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Life Through Dance

Choosing a Dance Instructor

By Elizabeth Dickinson

I didn’t exactly choose my first dance instructor. It had taken me so long to act on my dream of learning to ballroom dance that the mere act of walking into a ballroom—any ballroom—was enough.

I chose Cinema Ballroom initially based on simple proximity to my home and told them I wanted to take a lesson. I seem to remember the receptionist asking me if I had a preference for any teacher, and since I didn’t know any, they assigned me to a new instructor.

First lesson free—hurrah! Discovering that I could attend all group lessons for free during the week I had a private lesson was also a huge bonus.

And so it began. I had only taken a few community-education ballroom classes with my husband, and never in a real ballroom. There was a huge leap in the quality of instruction compared to the community-ed courses. Pretty soon I was taking every group class (and I mean every group class) for several years. Including social dance parties and sessions with outside coaches, the time commitment ranged from nine to eighteen hours each week.

I credit that time with helping me become the dancer I am today.

After the first year, my teacher left, and I was passed onto a second, more experienced teacher, and then chose to work with one of the studio’s owners. I continued to take as many group classes as I could, even repeating beginning classes (during which time I quietly worked on technique, since I knew the basic steps). Finally, I chose to work privately at another studio.

If you’re able to make the financial commitment to private lessons, it’s a good idea when starting out to choose a studio where a private lesson will give you the added benefit of unlimited group classes. This combined approach truly will develop you faster than almost anything else. (It becomes less important the more experienced you get, because—unfortunately—there are far fewer intermediate and advanced group classes than there are beginning classes.)

So why change instructors? Here are the top reasons, in no particular order:

Ask other students you trust about their experiences with different instructors. If you’re a competitive dancer, go to competitions and see how the teachers act with their students and how well they place. Take a group lesson with the instructor you’re considering in order to evaluate them. Take advantage of the fact that many instructors will give you a free private lesson so you can see if you gel with their personality and teaching style.

And remember, what works for you at one point in your dancing life may change as your priorities and goals change. The right teacher for one student at one time may be the wrong teacher for another student at another time.

When you’re starting out, it’s hard to leave one studio for another—there are memories and a social circle and the comfort of the familiar. Remember, you can always return for social dances while studying elsewhere. But sometimes it’s necessary to leave the familiar to grow into the best dancer you can be.