We continue our conversation with Tomasz from Part 1. In this part, we move on to what Tomasz is doing these days, including how he likes to approach learning and teacher dance.
Greg Austin Ha! I see what you did there. Laughs. Let’s continue on with that theme. How do you like learning today? And how does that impact your teaching?
Tomasz Przytycki I like that question. I feel like there’s quite a few tools that I use to improve myself as a dancer and I feel like, in terms of teaching, I always like to be teaching in the same way that I’m learning. I do feel that developing as a dancer is kind of challenging because it’s not like there are clear steps, clear things which you go to and eventually you’re the best dancer in the world. There’s no “finish line.” It’s not a race, where you just have to find ways to be faster. There’s no clear end point. What I find is that you have to keep changing, you have to keep adapting, and you have to keep finding creative outlets.
In that end, I’ve been developing a few tools for building my teaching. I find that collaboration is an incredibly strong tool.
So my main tool for working with people, is I’ve been running this series which I call “Little Lindy.” The way it works is that I connect a week or more of practice together with a dance partner, with a weekend workshop. The idea behind the workshop is that we take what we have worked on for ourselves and use this as inspiration for our classes.
Really, it’s predominantly a self-development tool. I find people who I want to work with, for a variety of reasons, either it’s because I’ve danced with them and I’m curious as to what they are doing, or maybe they’re also looking for a partnership, and it’s a way of testing out how we work together.
Greg So, the first half of the series is creatively developing yourselves, and the second half is sharing what you have learned with your students?
Tomasz Exactly. In terms of the second half, it also means, because it is also a question of how often can you organize a workshop featuring yourself in your scene? You know, as long as you’re doing interesting things, that’s fine, but how do you keep things interesting? I find that if you have a different dance partner, and you make sure that whatever you’re teaching is not just you running on your treadmill…
Tomasz spins his fingers like a hamster running on a hamster wheel.
Tomasz No one can see me doing this little gesture. Laughs… Like a little hamster on a wheel.
So it’s very important for me then, and this is also a good practice for me to be more flexible in my teaching, as well. When you’re teaching by yourself, or when you’re teaching with local teachers, where you feel like you are the “authority,” it winds up being you the solo “diva,” or whatever. And here’s an opportunity for me to step back and be like, “Ok, it’s us doing it together,” and in the case of we haven’t agreed upon technique, or we’ve worked so much on ourselves that we didn’t prepare a class, that I’m ready to back off and let the other person be the main voice.
The point is that I’m trying to work on myself and in parallel create an opportunity for organizers in other cities. Right now I’ve worked with a bunch in Poland, we’ve done this in Gdańsk, in Poznań, and in Łódź. My goal is to create simultaneously an affordable option for people to bring me in, but this way, I get something else personally out of it, which is time to work with somebody new. This is a way of giving a chance for people to create something smaller and with a different feel, without making it risky.
Greg So you have both of these learning styles in you, from growing up. How does that impact what you’re doing with your Little Lindy series? Any examples?
Tomasz When I was in the States for 3 months and I worked with Laurel Ryan, from Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Grace Durant, from Ft. Worth, Texas – both who had come to Poland for a Little Lindy with me before. I find for example that we have very different communication – I have very different communication styles with Laurel than with I do with Grace, because Grace is hyper focused on the technical. How we make this feel right, how we make this work better… it’s so much in the details
While I feel like when I work with Laurel, it’s so much more a feeling of, we’re dancing and we’re like, “Oh, that was a cool thing, let’s do that thing, let’s connect it with this thing.” And yeah, of course the technical things come out, but they’re secondary to the thing we are building. While in the other places, the technical thing is like, “Oh, we can create something with the technical thing.” It’s like the top-down vs the bottom-up, and I personally find both important. And I find that it’s the difference between geeking out, and just going out there and moving your body. They’re both so valuable for me.
Greg And one of the big things with the Little Lindy series is that your students get a chance to peek into this collaborative learning process?
Tomasz Yeah, and learning how to dance, they get more of a glimpse… sometimes we have a situation where we’re teaching and we say, “Hey, it’s a thing we do,” and somebody asks a question about it and we’re like, “Hey, this is the first time we are teaching together, you might ask us stuff and you might get different answers.” If we’re really on top of things we give a little disclaimer ahead of time.
There’s different ways of understanding the same thing. So we’ll be out there and we’ll be teaching say a move, and it’s working great, but then we realize when we’re explaining it that we have different ways of understanding what’s happening. Or different priorities inside of this figure.
For example, my partner might think, “Oh, the important thing to make this work is to get that feeling of stretch.” While I’ll be like, “The important thing to get this to work is I have to go over there.”
Having a little bit of introspection, at least I believe that a student seeing these differences and these things, and although they might be confusing on one level, on the other hand they give a window to us as instructors and as dancers that there’s these various processes, these various things going on simultaneously. Sometimes you go out there and try stuff, and sometimes we go out there and try to break it down and create.
And sometimes when you try to analyze it, it falls apart. You’re like, “Well, I guess we’re not teaching this… it’s just a thing we do sometimes.” Or we’re going to try sharing it, but let people know that the moment we start thinking about it, things start falling apart. So good luck.
You don’t want to teach a shitty class ever. We do have to kind of triage and expose people to this, but we don’t want it to be a non-class –
Greg Which is an interesting line to walk –
Tomasz Yeah, you’re really toeing a line.
Greg You’re setting this series up as, “I’m doing this for my own learning and teaching.” Fundamentally, you have to constantly balance your “student” self and your “teacher” self.
Tomasz And even if you go to my Little Lindy Facebook page, you’ll see that I emphasize that this is a learning process for us, which I try to share with a variety of people. I do emphasize for students that this is what they’re receiving. But then it’s still really personal, because depending on both my co-teacher, or depending on maybe the organizer who I’m working with, they have their own desires, for whatever it is.
Let’s go back to the previous thought, which I think is more interesting. That there’s always a balance to be struck between “Here’s exactly where your left pinky toe goes,” and “Just feel it.”
The point is there’s value in both and in certain situations you have to tell yourself and tell your students if you’re teaching, “Put aside your super-duper technique focused things. Try this thing and push aside those technical thoughts and see if you can discover something for yourself.” And from the other side, sometimes you have to say, “Ok, put aside your plethora of creative tools, you’re maybe using them to compensate for trouble with this very technical thing we want you to put your hands on.”
Both are really valuable ways of learning, in my opinion. I think most instructors know this on some level –
Greg You’re just trying to make it be the core essence of what you do?
Tomasz Yeah, well, collaboration is the point. The rest are observations from that process. Dichotomy of technical vs. intuitive or whatnot is just an example. You really learn a lot… I learned a lot through this series. I encourage everyone out there to try it out. The idea is not copyrighted.
Greg I’m curious though, are there other people doing these types of series?
Tomasz When I look around, there are people who create new partnerships and will test them out in a variety of ways. I don’t see anybody doing it quite in the same structured way as me. For me, it’s really a thing that I put priority on.
I found that this is a really great way, especially when it is structured, to feel comfortable in creating these experimental partnerships. Where you’re not putting that much on the line every time that you work with somebody. Even if I were to find a permanent dance partner, I would keep doing these series.
Greg You’re hoping to do these several times a year, correct?
Tomasz Yeah, I’m planning on doing it about every other month. I just did one with Genia Tsvietkova, in Poznań. I’m talking to three other followers about collaborating and I’ve got one definitely planned for June.
Greg To start wrapping up, in the beginning of this interview, you said that when you were in college, you couldn’t figure out a way to combine your mathematics and your dance educations. Today, after more than a decade in the dance world, do you think you’ll ever go back and get your higher degree in mathematics?
Tomasz Not in the foreseeable future, but it is something that crosses my mind. I finally brought my cello from the States. So my pieces of the past are kind of scratching at me. Of course, the cello is not such a big leap as math, I’m around music anyway, but I just want to get deeper into it again.
In fact, anybody who’s reading this, if you have a good examples of Jazz cellists, throw them my way, because everything I’ve found is either extremely Post-modern, like super Modern experimental Jazz, which is great, but I want danceable Jazz. The closest good cello I’ve found so far is a cellist imitating Grapelli’s style, but that’s still Gypsy Jazz… give me some big band cello! It might be impossible, but give me some big band cello and I’m going to emulate the hell out of it.
Greg So if we can find a big band cello, you will collaborate with them for a Little Lindy series? Do I have that on the record?
Tomasz Oh man, I feel like I need to put a year of cello playing so I can actually benefit from this, but –
Greg Yes or no?
Tomasz Yes. Come my way, I’ll make it work.
Greg Excellent. Any last words?
Tomasz I’m around. I’m dancing and I’m always looking for opportunities to share and teach. I think the biggest thing is if you’re interested in participating in the Little Lindy series, whether it’s as an organizer or if you’re interested in getting in touch with me about doing something like this, it doesn’t hurt to talk about it. It might be that I’m interested or not, but –
Greg Throw it out there.
Tomasz Exactly, I’m throwing it out there.
Interested in getting in touch with Tomasz? Find him through his Little Lindy page.