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August 23rd 2016: ticket2dance News

I hope you enjoy reading this blog post. My website has organised content about lots of different topics that are easily found from the homepage. This blog is a more informal area of my website.

I have decided to tell the story of ticket2dance in this blog post. I have now put the structure live on my website (ticket2dance) where you will see it all coming together. Every video (nearly 50 in total) that is shown on the website has been filmed and edited. They just need audio-cleanup and other post-production tasks doing to them. Some scenes may be reshot but if this did not happen I would still be happy with the final versions.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to my volunteers! Everyone, including those that helped me with the filming in the months and years before the footage started being kept (and not binnned), has been part of the process. We needed to make the mistakes as well.

See the ticket2dance website to see what all our hard work has produced so far and what the priority remaining things are to video.

I have spent well over a thousand pounds and invested hundreds of hours just this year. That does not include any of the cameras I bought that didn't work well (this is not a studio-quality environment I am working in) and the failed attempts that happened before the start of this year.

Wow! Anyway, onto the story. (This is from memory so some dates will be a bit wrong.)

In 1998 I turned up to DJ at a local salsa night. It was an informal thing and I was only playing at it but I enjoyed finding music that people liked to hear and dance to. I had been doing it for a year-or-so and a side-benefit was that as a struggling student the small amounts of cash I got at the end of an evening felt like a lot of money!

The dance teacher failed to turn up. So, instead of everyone go home I agreed to do the class. This is not where I say "and I was a natural and everyone loved it". However, it went ok. And I did it again the following week. Then it stopped and I can't remember why. I think it was because I was still at the stage with my dancing where I could do it but did not understand exactly why or how or the way I could teach it.

I really like organising, structuring and helping myself and others learn. Well, I know that about myself now but didn't back then so much. I organised a course next. I spent hours and hours deciding what to teach and in what order. I felt that drop-in classes were a problem because you had to keep grappling with people at different stages of learning. Also, a lot of the teaching techniques I was using at that point were already unusual and I used to lose a lot of time getting people used to more efficient ways of learning (something I have dealt with now). If I had a group for a few weeks that painful first lesson could just happen once and then we could move on.

So, 1999 sees my first dance course at The Alibi in Norwich. Wow, I love that place and a nostalgic part of me wants to go back and do a class one day just for fun. If you are in Norwich and reading this and want to help make it happen I'm totally up for it. The Alibi (which probably has a new name now) is a small bar which at the time seemed to only make any money because it had somehow negotiated a drinks licence that ended an hour later than most of the other bars. They would charge entry later in the night and seemed to take a lot of money in that last hour. In the hours before it was quiet and would host fantastic, couldn't-possibly-be-profitable evenings of DJing or dancing or other things. It had a tiny dance floor and I genuinely had to limit numbers to 16 and even that was a squeeze. I made so many mistakes that first course.

What was my biggest mistake? I think it was talking too much. I see so many teachers who explain something with an appearance of taking time to choose their words. They then seem to think that the students will understand because of how it was explained. Please. Unless I am missing something that is bad teaching. It seems to me that there are almost as many ways of thinking and learning as there are people in the world. Expecting the words that resonate with you to resonate with your students seems to show a lack of either experience or empathy. When ticket2dance launches (or if you have done any of my classes the past few years) you will discover (or already know) that I do a lot of silent teaching now where I demonstrate and let people just "watch or copy or do something else". I have found effective ways to demonstrate that seem to achieve the same amount of learning in 5 minutes as I used to get (and I see other teachers get now) in maybe 1 hour.

So, the next 4 or 5 years I kept dance teaching in the Norfolk area. I actually went half-time for two years combining it with some research work at the local university.

Anyway, I got very distracted by travelling and did less-and-less teaching for a few years. Then in approximately 2009 I started teaching in Bournemouth. This I did full-time as my dream was to share my love of learning with as many people as I could. After about 2 years I was making about £6,000 a year. This is not very much. And I could not get housing benefit due to either technical requirements or a mistake by the local council (I guess it does not matter which as it has happened now). I've possibly got the details wrong here but anyway I was really struggling and would've been better off pushing trolleys in Tesco carpark which clearly means things are going badly. I look back and that was a shame. Housing benefit plays a role in enabling people to continue functioning in society. In my case I had setup a recording studio in my rented bedsit and was ready to begin creating online dance classes. This all crashed-and-burned due to my inability to make any money.

I look back and I think I made no money because I wanted to teach. There were many opportunities to make more money doing DJing or moving into administration to run larger nights for nightclubs or bars. But I resisted because I wanted to teach. I think that was a mistake in the short-term. But now I can see that stubbornness is maybe leading to some special things at last.

I experienced a very sad moment in 2011 which was approximately when the full-time teaching ended. I had to announce to a class in Ringwood that I was giving up the evening. Someone was then very angry with me announcing, seemingly on behalf of the class, that I was being selfish and should never have started the class in the first place if I hadn't intended to continue. Nobody stuck up for me at the time nor spoke with me later. I cried later as I was packing away the chairs and tables at the end of the night. The general unwillingness of people to pay more for classes, the general unwillingness to value teaching and the rejection by the local council of my need for housing were major contributory factors to having to give up. I accept even now that I could have done better but that applies to nearly everyone in everything they do and I had tried. This was an extreme low point for me.

I think I drifted for a year-or-so being fairly miserable with how things were going. I thank my friends including the King's Park Sunday Games Club (or whatever it is called now), the Space Crusade crew and my Commmand and Conquer buddy for helping me through.

However, in that time things were sneaking up on me that I didn't realise were going to change things for me forever. Firstly without particularly realising it my part-time maths tutoring was quietly becoming full-time. And maths tutoring feels different as it seems to be a more valued profession where it is easier to charge a living wage and I get a lot more appreciation from my students. This has become my main job and my main source of income. But that is another story for another time.

The second change that was sneaking up on me was some joint problems affecting my walking. My travelling has been a constant thing and I decided to do one last big trip before (what I thought at the time) was the inevitable loss of the ability to walk or run long distances became too serious. I signed up for a three month adventure in Costa Rica declaring that I would do it even if I had to limp all the way along the hikes and was never able to walk again. I wanted one last adventure. In a side-note I'm fine now (although the weakness is still apparent but it is managed) and maybe the seriousness at the time was just a virus Anyway, this is another story for another time. But it did mean one thing.

Oh, and in the meantime I was still doing the occasional private booking. One of these included the key moment that defined what ticket2dance is now. After one wedding night where I DJed and ran a class the people were genuinely enthusiastic and came up to me afterwards. They did not need to and so I am sure they were being honest. They said things like "that was really interesting it made our the party so good" and "it makes me want to learn more you have inspired me". This was good. But. I wanted people to be saying "that was fun it made our party so good" and "I loved dancing tonight you have inspired me". Can you spot the subtle difference? I do not think dancing should be an academic exercise in doing it as technically correctly as possible. At least not to begin with. It should be fun. So many years of teaching and trying to improve had made me a great teacher who could help people dance well and understand it. This was good but time to change it slightly. My new ambition was to develop a simplified way for anyone to get dancing within minutes. I wanted to cut out all but the most essential techniques and give people the fun straight away. I feel I have succeeded and have been getting the kind of feedback I want from private bookings since then. You will see this with the Quick Start options I have created which then lead into more technique which is offered in later videos.

Anyway, back to the story. The joint problems I was having made me decide to give up all my work to go away. Then when I came back I went on a motorhome adventure through Europe with one of my best friends, Chris. On my return I immediately picked up some maths tutoring again but also had the time and freedom to decide what to do with my life. I was patient and waited to see what felt right.

And while waiting I tried to work out who I was. I realised I was a teacher. I was never going to change that. I decided at this point, in 2014 that I would be a teacher. I would continue to teach face-to-face but also start developing resources so I could reach more people. Hence the front page of my website http://www.drduncanjames.co.uk which now introduces me as a teacher and has actual learning resources published. That has been been tweaked every month or-so for a couple of years to come across just right and I'm happy with it now.

The ticket2dance resource has been the hardest thing to do. It requires massive investment of time and money compared to the others with no evidence of anything being produced. I have had to spend hundreds of hours developing filming techniques, recording the videos, re-recording vast amounts as I improve the process and the editing takes even longer afterwards. It has been crazy.

I had another emotional-dance moment early this year. It was January 2016 and I was looking at where we had got to and was testing how effective the videos were. I had already recorded maybe 50 dance videos. It was decided they were not good enough and would all need binning. So, I was basically starting again having almost finished. I even had to bin the footage from the first two weeks after that due to technical problems. I nearly gave up. But I have a certain stubbornness and some of my volunteers were great at that point and really helped me keep going. Other stuff happened at this point relating to having to cancel the public classes I was trying to run at the same time to help pay for the video production. This was just another thing that I think was a mistake and wow it was getting emotional for me.

So, after an intense February through June 2016 it is now nearly finished. I could launch the resource now but I am holding off to give us the chance to rerecord some scenes, add some bits and do more post-processing. I think it is important for the first release to be good. Also, of all my projects I think this is the biggest punt so I am being sparing with the amount of time I invest in it so it will take a while to finish.

Oh, one final thought. I think that once every 3 or 4 months someone contacts me asking me to do some dance teaching for free "in return for publicity". Additionally I sometimes get people being surprised when I don't turn up to their event which I was never getting paid for "because I missed out on the chance for publicity". I have never once been asked to teach maths for free. I find it shocking that teachers and performers in the creative arts are so under-valued. My passion is in developing learning resources. I am not distracted by trying to change this. I have moved on and accept I must earn my money elsewhere. That is why ticket2dance is a one-shot project with no ongoing elements. I am going to sink time and money into this for a while longer and once I am happy with it leave it. My dream is to keep developing it and making the learning available to more people but we will see. If you have read this far please consider supporting me on Patreon which is new thing I am starting that I hope will start giving me more creative freedom and enable things like this to happen more easily. If I can create all this while still doing regular work think what might be possible if I can get the support to be a full-time content creator.

Oh, and if you want another incentive to support me on Patreon then you can get a say in what I put my time into producing. So, you can be a voice on the Patreon committee lobbying for more dance videos if you want! I actually have a couple of really cool ideas but I am not rich and can't keep subsidising it forever. Perhaps Patreon will change that.

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