What makes a good dance teacher?
a) a dancer that’s won many international dance competitions?
b) a teacher that has technical qualifications: degrees in dance, CDTA, etc.?
a) Many beginners assume that a top competitive dancer would be a good teacher. Maybe – maybe not. Dancing is one skill, teaching dancing is quite another. There is no reason whatsoever to believe that someone who is a natural dancer has any clue how to teach the average person. For example, you probably speak English well – does that mean you can teach English? I couldn’t. You may be very proficient at operating computers but if you’ve ever tried to teach this to someone who is an absolute beginner – you probably found teaching much more difficult than you thought. I remember university classes where the teacher was extremely knowledgeable about his/her specialty and yet had no ability to teach it!
The best dancers tend to be natural dancers, who usually started very young, find dancing incredibly easy, and they work at it for many hours a week – just for the fun of it! The average person is not a natural dancer and has no intention of doing hours of homework. Many extremely advanced dancers often find it hard to remember how it feels to be a beginner. They also find it hard to believe that the average person just wants to have fun with dancing – not spend hours practicing.
The bottom line is that you should be more concerned about your teacher’s teaching ability than their competitive dancing ability. So how do you know this? (See list below)
b) What about teachers with technical qualifications like CDTA (Canadian dance teachers Association) after their name? First, those technical qualifications are only available in ballroom, ballet, modern and Jazz. There are no meaningful degrees even available in swing, salsa, or Hip Hop – dances which are easily the most popular with our students.
Secondly, while it would be logical to assume that a ballroom teacher with many technical qualifications would be a good teacher, it isn’t necessarily so. (See example below)
So how do you know who is the right teacher for you?
If you are a natural dancer or at the stage where you want to compete – a top competitive dancer would be a good choice.
If you’re a ballroom dancer who takes dancing very seriously and want to work on a lot of technique, a teacher with lots of technical qualifications would be a good choice.
But if you’re an average person who just wants to have fun with dancing, here is what you should do.
- Watch a teacher’s class. You may not know much about dancing but youcan tell if a class is fun or tense and fearful. You can tell if 95% of the students are getting it or if the teacher only caters to the talented few or – more commonly – the attractive women! Does the class seem organized and well run? Is there too much talk and not enough dancing? Does the teacher publicly insult the slow students? (Amazingly – this is not uncommon!) So walk out.
- Or talk to the students afterward. Ask them what they think of the teacher. Is the class fun? If the teacher won’t allow watching or speaking to the students privately or gives you a heavy sales pitch when you just want to be left alone – walk out. Trust your own judgement – you know what’s right for you.
- If you have a friend who has had a good experience with a certain teacher, that is a very good sign. If he/she has had a good experience, chances are you will too.
- Ask the teacher if they’re professional or do it in their spare time? How many years have they been teaching? These are all good things to know and teachers should be happy to explain.
Our approach: We believe that dance teachers who are international champions or teachers with many technical qualifications are perfect for you if you’re a very serious student with lots of experience and natural ability. But dance teachers who know how to keep it simple, how to teach the average or ‘klutzy” person well AND make it fun at the same time, are incredibly rare. Those are the only teachers we hire.
We encourage people to watch our classes and talk to our students – there will be no sales pitch! (No one will take you into a small room, and pressure you to sign an expensive contract.) Our classes sell themselves and cost a measly $10-$11 an hour – less than a movie with popcorn. We take great pride in the fact that 85% of our new students come from ‘word of mouth’ – satisfied students who have strongly recommended us to their friends. We take even greater pride that in a recent survey, 95% of our students said they were “completely satisfied” with our classes.
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The Urban Beat Dance Co. was chosen by Vancouver Magazine as the best dance teachers in Vancouver. “Even if you have two left feet, Graeme and Elizabeth can help you shimmy sensuously … all with a sense of joy and humor that complements their skill. Students praise them intensely.” -The Best of Vancouver Magazine.
Years ago, I took lessons in waltz from a dance teacher who had so many degrees after her name, and had won so many top competitions, that I was very impressed. I took one step in waltz and she stopped me and pointed out two things I was doing wrong. Concentrating on correcting those two mistakes, I took another step. Again she stopped and corrected two other things, I was also doing wrong. Now I had 4 things to think about and I still had only taken one step! I did it again and she corrected two new things!! I tried again, but now I had so many things to think about and I was so confused, I couldn’t remember anything, and – frozen with fear – I couldn’t even take one step. It was a very painful and expensive hour. So I quit dancing, convinced that I had no ability. Years later, I took Ballroom from Penny Bedaux, a UBC dance teacher I had heard about from a friend. Penny let me master one little thing and when I was ready, she would teach me one more thing. And so on and so on. Next week she would review everything, then when I was ready, she would move onto something new. Penny knew how to teach. After spending twenty years in the dance community, I have realized that she was a rarity.
So don’t assume that because a teacher knows everything there is to know about dance technique – that they know how to teach the average person.
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