Good Teaching vs. Great Teaching

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How often have you walked into a group class, memorized a pattern or routine, left the class, but couldn’t remember what you learned?

It is all too common of a concern when learning how to dance, and that goes for any dance genre or style. While half the battle in this case may often be related to the student themselves in holding themselves accountable to follow up and to work on their own, etc, I must say that I have many theories as a professional and passionate dance instructor that work for me and my students that I want to share. In this blog post, I will go discuss what I look for in great teachers, and what I expect from them on both a student level and a teaching level.

I believe that we are surrounded by all types of good teachers in the dance scene, and everyone does bring something different to the table. As a dancer who has grown up taking dance classes all of my life, I know what it’s like to follow certain instructors and look for certain classes while working hard to improve in the craft of dance. But I have seen and experienced far too many times certain dance classes where I simply do not gain anything when the class is over, and I strongly believe that the class is only as good as its teacher.

There are a few main points that I would like to discuss when it comes to great teaching. First of all, I have heard and seen teachers very easily recognizing a problem without providing any solutions. As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, there are SO many group classes out there for all different types of dance. Usually, these classes are less expensive, and are a good way to surround yourself in a community of people trying to do the same thing as you. Something that often happens in these group classes is that the teacher will point out things that they see people are doing wrong. Whether it is targeted towards one individual or a general correction, a lot of teachers can be quick to see what isn’t working. This is good- but without a proposed solution (or a few) to help these people understand and work towards the problem, those corrections are simply not effective. Even the untrained eye can often see what does or does not look good, but it takes a GREAT teacher to be able to provide insight on the why and how behind the learning process. I believe that great teachers explain why they are pointing out a critique, and how they can make it better. If you attend a dance class and you find that you leave with a list of things you need to work on, without the guidance of HOW to work on them, I believe that the instruction is not as great as it could be.

As a teacher, I want to make sure that people who are investing their time, money, energy, and attention to learn from me truly retain what I am instructing them, even if in small increments. The way to do this is to communicate ideas and corrections in a way that makes the most sense to each person. I may explain a dance step to one person that makes perfect sense to them, and to another person, it may cause complete confusion. I believe many good teachers have a few go-to-phrases to teach with that they use for everyone, but great teachers have endless ways to explain one thing, so as to help each individual. After all, everybody is different, coming into lessons with different backgrounds and skills, and most importantly, different ways of learning. I cannot expect everyone to hear one sentence of explanation and understand it immediately. Great teachers have patience with themselves and students during the learning process, not just because they have to, but because they want to take the time to see their students prosper.

Another thing- great teaching is about more than just showing a pattern or combination. I cannot stress this enough! There are many good teachers that can show you numerous patterns until the cows come home. The first stage of the learning process is mimicking, especially with dance as it is an extremely physical activity that involves a lot of coordination. One of the only skills being worked on though, in these teachings of combinations or choreography, is your memory. Don’t get me wrong, improving and training our brains to memorize movement quickly is so important in dance. BUT teaching dance goes so much more beyond memorizing patterns. Teachers need to provide application of those patterns, and even beyond that, they need to provide insight on the physical aspects of dance, like balance, control, posture, music, and more.

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This brings me to another point- great teachers bring up certain points of instruction because they themselves have felt those points of instruction, experienced them, and are able to successfully reproduce what they are teaching. A lot of good teachers provide information because they have heard it being said by others, but many of them cannot prove what they are asking students to do. Furthermore, I believe that great teachers truly understand the body in relation to movement. It’s not always about saying something obvious like “left foot forward,” rather going into detail about how to get on the left foot, where your weight needs to be, how to be on balance, what’s happening within the body to help with that, etc. After all, as dancers, our bodies are our instruments, and need to treated as such with care and attention.

Great teachers understand how to relate to their students. If someone is getting confused in a dance class, a great teacher will be able to look at that student, ask them the right questions, and try to understand how to help them through their bodies and minds to best reach success. Great teaching goes way beyond repeating the same correction, or saying how a person should look at examples of other great dancers to understand what they need to improve on. Teachers should not be teaching in order to be the center of attention- on the contrary- it is about the students more than anything.

Most importantly, great teachers LOVE to teach. It is something they look forward to doing, not just because they get financially compensated for it, but because they are sharing what they love and truly bringing joy to others. I have seen some good teachers bring students down with too much criticism, causing that student to think they will need that teacher to tell them what to do in order to succeed, craving positive feedback from that instructor without realizing what they are actually doing wrong. I cannot stress enough the role that teachers have- they are leaders and inspirers and educators who have a great responsibility to share their knowledge with others. This is the mindset I choose to teach with, and it motivates me every day. Like any other noble leader, I expect students to be drawn to great teachers out of respect for them, NOT by fear of their criticism. I have also seen plenty of teachers that are teaching dance for the wrong reasons. Above all, a great teacher should have the students’ best interests at heart. A teacher shouldn’t put their goals and aspirations above those of their students. Each teacher and their student is essentially a team, and both need to be listened to and respected equally. A key motivator for a great teacher is the progress and joy that their students get from dancing. After all- we are all doing this amazing dancing hobby because we enjoy it, and THAT is why teachers choose to do what they do. That is why I choose to teach dance day in and day out, because I know in my body and soul how wonderful it is for people.

I am not saying all of these things because I think I am the best teacher in the world. In fact, I am always growing and learning, like we all should be, to stay challenged and inspired. But I do feel that in all aspects of my life, if there is one thing I know and am truly confident about, it is teaching dance. I am bringing my experiences to the table, as both a student and teacher, to try to inspire conversation and expectation about what to look for in teachers when trying to learn how to dance. May we all continue together as ever-growing students and teachers of the art of dance. Don’t settle for good teachers- aim for the great ones.

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