Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Classes vs. Privates - Part 3

I wrote about this subject last year but I want to revisit it again. See the previous article links at the bottom of this article.

I’m often asked if private lessons are better than group classes, especially since classes are much cheaper in terms of one-hour costs.

My answer is always take both if you can handle it. In classes instructor simply can’t focus on your specific issues, so they make generic suggestions and hope you fix yourself based on what you’re seeing and feeling. Of course, you can make huge improvements in a group class, but it’s easy to miss something that is obvious to great instructors. Here’s something that happened to me personally.

I’ve been taking a one-hour class from an amazing hip-hop dancer/instructor named Sho-Tyme once or twice a week, for a few months. (View video below to see him having fun.) Earlier this week I took a one-hour private lesson, and within the first 10 minutes he showed me a posture/head isolation exercise to correct something I was missing. When I get it right, it’s amazing how much better I look and feel.

He also gave me enough material for a couple months of practice. I already see a positive difference, although the real payoff will be down the road as I practice and grow into the concepts we practiced in private.

Sho-Tyme Having Fun

Unfortunately, I’ve been practicing some moves slightly wrong since the beginning of his classes, and now I’m starting the process of “unlearning” them and getting the right feel. I need some intense practice time to internalize the details and make it a part of my dancing. Intellectually I “get it”, but undoing my previous practice makes it more of a challenge that it should be.

In other words, in class, I thought it was right and getting better each week, but I missed something rather basic. Instead I was reinforcing an ugly habit every class, not to mention my own out of class practice time.

I was making positive progress in many areas. But because something foundational was weak, more class practice was also making some things worse and I was unaware of the issues.

In my case, I actually thought I was doing things right, but there is a specific motion I totally missed. In my head I was getting it better each week, but in hindsight I see it’s a case of “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

I suspect I eventually would have figured it out, but I hate to think of the work to unlearn/relearn if I continued to practice incorrectly for another three to six months or more. It's so easy to miss something that should be a part of your dancing, especially when you are working hard to improve.

If you’re taking a class from a great instructor, take some private lessons with them and ask them what they would suggest to upgrade your look and feel. Ask them to focus on foundational issues, rather than the cool move of the week. Those you can pick up in class if your foundation is strong. A few lessons can make a world of difference, because they are exclusively focused on your strengths and weaknesses.

It’s obvious to me I would have benefited from taking the lesson sooner, because then I’d be reinforcing the right moves practicing in class and on my own.

Once you find an instructor you like, I’d recommend you take some private lessons as soon as you can swing it. It makes a huge difference by giving you insights, concepts and details that often take months or more in a group class.

Even though I’ve known this concept for many years, it’s still humbling to see it in action myself. Hopefully you’ll avoid my mistake.

Previous articles on this topic:Classes vs. Privates – Part 1
Classes vs. Privates – Part 2

For a list of all the ways technology has failed to improve the quality of life,
please press three.
--Alice Kahn


  1. Are the teachers the best examples of how to learn, and the ways of improving on how we learn?

    - I was wondering for example, how a hip-hop dancer/instructor like Sho-Tyme practises - and what his incentives and demands are. At a guess, i'd imagine that for some dance styles there is a lot more pride at stake - they don't call them hip hop battles for nothing! Is there a "salsa off"? I know of Jack and Jill events - is the nearest that happens in terms of a friendly tussle, doing a few bars, then seeing what others can do, or redo of yours?

    It would be interesting also to note how your instructor noted what you were missing, and maybe his thinking in terms of applying exercises specific for the problem.

    Would you yourself have been able to identify it, if you'd seen video of yourself learning to dance?

    With the era of video on mobile phones rapidly coming to the stage that you can actually make out what they record, I would imagine a system of review through recording might be useful. I guess it's less of a useful tool for groups, than individuals, at least in going back to it within a lesson due to time constraints - but I know in other sports it's used - e.g. Carve gybe clinics for windsurfing, etc.

    How did you learn that you'd been practicing some moves slightly wrong since the beginning of his classes?

    It seems that awareness of these issues is one of the first steps - going back to the conscious of being in a simplified stage by stage view:
    unconsciously making mistakes
    conscious of making mistakes
    conscious of doing it better
    conscious of doing it correctly pretty much
    unconsciously just doing it pretty much correctly)

    In your example, you "actually thought I was doing things right" but weren't - the feedback not being there. I'd imagine you could see that a lot with beginners - does the skill of doing it, but sensing something is not quite right come later?

    I'd imagine the advice of asking for help in terms of look and feel are always useful - a lot of people haven't seen themselves dance really, beyond furtive/not so furtive glances at a dance lesson/club's mirrors! The temptation to go for the cool move over the foundations I imagine is large for a lot of people.

  2. Tom,

    Lots of great comments and questions. I'll write a follow-up article with the details as soon as practical.

    As always, I appreciate the comments! (If others have questions/comments, please add them so I can includes those answers in the next article.)

  3. Hello, Don, I take private lessons every two weeks and group lessons every week. My improvement started dramatically just after I started to take the private lessons. Yes, the instructor sometimes just does not have time to fix individuals problems in details (or some students just don't fix the problem even the instructor tells them ).
    And I do spend lots of time practice after private lessons..The instructor gives me foundation body-movement homework which does not need partners to practice with.
    (for a follow, it is a bit impossible to practice new combination at home after group class.)

    What an interesting journey in this dance game....I am proud of being an adult leaner :>


I love feedback. Your thoughts, feelings and comments are appreciated. Civil disagreements and other points of view are always welcomed!

Feel free to send me private mail if appropriate.

Don Baarns - Unlikely Salsero