The stronger teachers realize that they never stop learning themselves. It's helpful if they occasionally study new dances (or other subjects) where they are beginners again, because that refreshes their perspective on starting closer to the bottom of the learning curve. It's especially good when they are taking classes in subjects not already part of their core strengths, or dances with a totally different style. (Think ballet instructor taking a hip-hop class, or a hip-hop instructor taking tango.)
I observed this a few weeks ago, when I decided to take a few back-to-back classes. As I settled into my first class I glanced across the room and saw the instructor for my third class that day, working as hard as the rest of us. She was both a student and an instructor in the same day, in two very different styles. The instructor for the first class had taken a challenging ballet class the week before. Both instructors were working to sharpen their skills and grow themselves.
I've taken classes from both of them and I understand why they are so good. They learn from the other great instructors and students, and they adopt the best practices they find in other classes. Neither instructor "needed" to take the additional classes; they’re already well known for excellence in their specialties. These two are not unique.
It makes sense to me. Just because they teach doesn't mean they know everything, or that they can't learn something from other great teachers. I see this all the time among better instructors.
Entering the student role also provides new perspectives because each instructor approaches dance differently, even when teaching the same type of class.
When you're seeking out better instructors, find out if they still venture into the student role occasionally. It provides you insights into their experiences, and you'll be amazed how many of the best instructors are also students and/or they have studied with lots of instructors along the way.
Let me know about your favorite instructors, and see if they are also out there taking some classes occasionally.
About the video: The video above is me putting my money where my mouth is. I'm in the back row - left side (where I tend to live during routines, working my way to the front.)
I started jazz classes after age 47, with maybe a year or two of salsa (my first dance.) I was an out of shape middle aged guy, starting with no previous dance formal dance experience. I could see many of the best dancers had a traditional dance background and it fit with my music experience (learn foundational concepts, making every other dance stronger.)
Hopefully it inspires some others. It's part of my longer term dance plan and part of my "get out of my comfort zone" and "be a student starting at the bottom" concept, even though I had extensive teaching experience in other areas.
No excuses; In this clip I have recently (within a few weeks) decided to challenge myself and dance in socks (I wore shoes for routines since my beginning.) I see the best dancers can do it, I'm working on it here, challenging myself to be more precise in my footwork. Some direction changes/turns are a major challenge.
How Many Instructors: Part 1
How Many Instructors: Part 2 (Same Sex?)
Cross-Training Other Dances
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This article was originally published in Nov 2008. It's had some minor revisions and it's still something I see regularly among the best instructors.