Let Your Mistakes Speak for Themselves

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.

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3 Responses to “Let Your Mistakes Speak for Themselves”

  1. Rob Says:

    I like your blog, i just found it and i’ve been reading through all of the old posts. I would enjoy reading a post about the following: As someone who is very new to ballroom dancing, i am overwhelmed with the number of different styles, not to mention the terminology that describes all of them. There are plenty of resources where i can see and read about them. But my real dilemna becomes, which to learn first. Some people take up ballroom dancing beacause they want to learn a specific dance. That becomes their starting point, and maybe later they will branch out and adapt their skills to a few diferent styles. But some people, like me, just want to learn ballroom dancing and don’t have a particular style in mind. Which styles are good to learn first, which styles are more generalized and teach skills that can be adapted to other styles? In other words, if you have a brand new student, what would you teach them first?

    • suburbaknght Says:

      Hello, Rob. Glad you found the site and I’m thrilled that you enjoy it. I just wrote a similar article for a guest piece on Leon Turskey’s blog, Passion4Dancing. The whole article can be viewed at http://www.passion4dancing.com/choosing-a-dance-style/ and I highly recommend checking out the rest of the site while you’re there.

      The article doesn’t quite address your full question, however. As you say, some people start out dancing because they want to learn a specific dance. That’s not quite accurate, though it’s close. People start out because they have a specific GOAL; that goal may be learning a specific dance but usually it’s more general. When I know what someone’s goal is I know what to start them with. If someone has the goal of going out social dancing I’ll usually start them with American waltz and east coast swing; the former is relatively easy in the beginning while the latter is one of the most useful dances. If someone is taking lessons because they feel awkward dancing in social situations I’ll start them with merengue so they can work on extremely basic techniques (i.e. changing weight, simple lead and follow) without having complex foot positions to keep track of. If someone wants to compete I’ll start them with quickstep and international rumba, two extremely technical dances that they can work on again without needing to worry about lots of complex figures. If someone wants to dance for exercise and weight loss we do American cha cha and then jive. If someone is getting married we start with whatever song matches their first dance.

      As you see from my articles, I’m a big proponent of figuring out one’s goals first then creating a plan to meet those goals. Talk to your teacher about what you want to get out of dance and where you’d like to be in a year. Be honest about what you’re prepared to dedicate to dance in terms of resources – how much time you’re willing to spend at lessons, how much practice you’ll do between lessons, whether you can do group classes and private lessons, whether you’ll practice at home with manuals and DVDs, and of course how much money you’re willing to spend on your dancing – and he or she should be able to create a plan to help you realize those goals as your resources allow.

  2. Rob Says:

    Thank you for the pointer, the article that you wrote for Passion4Dancing really did clarify my thoughts and made some sense of the multitude of styles one can choose.

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