I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons for just over two years now. Over that time, I’ve listened to numerous students talk about their experiences with dance and I’ve observed a lot of things. So now I have a list of things that will make you a good dance student.
1. Take private lessons if you want to be good.
Group classes, like community ed classes or even group classes offered at a lot of studios, are great for learning steps. You can learn a lot of steps for a lot of dances in a group class. But you won’t learn how to lead and follow, and you won’t learn much technique in a group class. Lead/follow and technique are what make a difference between a good dancer and a great dancer. In a private lesson, you can really focus on your own dancing, lead and follow and technique as well as steps. At a lot of studios, you can take both. At my studio, if you take private lessons, you can take all the group classes you want. So I take a lot of group classes, because it’s an opportunity to practice what I learned in my lessons and it’s also an opportunity to dance on a day I don’t have a lesson. I think doing both is what has helped me become a great dancer.
2. Trust in your teacher’s plan.
Your teacher is a professional dancer and a professional dance teacher. They know what your dance goals are, and they are going to know the best way to get there. There is a method to their lesson planning, and you should have some faith in it. You’re not a professional dancer and so you don’t know the best way to approach your dance goals. Really, you don’t.
3. Know that technique is important.
There is more to dance than steps. Technique is very important too, even if your goal is social dancing and not competition. I’ve heard students complain that they haven’t learned anything in six months because they haven’t learned any new steps. Well, hello – you’ve been working on technique because your teacher wants you to improve. And you do learn a lot when you’re working on “just” technique. You just have to be open to the idea that there are other things to learn besides steps.
4. Talk to your teacher.
As much as I try, it’s hard to leave life at the door of the studio. Whenever I feel life is impacting my dancing (usually by sending me to the thinky place), I tell my teacher. I think it’s important for him to know what’s going on so he can either adjust the lesson to accommodate where I am mentally, he can try to help, or he can just understand that I may not be able to give 100% at that particular lesson. I’ve had a few lessons where we ended up just dancing for fun instead of working on anything because of where I was mentally. Those lessons helped a lot at that moment, and they wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t talked to my teacher. Dance, like the rest of life, does not operate in a vacuum.
5. Talk to your teacher, part 2.
Dance is a very physical, emotional, mental thing. Dancing often brings up emotions, baggage, issues for people. And that’s OK. But your teacher needs to know when that happens, because they can help. They’re professional dance teachers; they’ve seen others going through these things too. They know how to help you get thorough it. And most likely, they’ve had their own issues pop up on their dance journey too.
6. Talk to your teacher, part 3.
If you’re unhappy about your lesson or your dance plan, talk to your teacher. If you have questions as to why they’re teaching this not that, ask your teacher. While I trust my teacher’s plan and methods, I do ask him sometimes why we’re working on this or when will we start working on that again. I don’t try to dictate what we do on lessons (see number 2), but sometimes I just need to have him explain his plan to me so I know we’re on the same page. I’m also clear to him what I want to accomplish and what my dance goals are. But once I’ve articulated that, I know he is going to know best how to get there. And he knows I trust the plan.
Practice. Can’t say it enough. Practice. Did I mention you should practice? If your studio does practice parties, go to them and dance. If you have group classes available, do them. A lot of dancing is about muscle memory. The more often you repeat it, the quicker it gets into your muscle memory. If you’re a complete dance nerd like me, you can even practice steps and technique at home. But only practice at home what your teacher tells you to practice! You don’t want to practice something incorrectly (that muscle memory thing again), and there may be things introduced in a lesson by your teacher that they don’t want you to do at home or on your own yet. Yes, to practice some things, you need a large ballroom – for example, I had some turns in my foxtrot that I could only practice at the studio. But over the last two years, there has been a ton of things I’ve worked on at home. Another difference between a good dancer and a great dancer is the amount they practice. If you take one lesson a month and that’s it, it’s going to take you a long time to get any good. But if you take one lesson a month, go to 4 group classes and 2 practice parties a week, and work on some stuff at home, you will see much faster improvement. And you won’t have to review as much at the beginning of your next lesson.
8. Trust in your teacher’s judgment.
Your teacher knows your goals. They know how you learn. They know what the standards are to check out of a level. They will know when you’re ready to check out. And if you think you’re ready and your teacher hasn’t mentioned check out to you yet, guess what? You’re not ready. There is something else (or many things) you need to work on first. Usually it’s technique things. So following number six, ask your teacher what you should be working on to move towards check out. Notice I didn’t say ask your teacher why he hasn’t started check out with you yet. Your teacher will also know what dances you want to have in your plan and will introduce them when they think it’s time. Trust in that judgment.
This list isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, and I know it’s easier for some people than others to do these things. But I think that a lot of my success is because I do these things. I trust my teacher, I talk to my teacher, and I practice a lot. Bazinga!
Are you watching the Big Bang Theory? If not, you should be. If you do watch it, the picture above makes sense and is probably making you laugh right now. If you don’t watch it, well, never mind.
(Update: I forgot the most important one! The one that is so obvious and happens naturally for me while dancing, so I don’t need to remind myself of it. What is it? HAVE FUN!!!!!!!!!)