private dance lessons

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Getting the Most out of Private Dance Lessons
By Phil Seyer

Note: for private dance lessons in San Francisco, the East Bay, Sacramento, or Roseville areas call Phil at 925-888-4392 or 916-772-7555

The best way to learn to dance in a hurry is with private dance lessons. Group lessons are less expensive, but it can take a long time to learn to dance well with group lessons. In fact, some people NEVER learn to dance well with group lessons even after years and years. Why? Because they have no clear feedback. They learn steps and patterns and have a lot of fun, but they don’t improve details like their posture, technique, and musical timing.

If you decide to take private lessons, it’s important to take them serious and make the most of them. Afterall, you are paying a premium to take these lessons. Here are some things you can do to get the most out of your private dance lessons.

1. Take notes. Sometimes it is not practical to take notes during a lesson because the teacher is throwing so much at you. But you should be in control; you are paying for the lessons. The teacher is your private contractor. You can always say, “One moment. Let me write that down,” and whip out your iPad or notebook.

(These days I prefer an iPad for note taking because I never need a pen or pencil and I don’t have a problem with the pen failing to write. Sometimes I like to hand-write with my finger and sometimes I like to type my notes. Another advantage of the iPad is that I can click a button and email the notes to my Gmail account. This way I never lose them and can find them easily with a Google search within my email account.)

When learning a new dance pattern or “step” always ask the teacher for the name of the step. Some instructors don’t have names for the patterns or steps they just teach them. If so, make up a name yourself. The name doesn’t have to make perfect sense, but it should be easy to remember. For example, one of my favorite steps is “Kentucky” -- it’s a complicated arm-work pattern first developed for salsa, but which works in almost any other dance. The pattern has nothing to do with Kentucky, but the name helps me communicate to students and it helps me to remember the steps because they have been ‘chunked” or grouped under a specific name.

During the lesson, you might just jot down the name of each step because you may not have time to do much more than that. After the lesson is over, find some time to go over your notes and expand them. Or if you prefer not to take any notes during the lesson, the best time to write them out is right after the lesson while the steps are fresh in your mind.

Don’t be one of those students who comes to his or her private dance lesson having forgotten everything learned the week before! By the way, some teachers will take notes for you and actually email them to you for your review. This is something I do for students when they opt-in for this service as part of their dance lessons.

2. Watch instructional dance videos. It’s hard to learn from instructional videos alone, but they can be a great help when combined with group or private dance lessons. As part of my private dance lesson service, I offer custom instructional videos. I take a video of the students while they are dancing (once they have mastered the basics of the move) and then email the video to them immediately after the dance lesson. You may want to purchase a video to help you learn. But be careful. The quality varies a lot and the style being taught in commercial instructional dance videos may not be compatible with what you are learning from your local instructor.

For example, if you are learning social ballroom dance and you buy an instructional video, it may be teaching you what is sometimes called “International Style” -- although this style is very beautiful -- it is an entire difference approach to ballroom dancing and won’t help you learn American style social ballroom dancing. So check with your instructor before buying a commerical dance instruction video. When using videos to learn from, you can use these ideas to maximize your learning time:

  • Give a name to each step (same tip as given earlier).
  • Put the video into slow motion.
  • Rewind and watch again and again until you get it.
  • Put the video onto a portable viewing device.

You can put your video onto iPad or your phone so you can watch it while you are in a coffee shop, standing in line or waiting for a friend. Small headphones are handy so you don’t disturb others. Tools like jing from TechSmith enable you to capture videos that appear on your screen. It may be a technical challenge to get the video onto your phone, but this is becoming easier and easier to do. I’ll explain more about how to do this in a future article.

3. Practice inbetween your dance lessons. If you have a partner, when you feel ready, go out with your partner and practice the steps you are learning. Bring along a notebook and check off each step when you arach step will make this easier.

4. Visualize. Before you fall asleep visualize your self doing the steps you have learned. Mental rehearsal like this can be extremely beneficial. Who knows, you might even have a nice dance dream.

5. Rise Up! When you are waiting for an elevator, a stoplight or in line at the bank or grocery story, slyly and subtly (so nobody can notice it) rise up on the balls of your feet. Hold the position as long as you can. This will develop balance and control that will serve you well in dancing!.

Thanks for your interest in

Getting the Most out of Private Dance Lessons