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Teacher or Coach: What’s the Difference?

Coach coaching

Why All Performing Dancers Need a Dance Coach

by Najia Marlyz
posted June 11, 2010

What was it that the police officer said in that movie?  I think he said, “Badge? I don’t need no stinkin’ badge!”  Well, perhaps not, and it is certain that because you have an outstanding dance teacher, you dance beautifully, and get plenty of gigs too, therefore, you might think you don’t need no stinkin’ dance coach either…

…However, as a dancer and dance coach, I ask you to imagine what you might accomplish if you only were aware some part of what it is that has not yet entered your realm of consciousness… 

Generally, people will not tell you the truth, you know. 

  • If they think your dance is lacking something, they feel sorry for you, and they will say something that they think sounds supportive and positive.
  • ·If it was a truly amazing performance, they will say something that they think sounds—supportive and positive!

In other words, audience members try hard to be supportive and positive when facing a performer in person. Hopefully, they will always cheer and never boo your efforts!  However, you cannot see yourself the way that another person, especially a professional dance coach, can see you. 

Video is not a substitute for a coach’s input.  Video not only adds ten pounds to your image but also usually subtracts the magic that is the essence of your dance.  Aren’t you just a little bit curious how another looks at your dance and sees…what?  Don’t you wonder sometimes if your dance is all that it could be?  If you have begun to believe in your dance technique as outstanding in quality, or that your skills are substantially on the road to superior (though it might seem embarrassing to admit that aloud to very many people), it is time to engage a professional dance coach who is not your dance teacher. One person cannot fill both roles for you!

It is never too soon to find a coach who can aid you in all phases of your public performances—from costuming (Does this costume make me look voluptuous—or just show off my huge derrière?) to technique and choosing just the right musical arrangements to fit the gig.

Most performers have a great deal of untapped potential; additionally, many consider it cheating to engage a professional coach and yet, that is exactly what they would look for if this were the Olympics and they were competing for the gold!

Najia observes classObtaining a performance coach to enhance whatever it is that you are best at performing is probably your next logical step in attaining your dance goals, and subsequently, renewing your inspiration. It is less publicly revealing of your little faux pas and technique deficiencies when you can work without witnesses hearing your questions or assessments of your skills and corrections of errors. Therefore, you will want to work in private with an experienced, discrete dance coach who has had a full dance career in performance skills. Additionally, you should realize that the better you are as a dancer, the more your coach and you can accomplish together! 

Since the time I began to dance as an adult in 1968 and now, 2010, I have developed some unique insights into coaching Western dancers in the both creative and ethnic dance and have become a recognized coach in the field of performance dancing because of the rapid improvement others see in my clients’ dancing. I urge dancers who perform in public, and some who are preparing to begin an entire career in dance, to seek the benefits of working with an appropriate performance coach as I did for about three years when I was just beginning to perform. My coach’s insights were invaluable to me! She was not my dance teacher and was not even a
professional dancer—but she had been a life-long stage and gig performer.  She billed herself as “Beatrice and Her Enchanted Violin”.

Because coaches are not primary instructors, they should never require their clients to “start over” with beginner’s dance lessons—even if it becomes evident that some of them have vast un-addressed lack of dance concepts missing from their dance knowledge. For example, a coach might recommend some classes in stage drama or costuming. Consequently, a dancer needs to enter into a sort of dance triage process.  When using term “dance triage” I mean the sort of selective treatment order one might receive in a crowded emergency room of a hospital. When coaching, I take on areas of egregious neglect and need and at the same time, build upon strengths of survival that have sustained my client’s dance thus far.  If some part your dance needs a tourniquet, you should understand exactly why!

Without exception, dancers who have coaches move forward from wherever they are in dance presently to a greater level of dance expression. Usually, it would not have been possible to envision this progress by the dancer alone.

Bert coachingHowever, in order to withstand the process, dancers must have a real love for moving in an extemporaneous style of composition and must have outgrown the Western need to rely on a formal choreography. Please note that the term “choreography” is defined as nothing more than a pre-planned written dance for skillful memorization. However, in my opinion, in recent years, it has come to imply an element of legitimacy in form and stature that is a false impression and a debilitating crutch. Therefore, do not expect a coach to be creating choreography for you or helping you with anyone else’s. Your coach will help your learn how to listen to music analytically and how to react to it as a unique dance artist.

The magic of Oriental dance springs from an intense desire to communicate emotional truths by moving one’s body from the inside out.

If you dance from your emotional center, I would urge you to continue your learning process by adding a coach to your dance life and career. Even though this may increase your dance involvement at least a couple of times per month, dancers should not drop classes with a current instructor, taking care that social contacts in dance are not broken.  These personal contacts remain important in one’s dance advancement because they will become a part of one’s future dance networking.

Coaching is an acutely intimate process in which your ability to grow in dance, so that your inner realm and your heart’s desire for your entire life is reflected through your dance. All will come under intense scrutiny.

In order to do it right, coaching takes time, and learning to know you well enough to access the information and insights that you need will take you and your coach both time and repetition. It will also require numerous performances of all types: birthdays, recitals, festivals, etc.  New paths should open for you, and one or two coaching sessions can only reveal to a coach where problems exist—only a diagnosis for you. Ongoing coaching procedures, however, can reach performers with new inspirational material and ideas. A coach can help you develop awareness of opportunities for creative tactics for stage-work and handling varied venues. Whether dance clients can enter onto those new paths securely enough depends on their intent, dedication, and follow-though—as well as the impact of an effective coach.

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  1. Yasmin Henkesh

    Jun 11, 2010 - 09:06:44

    Well written and well said. Thank you for writing this. Many times those who speak the truth do so simply to help others learn, not to hurt feelings. Like the Billy Joel song, Honesty…

  2. zeerebel

    Jun 12, 2010 - 06:06:39

    Although I am not a dancer but a martial arts instructor/coach, I found your article to be very insightful and will be adapting for my martial arts school website.
    I especially like how you describe the dance triage and the personal level a dancer will achieve when having coach
    Keep up the good work

  3. Larry Greenwald

    Jun 12, 2010 - 05:06:16

    About the image at the top of the article (Coach saying; “Your zils stink!”)…
    You had to use a Syracuse University football coach and player for the image? They’re bad enough as it is without this additional embarrassment.

  4. Barbara Grant

    Jun 14, 2010 - 02:06:45

    In my judgment, the most controversial statement in this piece was not highlighted but perhaps should have been. It is, “However, in order to withstand the process, dancers must have a real love for moving in an extemporaneous style of composition and must have outgrown the Western need to rely on a formal choreography.” That gets thumbs up from me; however, it seems to be an issue in dispute, no?
    What is the proper place (if there is one) for choreography in Oriental dance? I’d suspect that perceptions might differ depending upon (among other things) whose student a particular dancer was/is. I’ve seen some very strong statements against choreography expressed on GS (Cory Zamora comes immediately to mind) and with respect to coaching, the subject of this article, it seems possible if not highly likely that a dancer with a strong background in choreography will coach her/his clients toward detailed and exacting choreographic execution. Does that make her/him a less effective Oriental dance coach? Not sure, only asking…

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