Wednesday, December 8, 2010

How to choose a dance teacher?

It is not easy to find a dance teacher who is "just right" for you. As your dance level progresses, the "ideal" teacher would mostly likely change as well. Here are a few points to keep in mind when trying out new teachers.

Teacher's qualifications to teach the dance
A good teacher does not necessarily have certifications. A certification means the teacher has passed tests on their dancing knowledge. That knowledge does not necessarily translate into dancing and/or teaching well. Placing well in a significant competition is a much stronger indicator of dancing well. Having their students do well in competitions is an indicator of their skill in teaching. But there are also excellent teachers that haven't competed, and do not have students that compete.

An excellent way to evaluate a teacher is to watch them dance and see if you like how they dance. If you go to a local competition, you will have the opportunity to find out who the local teachers are that participate in Pro/Am events with their students, and see how well they and their students dance.

A lot of teachers could teach many different types of dances, they often have their "specialty" as well, being Standard, Latin, Smooth, Rhythm, Salsa, Swing, Argentine Tango, Hustle, etc. If you are looking to learn WC Swing, it's probably better to learn it from a really good WC Swing dancer who may not complete, instead of learning from a Smooth competitor.

Ability to teach - chemistry
Ability covers many areas. A great dancer may not necessarily be a great teacher. A good teacher is able to communicate with the student clearly and precisely and adjust his/her teaching method for different types of students. Some very basic check points:

  • Does the teacher make you feel comfortable?
  • Do you truly understand what he/she is trying to explain?
  • Do they adjust their way of explaining if seems like you are just not getting it?
  • Do they dance enough with you in the lesson?
  • Do they address your questions?

Some teachers just charge by hour and you pay each time. Other teachers have packaged deals that give you discount for more lessons. A lot of teachers have an "Intro package" which is discounted and it gives you an opportunity to check out a teacher in a real private lesson setting. Make sure the "Intro package" doesn't get you locked in too many lessons, in case you don't think it will work. Generally 2 or 3 lessons is good for an intro package.

A fine point is to check how long is "a lesson". It could mean 45 min, 50 min, or 1 hour. Also get an idea if a teacher really teaches that full length. It is very common that a teacher schedule lesson back to back 1 hour lesson with students, in those cases, it's not possible to have full hour lesson in those cases. Keep that in mind when you compare prices.

It is important for a teacher to be professional. If they constantly fail on the checks below, maybe it's time to switch teachers.
  • Arrive on time and ready to teach at scheduled time and finish on time?
  • Do they give you their undivided attention during the lesson? (After all, you are paying for it.)
  • Is there the right balance of chit-chat and real instruction? 
  • Do they show genuine interest in helping you improve your dancing? (or do they just say things to make you feel better and keep getting you signed up for more lessons?)
  • Do they respond to your emails/phone calls promptly?

It all boils down to: Are you comfortable and are you learning? And be prepared that as you go along, your standards of what you want out of your teacher may change, so if your teacher's interaction with you doesn't change to accommodate that, you may need to change teachers periodically. In that vein, you will want to test out the results of the teaching. If you are social dancing, are you improving and getting more comfortable with your lead or follow? If you are competing, are your results improving? When looking at videos of yourself dancing, is it getting better than before? (Ask someone who can be more objective.)

Have fun dancing!

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