Written by Lori Shecter

"The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains.The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." 

-William Arthur Ward 

I love this quote and though you may have heard it a million times, it is ever so true when it comes to dancing.  It make me realize what makes me LOVE my current Salsa teacher, Joel.

Salsa II

So Salsa class, is for me, a lot like High School.  No worse... Junior High.  Why would that be?  Because I feel like the nerdy unpopular kid who just isn't cool.  I remember dancing in college.  It was a whole lot easier than salsa: no counting, lots of turns and it all seemed really easy then! But now I am intimidated.  If I feel like that, I wonder how a young girl feels in a competitive dance school?

The good, the bad, the ugly.

First the Bad (also the Ugly)

One thing I noticed about some dance teachers (yes, even those after work adult classes) that turned me off, right away was:

  1. Picking a Pet:  I know it is hard not to focus on the student that does well.  But that made ME feel, well, really left out!  Does this happen in your school?
  2.  Made me feel clumsy: Yup, when I went back instead of forward, one teacher actually said, 'you're supposed to come toward me.  You are off step" and then walked away, INSTEAD of using this as an opportunity to engage me for 2 minutes until I got onto the correct step. 
  3. Paid more attention to the students who picked up quickly: Might be human nature, BUT I won't go back to those classes. 
  4. Telling me I have it when I really don't:  This is a huge pet peeve.  If I KNOW I don't have it, (I am clumsy not DUMB), then please don't insult me and tell me I DO have it so you can move to the next student.  Wouldn't two more minutes breaking down the step been worth keeping me in their class?  I guess not.   (never went back there either.)
  5. Moving too quickly past the step: I know it's hard to stay there and bore all the students who might have picked it up, but it turns out that this class has the same problem as point #6:  mixing too many levels.
  6. Telling me it's beginner class when other levels are in there. And, this made it difficult to even pick up the first steps because I hadn't perfected them.

The good and the great

Feeling left out...just don't!  I am not a dance instructor.  I never could be--aside from lack of skill set (hmmmm), I don't think I have the ability to be able to work with so many levels of students and break it all down.  But if you have chosen this as a profession this should be part of the job description.

Competitive teams:

I read an idea a while back that I thought was great:  create a lesser skilled competitive team for those students who don't have the skill set of others on your teams.  I know that everyone can't be a "varsity" player, but think how far your team will go in giving girls EMPOWERMENT and confidence.  Think of the reputation your studio will get by giving everyone a chance.  To me, the benefits far outway the negatives.

Engagement, conversation and retention:  So, here's the shining example of what keeps me coming back for more.  I know that schools for children and schools for adults are different, but I believe these principles can be applied to everyone:

  1. Continous engagement:  I LOVE that my teacher sends me 1 or 2 emails a week with videos of steps we've learned and stuff I can practice at home.  Gentle reminders to keep up between the classes.  ADDED PLUS:  many of Joel's videos are PUBLIC.  It's how I found him in the first place!  However, there are PRIVATE videos too which are perfect gifts for your students and make them feel like they are getting a little more than they paid for.
  2. Patience, understanding AND a little humor!  Dance can be serious business, true, but damn, if I am going to work my ass off, I hope there is some fun, friendship and humor too. 
  3. Empathy and encouragement:  I look around and see all these marvelous dancers.  Will I ever get there?  I hope so!
  4. Emails about music I should listen to and tips and hints.  This again is continuous engagement.

I want to stress the video component for a minute.  In a PREVIOUS POST about video, I said you can make some great engaging videos quickly.  True dat. However, working with Joel, I see the amazing benefit of instructional videos-- videos that showed me how great he is as a teachers, AND had the extra benefit of search engine optimization (i.e. Google, Yahoo and Bing the search engines find your videos and your website without you having to pay for advertising.)


So, there you have it.  My quest for the perfect instructor brought me to 5 different classes in 1.5 weeks.  The cycle for girls trying out different studios is much, much different, but trust me when I say, dance student drop out,  is NOT just for financial reasons.  It also reflects how girls FEEL when they are at your school.  And the better they feel, the higher chance you have at retaining their business.

And the end of the story?  I am addicted to Salsa.  By the way. I know I have progressed when someone in class told me I made them look good!  And on and on we go.  Thank you Joel!