Look for a Dance Coach Instead of a Dance Teacher

As September rolls on by, I have been getting a few inquiries about private lessons and classes here in Montreal and Toronto. Most of the times these are one-off privates about a particular technique that someone wants to work on. Those are always really fun for me because I can geek out about something hyper specific. Recently however, I have been getting inquiries about longer periods of training and I honestly couldn’t be more elated.

Having students approach me about training and teaching them dance has really got me reflecting on my own dance growth over the years. After some introspective analysis, what I found interesting was that it really wasn’t going to workshops, exchanges, group classes, or even privates that had the greatest impact on my dance technique and enjoyment of social dancing. Sure those helped me refine and expand my skill-sets but what I’m talking about are really fundamental events that shaped me to find my own dance identity. It really was having mentors and coaches – individuals who were genuinely interested in helping me become a better dancer. People who were there to drill me in technique, answer dance-related questions without being “on the clock”, and in general give me real honest feedback when I really needed it. They were the game changers in my dance life.

Having a coach is like having someone who always has your back. They are there to help you grow and reach your potential because they want to see you succeed and in turn you want to succeed for them. Coaches care about your journey because in a way, them coaching you is part of their journey as well.

Teachers, in our current social dance world setting, really are there to teach you what they have planned for that lesson (in group classes) or to impart their own way of doing things onto you (private lessons). This isn’t to say that all teachers are like that and I know very many teachers who do more outside of the class time for their students than they get credit for. I have nothing but mad respect for these people. However, I believe our way of thinking in terms of social dancing and growth is fundamentally flawed. We go out of our way to far off exchanges and seek private lessons with our international jet-setting dance heroes in the hopes that we might, just a little bit, be able to emulate them. We spend a lot of our energy trying to learn and grow a lot in a short amount of time instead of trying to grow consistently over the long-term. How many dancers have you met in your lifetime who were able to get to a very proficient level in a short amount of time by going balls-out on lessons and workshops then just suddenly stop learning.

One of my favourite descriptions about the difference between a coaching and a teaching is that “teaching is about the teacher and coaching is about the student”.

Think about that for a second and let it sink it.

Have you ever sought private lessons from an instructor because of their “name” or because you have seen them on youtube? Did you go blindly paying for lessons without even knowing if they would be a great match for you? Be honest ;-). I think we can all attest to the fact that the not all the best dancers are great instructors. However, all the best teachers are also coaches.

When you think about other activities such as sports – coaches are not necessarily the current best in their chosen craft because they are focused on skill-sets that are about helping other people succeed. Coaching means spending more time with the students on working on specific techniques or movement ideas and having them pinpoint their weaknesses. Coaches plan on correcting these mistakes and those plans might take a long time but that’s okay – they are there for the long-haul and they are there for you, not just for the time you have paid them for.

If coaching works for sports (even Tiger Woods has a coach) and most other physical activities, why don’t we don’t we have more dance coaches in our own dance communities?

Just like anything worthwhile spending your time on, being a dancer is a life-long process. There really are no short-cuts and it’s all about the repetition of doing your chosen craft day in and day out.

So the next time you are out shopping for instructors to improve your dancing, ask yourself a few questions before making a purchasing decision:

  • Is the instructor genuinely interested in helping me grow as a dancer?
  • Is the instructor committed in the skills required in being a great teacher, mentor and coach?
  • Does the instructor embody the type of dancer that I want to be, not just from a technique stand-point but also from a social dance perspective (we are after all a social dance community)?
  • Will this teacher form a conducive teacher-student relationship that will allow for continual feedback from both parties?

I think by seeking out dance coaches and mentors instead of short-term dance instructors, dancers will not only grow more in the long term, but they’ll also enjoy the process of learning on a weekly basis. Hopefully in the future, these dancers too will get asked by newer dancers to help them in their own dance journey. Wouldn’t that be a great dance world to live in?

In another blog post, I’ll type up some of my own personal dance mentors and how they have really helped me throughout the years. Until next time!

– Randy