Searching for Mr./Ms. Right

February 22, 2014

We’re going to step off our normal focus of looking at dance purely from a financial perspective today and talk about an important, though admittedly tangentially-related topic: how to get a partner.  This is a topic we’ve touched on before, but I hope to bring some new ideas to the table tonight.

The motivation to write about this came from several conversations I’ve had lately.  A number of dancers I’ve talked to lately – from my studio, at social dances, at competitions – have been lamenting their lack of a partner.  There are many advantages to having a partner and these dancers (mostly women but some men) are keenly aware of them.  A partner is someone to practice with between lessons in order to better retain the information, to split lessons with and thus share the cost, to attend events with and guarantee a good quantity and quality of dancing, to commiserate with when dance gets frustrating, and who can encourage you when dancing doesn’t go as planned.  I sympathize.  Dancing is often more fun, and improvement can come much quicker with a partner than without.

That said, one must be careful about how one thinks about such things.  “I could be great if only I had a partner,” is not a particularly helpful sentiment, nor is it an attractive one to potential partners.  It sounds like an excuse.

As I said in the previous partnership post (link again), there are many considerations when evaluating a potential partnership, but one I didn’t specifically mention (though I should have) is passion.  Most of us want to dance with someone who wants to dance just as much as we do.  I don’t want to dance with someone likes to dance; I want to dance with someone who needs to dance.  Now during my last partnership search I had several tryouts.  A common thread during these tryouts as, “I used to dance but I couldn’t find a partner.  Now I’m ready to start again!”  That may be true, but there was almost nothing worse that someone could tell me.  To me that means this person will stop dancing when things get hard.  It means the person blames their problems on other people.  It means this isn’t going to be a partnership, it’s going to be me carrying someone.

As I said, it is easier to advance when one has a partner than when one doesn’t, but it’s important to look at periods without a partner as just another challenge in one’s dance career.  The partner search for my first competition partnership took nearly a year, but during that time I continued to take lessons, train, and practice so that when I found that partner I was ready.  The result was that I was able to attract a better partner than I could have at the start of my search because I had made myself a better potential partner.  I had proven that I was willing to work.  What would it have said if I’d stopped dancing until I found a partner?  Probably that I expected her to carry me.

Furthermore, consider where we find partners.  Sure there are websites like http://www.dancepartner.com that offer partner matching services, though their record is somewhat spotty.  To know where to find a partner just remember that the person you’re looking for is a dance partner: he or she is a dancer!  Where do dancers go?  Anywhere in the dance community.  They may go to socials, take lessons, go to competitions (to dance TBA, Jack and Jills, or just to watch), or anything else involving other dancers.  The more one involves oneself in the world of dance the more likely one is to find these dancers.  My current partner was introduced to me by a mutual friend, also a dancer, but only because we were both actively involved in numerous dance “scenes” in our area and one of them happened to overlap.  Once we were introduced we discussed goals and drive.  Though I was only interested in pursuing one style (American smooth), it was a style she hadn’t done before.  Nonetheless as an active dancer who was developing her skills in numerous areas she was someone I was willing to be patient with while she learned it.

The takeaway lesson is don’t get discouraged.  Work on your dancing and continue to push yourself.  While nothing can guarantee success, the active, developing dancer is more likely to find a partner than the dancer who sits back and complains, and will be in a better position to dance with that partner whenever he or she appears.  When will you find Mr. or Ms. Right?  I have no idea but it’s not important.  Go and practice.

How to Get Called Back in Syllabus Ballroom Competitions

March 29, 2013

My friend Daniel recently recorded a great video for his video blog about how syllabus ballroom dancers can get better results from competitions. Daniel is an excellent dancer who began competing in the lowest levels of amateur dancing and has worked his way up to the highest levels. He recently participated in his first event as a judge.

Edit: Here’s part 2!

Limits

February 12, 2013

Dancers, we need to talk.

The purpose of this blog, as I explain to new readers when I pass out the link, is to share, “every shameless, money-saving trick I’ve discovered about dancing.”  There is a limit, however.

Before I begin I want to specify that this post is not directed at any one person in particular.  Recently I got into an argument with a friend of a friend about today’s topic, however while that motivate this post it was but one of several incidences of the behavior I’m going to describe.  I’m not writing this to tell anyone off in specific but because this behavior is happening so often I feel the need to address the community as a whole.

Okay, enough vague-blogging.  The crux of today’s discussion is thus:

Trying to save money does not justify stealing.

Seriously people, don’t steal.

I’m astounded that this is considered controversial but apparently it is.  There are two areas where it is easy to steal in ballroom: music and photographs.  We would never dream of going up to a shoe vendor, grabbing a box of Supadance heels, and running for the door but this happens all the time with music and photographs.

Music

Part of it, I believe, is because it is so easy.  We all know about software to download illegal music copies.  Issues of music piracy are well-known and I won’t rehash those arguments here so much as make a point: ballroom music is a very niche product.  There aren’t millions of fans buying the latest Klaus Hallen CD who will cover you if you skip payment and download an illegal copy.  Moreover, ballroom music often has extremely high production costs beyond those of other types of music.  Beyond scoring or arranging the music, often very expensive licensing fees (especially for strict-tempo covers of pop music), and recording fees, it takes a lot of people to make a ballroom CD.  Much ballroom music is either orchestral or big-band, both of which involve large numbers of musicians which costs money.  A typical rock group only has four to six people who need to be paid.  A big-band style jazz group may have a dozen to thirty members.  An orchestra may have fifty to a hundred.  That’s incredibly expensive to produce.  You look at a ballroom CD and think “$30 for a dozen tracks?  That’s outrageous!”  No, that’s what it costs to make a CD that’s probably only going to sell a few hundred copies at best.

What You Should do Instead: Casa Musica has launched a new download service so that patrons can purchase individual tracks.  If you can’t shell out $30 for a CD, you can still buy individual tracks for about the same cost as on iTunes.  For that matter, iTunes is starting to carry ballroom albums that let you purchase individual tracks.  Build your collection up slowly and support the artists making them.

Photography

Another rampant problem is people stealing photographs.  Photographers such as Ryan Kenner and Anne-Marie Lund travel to ballroom events, take pictures, then put the pictures on their websites where dancers can browse the pictures and purchase them for download or printing.  These are professional photographs produced at both great expense (in terms of equipment), investment (in terms of training to be able to take those photographs), and opportunity cost (in terms of time).  To quote Anne-Marie’s description of a recent competition she shot:

For the typical event I’m at least $1000 in the hole for travel expenses, vendor fees and lost opportunity costs before I walk into the ballroom, usually more, before counting the sunk costs of equipment investment/maintenance, and the backoffice infrastructure requirements (recordkeeping, business licenses, tax reporting). All this for the privilege of working 12-16 hours in the ballroom with perhaps two quick restroom breaks (add a few more hours each day for photo processing and travel). I love every back-breaking minute of it, because I love ballroom, and the next best thing to being on the floor myself is capturing someone else’s joy for posterity.

Anne-Marie Lund

2/12/13

This is an enormous investment on part of the photographers who are putting down a great deal of money, as well as the actual work of the event to take these pictures, all in the hope that afterward someone will buy the photographs.  Now let’s be clear, they do great work (example) but it costs them money, time, and a lot of effort to do so.  When someone takes a screenshot of the picture and uses it, even with a watermark, that person is taking everything the photographer gave up to produce that photograph and giving nothing in return.  That, my friend, is theft.

It has gotten so bad that several events can’t even get photographers to come.  Collegiate events in particular have trouble getting photographers because they will lose money at the event.  When I spoke to Anne-Marie she talked about “equipment that literally explodes from intense usage at these events.”  Even if the photographer already has all their equipment the act of using it means much of it must be replaced or repaired at high cost.

What You Should do Instead: Support the photographers.  A digital download, that you can use for Facebook, costs between $5 and $15, a lot less than professional portraiture would cost you.  We’re talking between the cost of Starbucks coffee and lunch.  There is no excuse to steal when it costs so little to be honest.  If you still can’t afford that much, ask a friend to take your picture instead (most collegiate and USA Dance competitions allow personal camera use).  But if you paid $40 for a competition registration you can afford $15 for a legitimate picture.

What We Can All Do

Stop tolerating theft.  If you see someone using a watermarked picture on Facebook, call them out on it.  If someone likes your music, tell them where they can get a copy.  The only reason theft is tolerable is because we tolerate it.  We need to make it clear that we support the industry professionals who support us because the only way they can continue to do their job is if we support them, and that support must be financial.

We are dancers, not thieves.

We are better than this.

How Bad Do You Want It?

November 8, 2012

Since I moved to the DC area I’ve been searching for a new partner for competition and training.  Both in that process, and in meeting my new students, I’ve met a lot of people who “used to dance” but gave up when they got frustrated.  Frustration can come from hitting a plateau (see our October post), finances, inability to find a partner, competition results, lack of time, or any number of other areas.  In the end, though, it often means the same thing: the dancer stops dancing.

This is a tragedy because frustration is inevitable.  Dance is not easy.  The early dancer makes fast progress because the difference between not dancing and dancing at all, even badly, is so great.  On the other hand, as we talked about last month, it takes greater and greater effort to improve as we advance.  Once the low-hanging fruit is taken, the improvements require greater investment to achieve.  This is when you as a dancer must make a decision: what are you willing to put into your dancing?

When I took martial arts years ago my instructor liked to quote his teacher who would respond to all complaints the same way: “Of course it’s hard.  If it was easy everyone would do it.”  Dancing isn’t hard but dancing well can be.  Learning to dance well, even with a great teacher, takes work on the student’s part.  How much work you’re willing to put in and how much of your life you’re willing to dedicate to ongoing improvement will determine how far you go.

Many of my friends enjoy competition but have been stuck at a given level for some time, unable to advance past quarter-finals.  They continue going to group lessons each week, plus drills and practice sessions.  Those are wonderful, and vital, but they are only the tools that helped them reach their current stage.  The dancers they admire watch dance videos, seek out private coaching, and have a lot more practice outside of the organized practices.  Those advanced dancers have made the decision, “Dance is important to me,” and they treat their dancing as such.

No one is saying that dance must be your only life if you wish to improve, but you will only get out what you put into it.

This morning I was at my studio at 7:30 AM for practice with a woman I hope to have a partnership with.  I was at my studio until 10:00 PM last night and will be here until 10:00 PM tonight.  I say this not to brag but as a reminder to myself.  My dancing is important enough to me to put my time into it; I must not be afraid to do the same with my personal energy, with my study habits, and yes with my money.  I know this pays off because at the competition I was at last weekend my worst division, international Latin, was my best division… and that’s the style I’ve been working at the hardest lately as I study for my certification exams.  I want Latin badly and so I’m throwing myself into it, seeing the work pay off.

What are you doing for your dancing?  Comment below.

Dance Plateau

October 23, 2012

It’s been a crazy couple of months, I scarce know where to begin.  In the past year I have:

  • Moved up a division.
  • Trained my first serious competitors.
  • Ended a dance partnership.
  • Moved to a new state.
  • Started teaching for a new studio.
  • Returned to teaching dance full time.
  • Started with a new coach.
  • Found a new dance partner.

Crazy, neh?  I could do a post on any of these but rather than toot my own horn, I want to address an issue some of my students have been discussing recently, many of them without even realizing they were discussing it.  What happens when we stop improving?

I, and they, don’t mean when one stops trying to improve, but what happens when the work one is putting in stops yielding results?  What should be our response when we realize our dancing isn’t getting better, when we’re not any closer to our goals?  This can mean one doesn’t feel the dancing changing, competition results that remain consistent event after event, hearing the same feedback over and over again from one’s teachers, or any other sign of stagnation.  It’s a frustrating experience to say the least and it’s one every dancer faces.

In my experience, dance skill is built up in a very specific ways.  It would be nice to think of one’s dancing improving consistently over time, like this:

Image

 

Unfortunately, it rarely works like that.  Rather, we tend to improve like this:

Image

We don’t continuously get better at dancing, although that is the effect over time.  Rather, it goes in very productive spurts followed by long plateaus. This can be very frustrating, especially since all of us have been conditioned from when we started dancing to expect rapid improvement.  Yes, all of us, even those of us who don’t think of ourselves as fast learners.  The reason is our improvements early on are very dramatic.  The difference between being able to dance and not being able to dance at all is tremendous.  Having even one figure that one stumbles through is still an enormous improvement over not being able to dance anything.  Early lessons focus on big things that effect all of dancing: foot positions, basic timing, frame, and lead and follow can all be learned in a surprisingly short period of time.

Once we acquire those basic techniques we tend to hit our first plateau as the dancer gets accustomed to being able to dance, but this is a very brief period for most dancers as they continue their education.  Usually it is new, more elaborate patterns, that brings them into the next period of improvement, from which they develop more technique.  This is usually a fun, creative period that most students love, but it tends to forever color what they expect from themselves and dancing.  Unfortunately, at some point the student tends to become saturated with figures and simply can’t learn anymore while he or she processes and practices.  This is the next plateau and the one that tends to stick out in most students’ minds.

What breaks the student out of this plateau varies considerably.  Good instructors steer their students to areas that will help them improve faster, but even after breaking through the student tends to hit plateaus again and again, each one taking longer and longer to break through.  If this sounds like you, I have good news:

This is perfectly normal.

Plateaus aren’t just for beginner dancers, they’re for all dancers.  We get better by initially making the easiest fixes, and thus later fixes get more difficult and take more time.  For example, it was easy to learn to change weight on every step, but it’s harder to learn to be split weight while moving to a foot.  These later plateaus are actually a sign that you’re improving.  That doesn’t make them any less frustrating, however.

So the real question is how do we move past a plateau?  The answer is to try different things.  One tends to plateau when one has gotten all the benefits out of working under current conditions.  Breaking through a plateau, then, requires changing conditions.  Some ideas:

  • Change your goals.  You may have hit an obstacle on your current path.  Working to a different destination, even temporarily, can allow you to go around the obstacle, so to speak.
  • Compete.  Competition has a way of focusing the dancer.  Moreover, since competition routines tend to be very strict, they’re great times to practice technique.
  • Do a showcase.  Performing may allow you to loosen up and relax (even if it scares you) and let the dancing come through.
  • Take a test.  Most studios offer medal testing, either in-house or through visiting coaches.  These examinations force dancers to hold themselves to a high standard of technique, which then drastically affects all their dancing.
  • Go social dancing (especially some place new).  Getting out there and mixing things up with other dancers who don’t know how you dance forces you to be better at your part.
  • Take a higher level class.  As I told one of the students yesterday, I didn’t really understand bronze until I started silver.  The stretch of more advanced material often allows clarity in more basic material.
  • Take a lower level class.  Getting back to basics is always helpful.
  • Learn the other dancer’s role.  Men who learn to follow and women who learn to lead have a new appreciation for their partners and a better understanding of how the dance fits together.
  • Go take some workshops.  A brief period of intense study, even if one doesn’t remember everything, can be very productive.
  • Take a lesson from a visiting coach.  Getting a new, and expert, set of eyes on one’s dancing often reveals details that one’s teachers have missed.
  • Try a new style.  Dance is movement to music.  The style almost doesn’t matter.  Approaching the movement and the music in a different way than one is used to can give greater understanding of key principles.
  • Get some DVDs.  Instructional DVDs demonstrate patterns and technique, but then one can watch and rewatch them endlessly.
  • Get a dance manual.  Going over the patterns one already knows, step by step, can dramatically change one’s understanding of those patterns.
  • Change practice regimen.  Do you always do your practice the same way?  Varying how you warm up or begin the practice will change how it changes your dancing.  Do you practice at all?  If not, start.

There are a any number of ways to break through plateaus.  I didn’t get a chance to mention working with teams, clothing, shoes, dancing in new venues, changing teachers, increasing private lessons, dance camps, professional certification, or other wonderful ways to shake things up.  It almost doesn’t matter.  The point isn’t how one shakes up one’s dancing, but rather that the dancing is shaken up.  Try something different, you may be surprised what happens.

One of the things that’s been so gratifying about my move to this new studio is how much changing my surroundings has affected my dancing.  Suffice it to say, the difference has been tremendous.  How are you going to shake up your dance world?

Dance Challenge

October 22, 2012

We’ve talked a lot about setting goals and pushing yourself to achieve them.  It makes you a better dancer but it also makes you happier.  We all love accomplishing things and, presumably, we love dancing.

Today I received a subscription notification from Dance Class Challenge.  The blog is run by a young lady named Cathy who has challenged herself to take every dance class she can for the next year.  Her writing is fascinating and serves as a great example of the power of goals and motivation.  I highly encourage all our readers to take a look at Cathy’s articles.  Start by reading about her, then move on to her articles.

Welcome, Cathy!

The Cost of Ballroom

August 28, 2012

A great breakdown of costs:

http://ballroomjunkie.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-cost-of-ballroom.html

Guest Post: Social dancing is a must!

February 27, 2012

This week I’m pleased to announce a guest article by Leon Turetsky from Leon’s Dance Studio ( http://www.leonsdance.com ) in Newton, MA.  In addition to being a successful dance teacher and professional competitor, Leon is also highly active in the online dance community.  He is a regular on Dance Forums and frequently weighs in with sound advice for both new and experienced students.  Leon’s website, Passion4Dancing.com has a fantastic collection of online dance lessons.  Several weeks ago we decided to write guest posts for each other.  I highly recommend checking out his website, where my piece is posted.  Leon’s piece is below and if you like it I guarantee you’ll like his other articles and videos.

Social dancing is a must!

By Leon Turetsky from Passion4dancing.com

You can take all the lessons in the world and you can practice by yourself to eternity, but without social dancing, you will never truly master dancing. I was inspired to write this article after having met several folks who take dance lessons just for the sake of taking lessons. These folks said they never went out for social dancing because they were too busy, or they had scheduling conflicts, or, excuses, excuses…

Here is the fact, going out to social dance regularly is just as important as taking dance

lessons. You need to go out and apply what you have been learning in the “real world” sort of speak. Can you lead or follow a perfectly good stranger? Can you keep your timing through out an entire song? To answer these questions you will have to go out and find out!

These public endeavors will give you a good measure of how much (or a how little) you have improved. After each outing session you should reflect on the things that you felt and adjust your lessons and practices to work on the things you need help with the most. For example, if you weren’t able to get your partner to spin during the Salsa, then perhaps you need to work on the lead for that spin. Or let’s say you kept bumping knees through out the Tango, perhaps you need help with spacing and/or body alignment in relation to your partner.

So now that I have convinced you that you need to go out social dancing, you may be asking where should I go? There are many places to social dance and I am going to talk about 3 great places that you can start with and what you can expect there.

Studio dance parties

Studio parties are by far the best places to go out dancing. Most studios have a weekly social party and some have them once a month. They are usually $10-$20/Person and tend to include a dance lesson, snacks and refreshments. The best thing about studio parties is that you already know some people from the group classes and you’ll feel right at home.

Dances you can do: All Ballroom and Latin dances. You’ll find that most of the studio parties will play a wide variety of music and you will be able to dance everything you had been learning.

Latin Night Clubs

Latin nightclubs are also great places to go out dancing. You can pretty much find a dance club open any day of the week. They run at about $10-$20/Person and usually include a free lesson. But drinks and food are extra. What’s great about nightclubs is that there are tons of people to dance with and a variety of levels. You will see beginners all the way to advanced/professional dancers.

Dances you can do: These clubs tend to play only Latin dance music. And the core dances you will be able to do are Salsa, Merengue, Bachata and Cha Cha.

Weddings

Weddings are great venues for you to do social dancing. Many people go to at least 2-3 weddings per year so why not make the most of it when you are there? The cost varies upon what you decide to give to the newlyweds but you get dance floor, food, drinks and everything else included.

Dances you can do: You will be able to dance almost all the Ballroom and Latin dances at weddings. Although some weddings may incorporate a lot of cultural music, they will still mix in popular universal music for everyone to enjoy…


I hope this article has helped you realize how important it is to go out and social dance!

Leon is a professional dance instructor in Boston area. Visit his blog to learn to dance online ( http://www.passionfordancing.com ).
If you live in Boston area, check out his dance studio in Newton MA ( http://www.leonsdance.com ).

Let Your Mistakes Speak for Themselves

January 24, 2012

Two posts just a week apart!  I better be careful I don’t spoil you.

We’ve talked in the past about how important it is to identify what one wants to work on with one’s teachers.  In fact, it was one of the main points in our second article.  In order to achieve one’s goals in dance, as in any discipline, it is crucial to identify those goals.  It’s important, however, to be open-minded about those goals, both in terms of how to achieve them, and even what they are.

When a student books a lesson with a teacher, that student is paying for the teacher’s time, but expects to get several things out of the lesson.  The student expects to have his or her dancing improve and expects this will happen via the teacher’s expertise and instruction.  With that in mind, we can get more of that expertise, and thus more improvement and thus more value from our lessons, if we allow our teachers more leeway in how they use that expertise.  Some of this is obvious:  If a teacher is specialized in a particular dance style then one should focus on that style.  If a teacher is an expert at a technique (say, turning), he or she can probably teach that technique better than other techniques (say, arm styling).  All of these are common sense, so let’s move on.

What’s not common snese is that a good teacher isn’t just an expert instructor or dancer but an expert on dance.  A good teacher doesn’t need the student to say what’s wrong; he or she can see what’s wrong.  I may be unhappy with my arm styling in international rumba (forget “may be.”  I actually am unhappy with my rumba arm styling and I’m actively practicing so it will improve) but I rarely work on arm styling with my Latin coach.  Why?  Because she sees a lot of other areas of my rumba that need work before my arms.  Now if I were to come in and say, “L____, today we’re going to work on my arm styling,” that might (might) help the arms, but it would not improve my rumba overall.  Not the best use of an $80 lesson.  Instead, I dance rumba for her with my partner or with her and she identifies the problem areas we need to work on.

Does it work?  Well my partner and I have moved up from first round eliminations to pretty dependable semi-finals and sporadic finals.  I’d say L____ knows exactly what my rumba needs and she knows a lot better than I do.  I’ve no doubt we’ll do arms eventually, but there are other things going on first.

All too often I see students trying to dictate every aspect of the lesson, from figures to music to the technique they’re going to work on.  These may be aspects you want to work on, but remember: you’re paying your teacher to help you.  If you force him or her to work on one specific area, you’re denying him or her the chance to impart hard-won expertise on what may be your biggest problem areas.

This isn’t to say you shouldn’t identify goals with your teacher, but you should allow the teacher flexibility in getting there.

Don’t say: “I want to work on arm styling.”

Instead say: “I want to look better on the floor.”

Don’t Say: “My lead is too weak.”

Do Say: “I’m having trouble leading these figures…”

Don’t Say: “I need more steps.”

Do Say: “My dancing feels repetitive.”

Note the difference.  In the bad examples, the student has given a diagnosis and prescription before even showing the teacher the problem.  In the good examples, the student identifies the problem but leaves it up to the teacher – the expert – to suggest how they should fix it.

When you start your lesson, you can identify these larger goals to your teacher and allow him or her the leeway to decide what to do about it.  But sometimes – and this has become more and more common for my partner and I – you just have to put on the music, dance for a set, and allow the teacher to see what areas are in need.

Dancers Cruise (Nearly) Free

January 20, 2012

Hello dancers!

Hope you enjoyed your holidays.  I know that I did.  This Christmas, my lovely girlfriend T____ and I had one of the best gigs a dancer can get: we got to teach on a cruise ship.

In writing this blog we’ve talked a lot about strategies to save you money (negotiating prices, using DVDs to supplement lessons, budget competitions, etc.) and get increased value from the money you do spend (how to structure practices between lessons) but one of the areas we haven’t discussed much is how to use your knowledge of dance to get things of value.  The line between professional champion and amateur hobbyist is often so great that many dancers don’t realize that they have a valuable skill that they can barter to their advantage.  Many people will trade things of value, such as trips or admission to prestigious events, in return for dance lessons or entertainment.  Today, I’m going to write about using one’s dancing to go on vacation.

Now the dancing vacation, in which part of the vacation is supplemented by teaching or performing dance, is something I’ve done before.  I’ve taught at retreats and conventions – in fact, T____ and I actually met in a class I was teaching at a science fiction convention, though we didn’t start dating for several months afterward – but this was more than just a weekend getaway with one or two intro classes.  This was a full-on, week-long trip with real classes aboard a beautiful ship.  Could we pull it off?  Would we be able to maintain our professional decorum for a solid week?  Would maintaining said decorum interfere with our ability to enjoy the cruise?  Would it be something other people could benefit from?  Read on to find out.

Okay, spoilers: we had a great time.  Teaching on a cruise ship is one of the best experiences I’ve had as a teacher and one I highly recommend to all dance teachers and advanced students willing to go through the training.  It’s a lot of fun and you get all the benefits of a cruise vacation for a very substantial discount.  As the song goes, “Nice work if you can get it, and you can get it if you try.”

What was it like?

Let’s start with the experience.  We were scheduled to teach four one-hour classes over a seven day cruise (one class during each day or half-day at sea), though we ended up teaching six classes due to minor complications.  The result was that our labor amounted to about six hours over an entire week, one of the lightest teaching loads I’ve ever had.  When you consider the compensation (discussed below), this also makes what was effectively one of the best hourly rates I’ve ever had.

The main compensation teachers get is that they’re cruise passengers.  Anytime we weren’t teaching we were able to enjoy the cruise the same as any other passenger, including having our own stateroom, meals were included, most non-alcoholic beverages, shows, public rooms, pools, activities, and so on; everything in a standard ticket.  In addition, we were able to make the same purchases as full-fare passengers for excursions, beverages, specialty restaurants, and so on.  In other words, we got a vacation.

We had some concern that the necessity to maintain a professional attitude might detract from our enjoyment of the trip, but this was happily not the case.  We never found passengers to be pushy or had to bite our tongues to stay polite; on the contrary, everyone was pleasant and while we were expected to have somewhat more knowledge of the ship and its workings than typical guests, we were treated more as celebrities than staff.  It was so much fun!

Outside of teaching our classes we spent a great deal of time in the pools and hot tubs.  We ate most meals in the main dining room (which was fantastic!).  We saw several shows, played games, went ashore and were tourists, and did everything else one does on a cruise.  And of course, we danced every night when the ship’s bands played.

What does it take?

Teaching on a cruise ship requires several things.  First, you must be able to dance.  This may seem obvious but let’s make it clear.  You should dance at least at a full bronze level and silver is better.  You’re going to be both dancing and teaching on small floors in a social setting, so while it can be helpful to know international style, I highly recommend being just as proficient in the American style.  The passengers will watch you when you are at the dance parties, during which you are an advertisement for your class.  Note that this doesn’t mean dancing all-out all the time – the floors are small and if one were to try and dance silver rumba there would be no room for anyone else on the floor, and if it were silver waltz not even room for the two of you – but it does mean making sure one’s dancing is attractive and appealing at all times.

Second, you must be able to teach.  If you don’t know how to teach, learn.  Invest in private lessons with teachers you respect, spend time watching other dance teachers, and take notes.  Go back and take beginner classes to see how the teachers start with completely new students.  Learn how to present material so that it is easy to understand.  Teach your friends for free and get feedback.  Video yourself teaching group classes.  The more you work with good teachers, the better your lessons will be.  Be prepared to teach multiple levels simultaneously; though 90% of the people in our classes were beginners, a few danced a bronze level and two dancers were former professional ballroom dancers.  As such, you should be ready to teach a beginner lesson that can include information and material to keep upper level dancers interested, such as by teaching a basic pattern but including technique notes for advanced dancers (and identified as such).  Take the money a cruise would cost you at full price and invest in private lessons to get you ready to teach.  That means the first cruise will essentially be at cost and you’ll be saving money by the second.

Third, apply.  We planned this trip with Sixth Star Entertainment, which books instructors and entertainers for cruise ships.  The application process was quite long, though not arduous, and entailed filling out applications, information on our own training, videos of our dancing, letters of reference from our dance teachers, information on my certifications, competition records, and at least two phone interviews.  They were very thorough and professional in whom they would put forward for a cruise.  In return, they gave us very specific information about what we could expect when we were teaching and how to conduct ourselves aboard the ship.  Most of it is common sense (be polite to passengers) and familiar to anyone who’s worked in any industry that involves socializing with one’s patrons (defer to full-fare paying passengers when the dining room opens or there are limited seats at a show, etc.), though some were surprising (don’t sit at bar stools as they’re very popular seats and large parties can appear in an empty bar without notice).   The benefit of the manual was that we felt completely prepared for our experience aboard ship and never had to wonder what was or was not appropriate.  Sixth Star was very helpful in answering the few questions that were not in the manual, usually responding within a few hours.

Finally, there is still a cost to this vacation.  It is substantially less than a full-fare for a cruise – as I said before, averaging the discount with the number of hours we taught, this was the best-paying gig I’ve ever worked – but it is not 100% free.  In return for this fee Sixth Star arranges everything with the cruise line so all you need do is show up ready to teach and ready to cruise.  They had all the information for us, made it easy to book the cruise, helped us submit our application, and were on hand in the event anything went wrong.  Fortunately they were not needed once we were aboard ship, but having witnessed how they prepared for the cruise I felt very confident knowing they were available if needed.

If you’re a solid dancer (full bronze or higher) with teaching ability or willingness to learn, and you want a great discount vacation, try a cruise ship!


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