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.