If you have read much of what I have written, then you probably know something about my position on what makes a good student and a good teacher. Basically, I am of the opinion that there is really neither a good or bad teacher nor a good or bad student. Instead, there is really only a good or bad student teacher relationship. This means that you need to better understand what you need and then find a teacher who suits that so that the relationship you have with them is a good one. I have spoken about this from the perspective of learning style. By understanding your own learning style, you can better manage the information you extract from your teacher and choose the best teacher for you.
However, a few nights before writing this, I spoke with a fellow dancer who had a very different experience with teachers. What made his experience different were three things:
- he had been dancing for a while, and was able to understand more complex and advanced dance concepts;
- he had moved into dance sport from social dancing, and now had different learning needs;
- he had proven his commitment and ability to dance, and now had more respect from other high level dance sport competitors.
This dancer told me a few stories about some recent experiences he had had with dance teachers. He had been given advice from a dance teacher that contradicted what he had been told in the past. However, the advice was excellent advice, and had helped him dance better. This new advice had also come from people who were not professional dance teachers, but professional dancers. It was also advice that had been given to him in confidence. As we spoke more about his recent experiences, we realised a few points (some that we already knew, but had reiterated) about things that need to be kept in mind when choosing a teacher or evaluating one that you have.
Good teachers are different from good dancers
This is not to say that a teacher can’t be a good dancer or that a good dancer can’t be a good teacher. It means that when you’re judging a teacher, you should think more about how effective they are at improving your dance ability as opposed to effective they are at dancing. The dancer I was talking to told me a story about another dancer who received some excellent advice from drunk!
Good teachers are different from good studio managers
Do not judge the quality of teaching by the studio. There are some people out there who are so focused on dance that they forget about other aspects of running a business and a studio. Just because someone has a successful business is no guarantee that they have it because they offer good teaching. You would hope that they do, but there could be some excellent teachers in some unlikely places.
You need a teacher who can tell you what you need to hear
The advice that this dancer had been getting could not have done much with the advice when he was starting dance. The person who had given him the advice would probably also be incapable of helping a new dancer. If you have read much of my stuff, then you would know that while I am a student of dance, I am a teacher of engineering. I am quite happy teaching higher level students who have done the basics of engineering science, but I think I would find it difficult talking with early level engineers, I would probably be frustrated teaching science to high school students and younger students would probably drive me insane. That means I am only a good teacher for students who are at a level ready for what I have to tell them. The same is true of dance. You might need a new teacher or you might not be ready for the one you have.
Teachers are different from coaches
I remember reading in a book called Talent is Overrated (which is about what leads to world class performance) that when people reach the upper levels of whatever field they are in they need to move from teachers to coaches..
Coaches are usually people who have been at that higher level and can share insights about getting the next level. They do no tell you what to do or show you how to do it; they work with you to help get you to a higher level. You might be at this level now, if so then you probably won’t find much that I have useful and you will probably need to think about moving on from your current teacher.
A teacher who told you what you needed to hear when you were starting might not be able to tell you what you need to hear now
This is probably obvious based on what I have written already, but it’s worth repeating. You can move on from a teacher, It doesn’t mean that your teacher is no longer a good teacher. It just means that they are no longer good for you. Some teachers are excellent at helping people get started, some are excellent at polishing your dance and some aren’t really teachers; they are coaches.
As your dancing progresses, just give some thought to the possibility that you need something new in the way of teaching. I do not necessarily mean a new teacher, sometimes a teacher just needs to realise that you need something new.