ATS® General Skills

I wanted to write about ATS® General Skills intensive not just to record my experience, but because I’ve been asked a few times afterwards what to expect and what it covers. But I also wanted to leave some time in between finishing it, and writing, to let the effects settle and see whether/how it had influenced my dancing and practice.

What it says in the box: this is a 4-day intensive course where you cover all the steps from FCBD® ATS® DVDs vols 1, 4 and 7. You also cover vol 3 (zills), history of the styles, and formations. Basically, after finishing, in theory, you should be familiar with all the steps from ATS® Classic and Modern. No vol 9 moves, dialect, or advanced formations like duelling duets are covered. General Skills is a pre-requisite for ATS® Teacher Training

I said “in theory”, because truly, there isn’t much time to cover each step in extreme detail, not the way you would in a regular class where you can devote weeks to work with one step and its variations, not with all the nuances. So to get the best out of it, I’d *strongly* recommend that you arrive with a good foundation, in a physical state were you are capable of dancing five hours a day, and aware of your limitations and pitfalls. If, for instance, you’re still struggling to understand what the arms positions for fast vocabulary are, or you have trouble with the zilling, it might not be the right time for you to do General Skills yet.

How it works: Prior to arrival, you will get a list of the moves to cover for Classic and Modern ATS®. You don’t need to memorise the list, but it helps to be aware of it. You will be expected to do a short warm-up on your own before starting. You should be mindful of proper warm-up and stretching techniques, and of your own body. I know for instance that I need a slow deepening movement practice and not a big cardio to begin with, so every morning, I arrived early and did a short section off one of Datura’s yoga practices to start moving the body and articulating my spine. After roll call, you will have a quick song or two for cardio warm-up led by one of the teachers, using the moves you will cover that day, and from day 2 onwards, any you might have covered in previous days. You will get an explanation of a couple of moves from different families. You will then get a guided drill, and after that, you will go in groups of four people and start the exercises. There will be a tiny bit of time after each exercise for a post-mortem (quick talk of what went on) and then there will be another two movements. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The first day felt like the longest for me because there was a lot of foundation work for taxeems, shimmies and formations, and a lot of walking in a circle and stationary drilling. The following three days were much more dynamic.

You should keep in mind that, aside from the long time spent on the foundations (undulations, taxeems, shimmies), the pace is BRISK. There is time for question and answers, but at the same time you are taking notes, everybody else is also asking questions, so if you are trying to take note of everything said, it is likely that you will miss something. This isn’t a bad thing, not in my book. GS should be, at least to me, to learn directly from the source; to gain polish, refine some areas, or figure out something that has eluded you, or to understand the underlying aesthetic driving the style. Learning the steps requires practice, repetition and study; you might have some repetition and practice during the work, but not enough to “nail” each step; that requires hours and hours that you are expected to work on at home: there’s a reason the “ideal” is to take GS and only a year or two afterwards, do Teacher Training.

How has it affected my practice? When learning ATS, it’s very tempted to chase after the latest step or dialect, in an attempt to keep the vocabulary fresh. For me, doing GS gave me a new found love for “classics”, and helped me realise things I needed to work on and why; getting the information directly from the horse’s mouth allow me to develop a better idea of the general of the underlying principles behind the aesthetic as opposed to just learning steps and combos. It deepened my understanding of the format, and gave me lots of tiny nuances to work on.

Would I do it again? Absolutely, although probably in a few years.

How was it? I personally found the experience exhilarating. I’d already been attending ATS classes for nearly 5 years before doing it, but I don’t often get the chance to dance with new people. As I worked with the same group for the whole of the intensive, I could see how we went from having trouble reading each other’s body language, to pretty much be able to read the smallest movements before even the actual cues to drive the movement, and you could see over the daily videos how we were getting more and more in sync with each other. I personally think that this connection you forge with your fellow dancers is the greatest strength in holding GS in the way it’s held: as the days progress and you figure out where you are (and often, how much you need to work on x, y or z), you also develop very strong bonds with those with whom you are dancing. Which is, ultimately, what dancing ATS should be about.

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