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Why the Teacher Isn’t Always Right

Okay, here’s the thing: We’re used to seeing our instructor as the authority figure. They’ve gotten all that training, practiced their butts off for years, just so they could etch all that great information into the blank slate that is our minds. Our job is just to show up, shut up, and do what we’re told, right?

I used to think so, until the shoe was on the other foot, and I found myself trying to explain dance concepts to student-after-student, and making frustratingly slow progress. It was tempting to blame them for not paying enough attention, but fortunately, I was reminded of my own experiences in public school.

In my memory, I watched myself struggle to focus on confusing explanations, spoken too quickly and often with a heavy accent, sitting restlessly in an uncomfortable chair and feeling increasingly discouraged every time one of my teachers lost their temper because we weren’t ‘getting it’ fast enough.

I did not want to be one of those teachers.

Looking back, I know part of the problem comes from teaching every student in the class as though they were all the same, with regards to learning style, level of interest, and so on. Yet even in private lessons, many instructors still follow the traditional ‘my way or the highway’ approach.

Here’s truth for you: Nobody knows your learning style. Nobody knows what injuries your body is carrying, where you are stiff and where you are in pain. Nobody knows your learning style, how interested in technique vs steps you are, or precisely why you love to dance in the first place. Nobody, except you.

This was not explained to me, or to many others, when we first underwent our dance instructor training. It took trial and error for me to realize that the learning process had to be give-and-take, that I risked doing damage to a student’s body and motivation if I didn’t allow myself to flex to their individual needs.

Meanwhile, I still see students who believe their instructor is the expert, the last authority on their bodies and their minds. And so they withhold information, thinking it’s ‘not their place’ to request a change in the program.

That may be true in a group setting, but not in a private one: You are not paying your teacher to teach according to their needs. You are paying them to adapt to yours.

I don’t mean to imply that dance instructors are all arrogant know-it-alls, ready to blame you every time you some difficulty. Many (including this author) are actually hardest on themselves when their student is struggling. Nevertheless, certain assumptions about the teacher-student relationship remain badly outdated.

You are the true expert of your body, and if you don’t feel like one, start connecting with yourself! Become aware of the kinds of explanations you remember best – verbal, visual, physical, or be more specific. Think about movements that feel strange, uncomfortable, tight, or painful.

Once you become aware of them, tell your instructor! Start a dialogue with them on what style of learning works best for you. Any instructor willing to put your agenda over their own will be happy to adjust for you. And it will save you hundreds or thousands of dollars, plus hours of frustration in the process.

This isn’t about telling your teacher how to do their job. This is about making sure they understand your specific needs, the same way you would with your doctor or your dietician. There is little benefit to a private session otherwise.


About the Author

Ian Crewe has been dancing ballroom for over 18 years, and has a Licentiate in American smooth and rhythm. His passion for dance eventually led him to blogging and the World Wide Web. Ian currently teaches at the Joy of Dance Centre, Toronto, ON, Canada.

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