Take Private Lessons and Coaching?
the teaching format to Private Lessons
Twenty years ago I abruptly changed my teaching format to private lessons only.
I have been conducting daily private lessons in my home studio almost exclusively
ever since. The change in my teaching format that year was a very difficult
adjustment for me to make because I had spent, literally, the previous decade
developing my studio geared toward group dance instruction and my clientele
my base group clientele and closing my "main street" dance
studio seemed such a frightening loss for my ego!
Time often changes
our circumstances, and I found that the relatively poor financial
rewards involved in studio ownership sobered my burgeoning ego.
Owning one's own studio, having access to the "perfect" class
time slots, and having control over conditions in the dance space
are such seductive goals! However, reality had me by the pockets,
and I was forced into a position of making my dance efforts profit
in actual "fahlooz" (money in Egyptian Arabic) without
compromising my clientele. I had barely hit my stride as a dancer
and dance teacher and to leave the field and step back into teaching
Readin', 'ritin', and 'rithmetic was too much of a personal affront
to my dance achievements. (I was---too glamorous for my good!
glamorous for an abortive career!) So I set about creating a home-based
studio, rebuilding my dance clientele, and learning my new method
of private (one-on-one) instruction.
For ten years, I had sold prospective students on the idea of how "fun" it
was to get together with like-minded people and study dancing in a group. Group
lessons are inexpensive, competition between students could "light one's
fire", and group lessons are almost devoid of any personal responsibility
for the dance student.
private lessons are a "hard sell!" At first sight,
private lessons seem extravagant, self-important, and a bit
are reluctant to commit substantial money to a new and unfamiliar
undertaking when they know they may soon find that they have no
talent for it or that it might not be as fun or meaningful as they
had imagined. In my own defense, however, one may more quickly
discover this in one or two private lessons than completing a full
six, eight, or ten week recreational group course in which non-refundable
advance payment has been required. In addition, there are obstacles
that must be overcome before enrolling in private lessons that
are the same as exist for group lessons: namely, easy access, a
convenient time, and cost.
I have found that if I can quickly help the prospective student to focus on
values other than those three daunting obstacles of access, convenience, and
cost, I can very often win them as a student. It has become so easy for me
to accomplish this first hurdle that I have found, to my great relief, that
I may now conduct a screening interview of the phone caller.
but politely eliminate any voice that is "whiny," any
caller who inquires if "belly dance is good for getting
a flat stomach," or who mentions that she has been told
to "get a good exercise work-out" (unless she adds
that she has always wanted to learn to dance).
exercise is a notorious excuse for taking dance lessons when one's
reasons are, in reality, quite different, there are actually some
inquirers who actually just want to expend calories and who would
be a waste of my time, efforts, and talents.
my own Goals
I have learned that it is better, in the long run, to keep my own career goals
in mind when phone inquirers sound like nice people, even knowing full well
that their money may be spent as well as anyone else's! It is a matter of personal
choice and defense of reputation for me to decide with whom I may want to share
my knowledge of dance and the culture of the Middle East.
has been hard won, and I have paid fees for it in many currencies.
No amount of money would persuade me (ever again) to teach
a "time waster" who is in dire need of a therapist.
In times past,
when my circumstances were different, I spent many hours in the
role of substitute therapist, and though I am certain that "therapist" could
be an admirable and worthwhile career for others, it is not the
career to which I aspire. The exclusivity of private lessons appeals
to some prospective students, in lieu of therapy, more often than
one might hope. I have found that it is better to steer these students
into a group situation where they are controlled by the greater
good of the many, and where it would be more difficult for them
to personalize their contact with the dance instructor.
The Teacher/Student Relationship
With my comments in mind concerning choosing those students with whom one would
like to work, it is imperative that the instructor make a personal commitment
to herself to care about them without internalizing their worries and personal
hardships; this is difficult to do on an ongoing basis.
students confuse personal attention with a personal friendship.
Sadly, I have
been told occasionally, "You are my best friend!" when
what I actually am is an advisor and mentor in dance which has
become such a large and important part of the student's life that
she confuses our teacher-student relationship with her personal
What are the differences between coaching and a private lesson?
At this point, I would like to explain the significant difference between private
lessons and coaching. These two very different functions of a one-on-one instructor
are often confused with one another.
private lessons as one teacher teaching one student at a
time on an ongoing basis at regular intervals, while coaching,
which is often intermittent or periodic, is an advanced form
of instruction focusing on improvement of already existing
Acting in the
role of coach, some instructors are unable to divorce themselves
from forcing their own particular technique upon the student, rather
than concentration upon enhancing that technique which the student
a good private lesson teacher, one walks a very fine line
between personality, ability, advice, talent, and encouragement
. Each of these
five elements is very personal, but the most personal of all is
the way in which criticism is given and received. It is not until
a few lessons have gone down the pike before one can really assess
the probable outcome of allowing a particular student to continue
in this personal situation. Private lessons are truly "studying
with or studying under" somebody's tutelage. There is no "hiding" available
such as darting about in the back row of a large class, just out
of the instructor's line of vision so that criticism may be avoided.
(So some students would like to believe.)
Closing the "circle"
the most exciting and rewarding of the teaching adventure,
coaching is a thrill to me because it is a situation in which
the "circle of learning is complete".
The circle is
one in which the student often must "teach the teacher" in
order to make use of the special point of view to which the teacher
is privy. We cannot "see ourselves as others see us." We
cannot see missed opportunity in ourselves. Coaching concentrates
on individual circumstances and needs a student who is an active
participant, one who is a self-starter, a self-directed and driven
(motivated) individual. Most likely, students present themselves
to private lesson teachers for coaching when they are "gearing
up" for something special, perhaps a competition, an audition,
or an important gig. At this time, students are so concentrated
and dedicated that they often soak in more concepts of dance than
they do at any other time in their learning process!
of Private Lessons
As important and wonderful as coaching is, I find that it is almost more important
to take private lessons (even while enjoying more sociable group lessons) when
one is a beginner. This is the time in which basic bad habits of movement are
easily prevented, when postural corrections are still easy and when details
of technique are still flexible. In a private lesson, I can explain a dance
concept in several different ways until I see that I have been understood,
while in a group class, repeated personal corrections are both time-consuming
and often are perceived as teacher's-pet situations or worse, personal attacks.
not care how carefully one embroiders a criticism, when it
is given in front of others; it is not the same as a criticism
know this instinctively and tend to say, "If you are doing
thus, then the other will not be correct." However, it has
been my observation, when watching inexperienced teachers instruct
group classes, that indirect criticisms deflect from the offending
students like laser beams bounce against the cloaking shields of
intergalactic vessels. The wrong students receive the message and
ruin what they had been doing correctly in the first place. Additionally,
private lesson teachers can modify movement in order to accommodate
physical limitations of students who do not possess perfect bodies
or optimum physical abilities. There is no dance movement in Oriental
dance that is so sacrosanct that it cannot be modified or interpreted.
compelling argument for studying with a teacher privately,
however, is that in Oriental dance, the most beautiful of
all techniques is in the giving and receiving of personal
energy and individual essence while dancing.
is very difficult to emote beautifully when it is applied equally
or indiscriminately to all personalities and to all movements.
It is so individualistic that it sets one dancer above all the
rest when she is able to employ it with skill and definition. When
studying dance privately, these special dance techniques involving
energy can be internalized so much that the use of them becomes
second nature. Though the great stars of the Middle Eastern Dance
employ the same movements as each other, the stars vary widely
in the manner in which they use movement to convey energy and emotion.
In a private lesson, with personal comments and encouragement from
a perceptive coach, a dancer is more likely to develop a dance
personality of importance. Remember, though, results are never
guaranteed unless there is mutual give and take beyond monetary
remuneration between the teacher and pupil.
Suggestions for You
If you have been afraid to take private lessons until now, I would urge you,
if a suitable teacher is available, to take the opportunity to indulge yourself
in the luxuriant feeling of dance in a private lessons setting. You will enhance
your presentation beyond your wildest dreams!
If you have
an important dance gig ominously looming ahead, arrange for private
coaching. Your audience will see and feel the difference, and you
will feel yourself becoming more powerful in your presentations
let feelings of possible disloyalty to your primary instructor
hold you back from this important type of learning; it will
not detract from your other instructor(s). Any instructor
worth her salt will welcome enhancement of your dance ability
from whatever sources. Only an unworthy instructor would
censure you for wanting to add to your personal resources!
If you are an
instructor of group lessons and do not have time to give private
lessons and coaching to your students yourself, recommend supplementary
teachers to those who do. You will be among the teachers who are
known for openness and helpfulness and will find yourself as a
continuing part of a loyal new dancer's beginning career.