You all know how much I enjoy Stef’s blog. She is such a great writer, and her journey is super inspiring! She has been through a few dance teachers, so I asked her to write a post on her experience with that. I wanted to see what her experience has been because sometimes it’s helpful to know what others have experienced. And hearing how someone worked through it is good too. Each of us has our own experiences when changing teachers, and here’s her story…
I woke up from an uneasy dream and I just knew it was over. After a couple weeks of cancelled lessons and rescheduled lessons, after we had completed our first competition together, after I’d bought a dress and made it through blisters and tears, and at a time when I was really getting into this ballroom thing, ready to step it up to the next level, it was suddenly apparent that my time with Matt was at an end.
Isn’t it odd how in specific moments a nebulous idea that’s been floating around in the spirit realm can crystallize into an undeniable truth? Well, on that morning, for me I was suddenly grounded in the knowing that my first ballroom teacher was no longer going to be my teacher or partner and that my journey was going to take a drastic, unwanted, and unexpected turn. I just knew that this wasn’t a temporary thing – that his protestations of a hurt back – wasn’t going to go away. For whatever reason, he was out.
Unfortunately for me, losing my first ballroom teacher was a mixed bag and a crappy situation. Here was this person who had introduced me to a form of dance that rekindled my passion for life. He had helped me move my hips. He had endured my tears. He had invited me to push beyond many boundaries both physical and mental. And, he also took money from me for 100 lessons and disappeared.
It didn’t happen all at once. It seemed like he just had some health issue. He had occasionally cancelled a lesson here and there in the past so I didn’t think too much about it at first. But days became weeks, and at a certain point I knew something was up. He was never able to come 100% clean with me, which is a shame. I’ve actually not seen him since then, but for a while I took lessons from his mother who was also a ballroom instructor as a substitute. There was a half-hearted effort to set things right, but it wasn’t her responsibility to take that on, and anyways, it’s just not the same learning from a female as having a male instructor lead.
I had to grieve the loss. It may sound silly but I’m not kidding. Dance had become a big part of my life. I felt the void created by both the loss of the person I’d bonded with and the dancing that filled up something in my soul. I had to find a way to cope with that. The good thing that came out of that experience is that now I know, for me, dance is a non-negotiable. I will have it in my life until I can’t move. Period.
I chose to forgive the financial transgression. I let it all go. Because I wanted to focus on all that I appreciated and gained from the experience. And that was worth more to me than any price. It doesn’t make the situation okay, but I don’t think about it and I don’t hold resentment in my heart.
The downside of it was, however, that it was poor timing. I was completely burned out at work and wanted a career change and I quit. It meant that I didn’t have the extra finances to pursue ballroom and find a new instructor right away.
So when things became more stable financially after a year or so, I realized I could get back in the game. But where to start?
Here’s the deal, life is interesting and unexpected. Sometimes things happen to us like our instructor leaves when we would prefer they didn’t. But at the same time every new beginning is some other beginning’s end. The leaving of one person creates the space for another person to come into our lives. Looking back at the chain of events, I’m grateful for all of my teachers, even the one who essentially stole from me. In the long run I’d never want to work with someone dishonest like that when I come to this process as authentically as I can. The Universe knew that and he was removed from my path.
So now I had at least an idea of what I was looking for in an instructor but I had no idea where to find him. I think for me, as well, it was especially challenging because people didn’t take me seriously when I walked in the door – I mean, I weighed 300 pounds and here I am saying I want to be a competitive dancer. They just partnered me with any Joe Schmo that had an open schedule. I was clear I wanted a higher level dancer than that. But I had no idea how to break into that “exclusive club.” I had no connections to any dance studio but I did know enough to be able to see the caliber of dancing.
So I did what I could. I looked at some websites. I looked at photos and videos of the teachers. I weeded out some places like that. Then I signed up for introductory lessons at a few different studios to essentially try-out various instructors. I weeded out a few more. Of course location was also an issue, which is funny because with my current instructor Ivan I have driven across the city more times than I can count – but he’s worth it!
Anyways, without having a foot in the door, I settled on the instructor that seemed the best I could find. And you know what, for the part of my journey that he helped me with, he was great. He was very knowledgeable but more of an athlete than a dancer. The distinction being he could intellectually describe all the steps and go through the motions, but he didn’t actually emote or feel the music or the dance or the communication. He helped me learn more basics and helped me get in to better physical shape.
But at a certain point I knew that he couldn’t get me where I wanted to go. I craved that “dancer” part that he lacked as well as connection. But because I kept taking each step forward, for instance, dancing at his studio, I came into contact with other people. I observed Inna and Artem at this time as they danced out of the same studio, so I knew this level of instructor was around. Also I met Nona, Ivan’s mother-in-law. I actually had her coach me and she changed my Latin Rumba walks in 30 seconds! She knew exactly what to say to communicate what I needed to do and I was very impressed that she knew what the heck she was doing! Also she had competed professionally. So I kind of look at this part of my journey as another stepping stone that moved me forward and positioned me to take the next leap.
So when the studio closed and I knew I wanted more than this particular instructor could give I called Nona to ask her who I should dance with. The rest, as they say, is history. I had made the right connection that put me in the sphere of the kind of instructor I’d always wanted. I think part of that was getting clearer and clearer about what I needed and wanted. It also meant kissing a few frogs to find my dancing “prince” and it meant taking steps forward when I didn’t know the ultimate outcome. The most important thing was to keep taking the next step before me. Now I consider myself to be the luckiest girl when it comes to my dancing instructor and partner and friend. If those were the actions I needed to take to get me to arrive where I am then I’m grateful for them.
If I were to give any advice to someone who is facing a transition from one instructor to another, especially if it is not something expected or wanted, I would say a few things. First, acknowledge that there has been a loss. You don’t have to categorize it as good or bad but just accept that a void has been created in your life. Second, take time to process and/or grieve the loss. This has been an important part of your life and it’s totally valid to do what you need to do to comfort yourself, accept it, and move forward. Third, I’d say be open to the possibilities. You never know what your next instructor may bring to your life and your dancing. Fourth, I’d say get clear on what you want out of your ideal instructor. Meditate on the best aspects of your previous instructors and think about what you’d put on a “wish list” too! Finally, I’d say don’t limit your options. Take some time and put some energy into finding a good fit. Perhaps visit various studios and take some trial lessons with a few instructors that interest you. Look at as an opportunity to learn and grow but resolve not to settle for what’s convenient just because it’s there.