Know Your Stage, Avoid Frustration (well, a little)

I'm not talking stage as in theater stage but as in a phase. Specifically the 4 different phases or stages of learning we experience when acquiring a new skill. Ready for a little psychology?

This "Learning Process" model is a very helpful tool in dealing with those bad days or frustrating moments as you grow in your dance practice, technique and skill. Because face it, it serves absolutely no one, least of all yourself, to experience frustration in dance class or rehearsal, roll your eyes at yourself and murmur "I suck, I'm never gonna get this…". We've ALL been there, yes?

As we advance in our dance practice we're going to go through different stages of competence which elicit different actions, behaviors and responses from us. Knowing what stage you are currently in can alleviate a lot of frustration and help you get on with your learning. These are the four stages:

Unconscious Incompetence
In short: Ignorance is bliss! You don't even know that you don't know.
In bellydance terms: Yeah I dance Jazz, Salsa and Zumba so I can totally do bellydance!

To actually learn the skill at this point the potential student has to recognize their incompetence and see the value of learning the new skill.
Conscious Incompetence
In short: Oooh, I didn't know that! (But see, now you know that you don't know.)
In bellydance terms: Oh wow, the hips move really differently from Salsa. You mean I have to use different muscles?

The individual now begins to gain an understanding of what they don't know and see how valuable lessons are in order to learn the new skill. Many beginner mistakes are made in this phase -- but they are welcomed as they are necessary when learning something new.
Conscious Competence
In short: I know that I know how to do this but I still have to really work at it.
In bellydance terms: Yeah I can do that --I just have to remember to shift my weight and pivot at that point in the music.

The person now knows that he/she has learned the skill but still has to concentrate while executing the skill.
Unconscious Competence
In short: I didn't even realize I did it. I guess it's second nature now.
In bellydance terms: I'm not sure how many times I turned there. I just do it, it's what the music tells me.

The person has had so much practice that the skill has become second nature and no longer has to concentrate to execute it.
Those are the 4 stages of competence when learning a skill. And depending on time, research, dedication committed to learning a new skill these very steps can repeat creating a cycle that leads you to Mastery of your skill.

Clearly we are very different people depending on where we are in the learning process. So now you can be kinder to yourself when you are struggling with your dance practice. OR you can catch yourself getting complacent because it's become so easy. Oy vey, our work is never done is it? 

What stage are you in at the moment?


  1. This is a great application of psychology, and as a teacher I see my students move in and out (it's not always linear!) of these stages all the time. I was wondering if you have any suggestions for how teachers manage students in different stages?

    Sometimes it can be really frustrating dealing with Unconscious Incompetence students in particular, but I think also that each stage has their own needs.

    1. Ooh what a good question - sounds like a follow up post! Please know I'm not a psychologist/psychiatrist/or psyche-anything:) I'm simply sharing my thoughts.

      I agree that each stage has it's own needs. And that's why I find this such a helpful tool. As teachers we should strive to identify the stages our students are going through and adjust our instruction accordingly.
      If we were to break the dance down into it's different concepts, I find that it's not so much students go back and forth through the stages, but that at any given time they might find themselves in more than one stage at a time. For example, they may have beautiful shimmies and feel confident about those but aren't quite as advanced when it comes to balance and shifting weight when traveling.
      For the most part though, I think a lot of time is spent in the Conscience Competence phase. Where different things are being learned at different paces but they don't quite come together smoothly until the end of this phase going into the next.

      As for the Unconscious Incompetence stage --it can be frustrating but we've all been there ourselves - LOL.! It might be helpful to remember what it is that clicked for us. I find, fortunately, by the time most students sign up for a class they've pretty much already realized that they "need" classes. Of course there are always a few that could benefit from more awareness. If they are to actually learn and progress they need to see the value of seeking out and accepting instruction.
      Different things work for different people but I find the more I slow down and break down movement the more they start to appreciate the intricacies of the dance. Or sometimes if we approach the same movement two or more different way they begin to see how vast the possibilities are and they want to learn more.
      What do you find works best?


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