Friendliness of the instructor, its a phrase that comes up constantly when people talk about why they liked a certain instructor or even hired a certain instructor. I am myself am guilty of that. As an organizer for a college club, after the quality of teaching abilities, usually one of the big factor of why I hire instructors is if they are good fit for my demographic a.k.a. college students.

However personally when it comes to instruction for myself, I could care less how friendly an instructor is. Maybe it is because of my grandfather raised me on too many kung fu movies where a good portion of the instructors believed in hard-work, fundamentals and the school of hard knocks.

Jackie Chan practicing Horse Stance.

There is a topic on yehoodi “Meanest things a dance instructor has ever said” that the topic of how mean or nice an instructor should be comes up.  Two quotes in this yehoodi topic from Damon Stone really stand out to me, the first one is.

“I’d rather someone be direct and even mean and brutal to drive home the point. I hate being coddled. I’m an adult, if I can’t take your honest opinion I don’t deserve to have you as a teacher and probably shouldn’t be taking lessons.”

I was actually talking to my roommate who teaches violin this past weekend and seeing the overlap in musical and dance instruction. He went into anecdote about when he used to take lessons in his younger years, from an instructor who had him play what he was instructed to practice the previous week at the beginning of each lesson. If he didn’t perform up to his instructor’s standards, his instructor would tell him to get the hell out and stop wasting his time.

I chuckled and responded if I I did that in any of my classes, I would probably get the reputation as the worst swing dance instructor on the East coast. His response to that statement struck a note with me though. He commented that; the weeks he earned his teachers ire, he worked harder then ever to improve.

The second quote by Damon that stuck out to me was,

“I’m not sure I’ll ever quite get why intermediate dancers and above are sensitive about their dancing. I mean beginners are just that they want to learn enough to get out on the floor and have fun. By the time you are intermediate you should know everything you need to do that.

If you are taking lessons after that point I’d assume it is because you really want to improve, you want to be a kick-ass dancer. I can’t imagine going into a jazz or ballet, or contemporary, hell even Hip-Hop class and expect the teacher to be all sunshine and rainbows.”

Now, I think the issue at hand is differing opinions. I have had friends in my international dance performance troupe with backgrounds in ballet, jazz, and et cetera go into horror stories about how strict and demanding their instructors were that would send most people I know reeling.

But those are all instructors who see the material they are teaching as a serious art form and if you use their time, they demand respect for their experience and the material they are teaching. However, I would say for the most part not out of disrespect but being truthful, that the swing dance community as a whole are hobbyists.

In result it is often difficult to offer a class with the same serious framework like ballet or music without potentially touching some nerves or hurting feelings. Even often when I hear people talking about other dancers within the community, its usually a long list of their strengths and they are loathe to point out weaknesses.

Personally, I want someone to tell me my dancing is garbage. I want someone to point out my weaknesses and criticize me harshly about them. For me, its not the words of encouragement but these harsh criticisms that drive me more then anything to work harder on my dancing. I want knowledge, not a self-esteem boost.

Slightly Related Clip (For those of you just using my blog to procrastinate):

At 7:30 is the type of instructor I would want..

2 thoughts on “School of Hard Knocks

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