I can’t say the same for private instructors/mentors. After teaching private lessons for over 30 years, and taking from at least 20 instructors across music and dance, I have established a few guidelines that I recommend to others. I will stick to the ones related to dancing for this article.
Baarns Private Instructor Guidelines:
- You are looking for approximately three primary instructors/mentors
- At least one of your primary instructors should be the opposite sex (in partner dances)
- You're looking for regular inspiration and brutal honesty at points
Your Three Mentors/Coaches
In an ideal world, over time you'll find three people who will assist you in being the best you can be. You may go through six or eight instructors (more or less) to find the right three that will be your primary mentors, but overall you are looking for around three during the first few years you dance. You can think of these mentors as your dance instructors/coaches.
They should be experienced enough to teach you the steps and techniques for you to move to your next level, but also provide concepts and ideas that may take years to develop. They should be opening your eyes to a much bigger world than just the next sexy cross-body lead variation or a hot shine routine.
These people should inspire you and be the type you trust to be brutally honest with you. Few people realize how difficult it is to find objective opinions!
Your mentor has to be secure enough to tell you the truth, knowing you could stop paying them for privates. If your current instructor is always singing your praises, be careful. That is NOT helpful if you want to be your best. They don't need to be rude, they shouldn't make you feel like a loser, but you should be hearing balanced feedback, including them pushing you when you really deserve a kick in the pants.
If you want unconditional compliments, get a dog, not a mentor. Or call your Mom; mine is always available for telling me how great I am for the cost of a simple phone call (and my Mom is totally objective, we all know that.)
I can also find a few of my dance partners to say, "I love you, man," when they are thinking, "Gee, when he moves his hips like that, he looks a little too feminine." If I do something like that around my mentor, she’ll tell me, “That is really not a good look on you! Girls do that… Don’t you ever let me see that move again…”
She delivers it with her trademark grin and fun-loving tone, so I know I need to change something without being offended.
That is a great mentor. Not only can she help me improve my dance, she will point out the issues that everybody else sees but simply ignores because they are too nice or won't say it. She wants me to be exceptional and I respect her experienced opinion.
It also helps if they have a sense of humor, but that may just be me. Overall, you want to find someone that is straight with you in an encouraging way. They should inspire you to be your best, but also be clear when you can do better.
In the next article we'll explore how many private instructors to consider at one time and some additional details.
Let me know about your experiences with private instructors via the comments.
How Many Instructors (Part 2)
Wondering Eyes: Cheating On Your Instructor
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This article was originally published in July 2007 and was only a two part series. After some minor edits it's been divided into three parts to make it easier to read and digest.