In the Cipher: Scaffolding and the True Exchange

The Next Level El Salvador Team’s b-boy instructor Danny J. “Dan Tres Omi” Rodriguez takes a moment to reflect on the valuable lessons he has already learned during the first week of the team’s residency:

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When I finally sat down and began to formulate my lesson plan for my b-boy/b-girl workshop, I approached it from the idea that I was going to conduct the average workshop. I was going to start with the foundation, teach a few routines, throw in some power moves, and then provide the individual interaction to help the student improve or add on to their repertoire. My assumption was like that of a true Ugly American who just happened to b-boy: show them how we do it. I did some research and could only find a few videos of Salvadoran b-boys and b-girls. Many were grainy and short. Again, I assumed that their scene was bare bones and not a full cipher like in other cities around the world.

During this time,  Joe Schloss began asking some of the dancers who already finished their residencies for some best practices and tips for future artists who would be working for Next Level. B-boy Frankie Perez, who was the dancer for Team Uganda, advised that the artists should teach other dance styles. While I know many and and can teach many dance styles, this idea never came to mind.

When I held my first workshop, I split the students into two groups, jumped into one, and then we battled. My team got creamed, but I was able to gauge where the students were when it came to skill level, rhythm, and knowledge of the music. I quickly learned that my students were between intermediates to advanced. Sure, a few needed some work, but overall I can walk into any battle with any of these students and make it to the finals. So I had to go back to the lab and figure out what I could do.

I remembered Perez’ advice and decided to teach different dance styles. On my second day, I taught Capoeira. On the third, I taught salsa and merengue. Several things happened after I taught those lessons. Students who were not as strong on the top rock side of b-boying came up to me and explained that they feel more comfortable top rocking because they knew more steps and learned how to improvise using salsa. Students who were trying power moves learned new ways to execute them through saltas (acrobatics) from Capoeira. On top of that, students were getting a better understanding of moves they did not even know the names of.

Not only did the students get it, I got it as well. In education, this process is called scaffolding. The instructor builds on the students prior knowledge by teaching something that is connected to it. So there are movements in Capoeira that are similar to b-boying. Not only are they similar but the complex steps used to execute those moves are at times different and can be easier to master. Many early b-boys used steps from salsa in their top rock.

The students and the instructor are able to make those connections within those dances and martial arts. We actually ended up building better b-boys and b-girls. It broadens our perspectives and forces the b- boys and b-girls to see the parallels between styles. It sounds complicated but it’s simple. Scaffolding works in schools with various ages all the time.
Finally, this is a true exchange. New information is provided and students get smarter while the instructor witnesses a greater change. Personally, I almost failed to realize that I had a tool in my box that I was not utilizing it. This benefits the students in more ways than one.

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