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Choosing a Teacher
Posted by Karen
8/9/1999  6:27:00 AM
It took me a long time to remember that teachers have different styles, skills and capacities.

I say "remember" because I know this in non-dance areas of my life. Somehow, because I was an adult dance student I felt inadequate in the beginning (several years ago) in a dance world where one's social position is determined by one's skill, not by who one is in other areas of one's life. I forgot that I had learned a lot in other areas in my life and could apply it in dance as well.

Later, I realised my mistake. I found that I had been expecting more from my teacher than he was able to give me. Teachers each have different strengths, weaknesses, preferences and values. In my continuing role as student, I feel that it is my responsibilty to realise something of what my teacher is best at and hire them to do the things that will help me the most. But, I have to say, I didn't know this in the beginning. And now that I am teaching sometimes, I have more perspective on being a student. I know that my style and process is a certain way and not all students will like or benefit from learning that way. Sometimes I encourage them to find another teacher who will be more compatible with their needs.

Having known many teachers, I would not say their ability to train you is based upon whether or not they currently compete or have a lot of students who currently compete. I think it has more to do with their style of teaching. Of course there may be political considerations in the competition where studying with a particular teacher gives one an advantage in the ratings. But that is another subject that I am not qualified to tell you the impact of.

What I had to do for myself was to figure out what I needed and expected. Then I had to look for someone who could teach me in the way that I needed to be taught. The process is important to me and so I looked for a teacher who had a process that worked for me.

Also, I have studied from more than one teacher, because sometimes different one's have different things I need. I have never found one person who had it all. However, it doesn't hurt to do this sequentially, rather than consecutively. Too much at once may not be a good idea either. It depends upon how you learn.

If you like to supplement your study with video instruction, you may want to check out http://www.dancevision.com. I have found studying videos to be very helpful. It is not a substitute for private instruction, but it has it's own benefits. It allows one to replay a step over and over and study it intensely. I made charts off of the videos that detailed things like foot position, weight, hand position, lead, timing, etc. This helped me understand the dance much better. Sometimes, my teachers did not approach the dance this way and could not tell me all the things I wanted to know within the scope of a lesson. At $55 plus dollars and hour, I like to be focused on what I need the teacher for most.


re: Choosing a Teacher
Posted by Jonathan Atkinson
8/31/1999  3:34:00 AM

Great post. I'm always interested to hear what students have to say about teachers, especially their likes and dislikes. Every little bit of information helps me to become a better teacher myself.

Something I'd like to clarify and discuss further:

>> Having known many teachers, I would not
>> say their ability to train you is based
>> upon whether or not they currently
>> compete or have a lot of students who
>> currently compete.

I agree that there are some damn good dancers/competitors out there who are awful teachers. This combination is possible because the skills involved in dancing and teaching are mostly unrelated, and often someone who has natural ability and requires little effort to learn themselves has very little understanding of the learning process. What's worse, these teachers often just assume that they are good teachers based on their dancing ability, and so they never make any effort to improve their teaching skills.

No, competition is definitely not the be-all-end-all of dance ability. BUT it does almost invariably improve one's own dancing. So while you can't judge a teacher solely based on their status as a competitor, I think that you can bet that a competitive teacher is better than they would be, were they not competing. Because competition is such a great motivator, it forces us to study and improve our craft in a way that we never otherwise would.

The longer I compete, the more I study. The more I study, the more I know and understand, and the more I can share with my students. The trickle-down theory definitely applies to dance knowledge. Often times something I learn when working on my Double Reverse Overspin to Telemark, Big Top and Contra Check gets translated right down to the basic Box step, which helps me teach my next baby Bronze student.

I've always taken pride in my ability as a teacher, much more than my ability as a dancer. And while I was a good teacher long before I ever started competing, I was not nearly as good as I am now. I owe a good chunk of that to my experience as a competitor.

Jonathan Atkinson

re: Choosing a Teacher
Posted by Bodelco
9/13/1999  9:41:00 PM
In our dancing experience which only encompasses a little over ten years, it has been logical to turn to diferent dance teachers depending on the style of this or that dance they do. For instance, Jim didn't do the style cha cha we liked but Jesse did so we took cha cha lessons from him but his Fox Trot was miserably conserative so we went to Mal. We didn't like his Tango at all but his Mambo was terrific. Variety. You ever look at some dancer and say "Oh, He or she is a JOE BLOW dancer"? We always wanted our own style and it has paid off with shows in which we stand out and in any venue attract the eyes of other, even more knowledgeable dancers. It works for us and that's what counts. Maybe it could for others as well. We also don't subscribe to the notion that "My style is the only right one in dancing". Any teacher that tells us that is wrong. We've been around for a good many years and there are not any "right" styles just the styles the judges see! Every teacher is diferent and some are head and shoulders above the rest. But maybe not in ALL dances. Just thought you'd like a diferent perspective on teaching and learning. Bodelco Colorado


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