Q You spent 20 minutes describing compromises in SCD for the disabled. Aren’t you describing “Reeling”.

A The difference is that Reeling aims no higher. I was proposing that, like my Yoga teacher, in SCD we teach “This is the Gold standard: if you can’t achieve that, these are different levels of difficulty you can aim for instead”. A disability may only affect one aspect of technique, and good compromise may be possible. The Manual might include some of these compromise guidelines. ]

Ken Martlew
Hemel Hempstead, March 2013
Transcript of talk given at the RSCDS Teachers’ Workshop before the AGM in Aberdeen, 2nd Nov 2012