Sunday, April 24, 2011

How Many Instructors (Part 3: Same Sex?)

This is part two of a three part series on finding instructors. Please check out Part one and Part two if you haven't already. They provide context for this article. Originally published in July 2007, I've included some minor revisions.

Should your private instructor be a man or a woman?


That is the short answer, but maybe some details will be helpful.

Cross training with someone of the opposite sex can dramatically improve your social dancing, for both the beginner and mature dancer.

Overall, it makes sense to learn much of your dancing from someone with the matching chromosome combination, especially in partner dancing. Guys learning from guys, women learning from women makes sense for two of your three primary mentors.

That said, everybody should spend some quality time with the best instructor they can find who is not their gender. There are a few instructors out there who can do it all, but they are truly the minority.

The few exceptions often were mentored themselves by someone of the opposite sex or they regularly co-teach with an advanced instructor of the other gender.

For the Ladies
Most women take lessons with women. It makes sense since most men are not experts in ladies styling, and being sexy in a feminine manner isn’t something most guys do well. There are a few exceptional dancers who dance both roles, but most of those dancers aren't instructors.

On the other hand, a great male instructor can teach a lady how to be a better follow even if he glosses over some of the style issues. Is her connection too heavy or too light? Is she spinning in place when the lead is implying a traveling turn? Is her styling getting in the way of the lead, or is it an enhancement to the dance?

Most guys will tell you they dislike ladies who “overstyle.” That usually means the styling move disturbs their lead, often by being late to finish their move. That booty roll looks great, but if it ends two counts after the lead expected, he gets frustrated. While a few exceptional female instructors lead well enough to fix the partner connection, most don’t lead enough to fine-tune an above average follow. (Conversely, most male instructors don't follow 20 songs per night either.)

A quality male instructor who has danced with a thousand women can help you fine-tune your follow in ways most female instructors don’t even notice. Again, they will probably not be the ideal source of your sexiest moves, but since salsa is a partner dance, having the sexiest moves with little connection is far from ideal.

Instructors who primarily lead can coach ladies through more complicated combinations in slow motion, tuning the placement, connection and feel along the way.

For the Guys
An excellent female instructor can dramatically improve your leading skills. She will let you know if you are pulling an arm too soon during the hammerlock unwind, making your partner uncomfortable, or you are spinning someone before her prep is complete. Female instructors tend to focus on how your lead feels for the lady, as opposed to teaching you the latest move of the week.

Females open a guy’s eyes to issues not raised by the vast majority of male instructors. They can dramatically improve the above-average lead, especially because those guys get little but positive feedback. As you grow, few partners will tell them the areas that are uncomfortable, because the rest of their lead or dancing is better than most, so why should they deliver any bad news. Most guys would simply shoot the messenger and not dance with them again.

When looking for your three primary mentors, don’t exclude someone of the other sex. They can often make a huge difference in your dancing, primarily by fine-tuning your partner work. Their perspective provides a big win for you, especially if you can humble yourself to take their advice.
Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.
-Will Rogers
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  1. Such an interesting post.

    I generally try to take privates from a gentleman, because only a lead can tell me if that styling thing I do that I might think is cute is in danger of hitting him in the eye.


  2. I normally take a lesson from a female instructor and it's helped my lead tremendously. She's one that can both lead and follow so she can point out what I'm doing.


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Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero