Unless you learnt to dance under a rock in your parents’ basement, you’re bound to encounter international dance teachers. You’ll even probably have a pretty solid opinion of them before you actually have any kind of interaction with them whatsoever – whether by their dancing, general attitude, or by what your friends told you of the time he briefly spoke with one of them, at some point, during a late night dance in Philadelphia.
You’ll hear them being referred to by a lot of monickers: any name with either the prefix or the suffix “-star” is fairly popular, and not completely retarded or grossly exagerated at all.
We hear a lot of misconceptions about international dance teachers: here are five hard truths that, for some obscure reason, elude most people.
5- They don’t belong to you
That goes for a particular genus of students, the Clingingus Leechus. Some people entertain the peculiar notion that, because they paid to be at an event, the teachers should devote their entire time and attention to them.
But it also goes for organizers. Some are under the impression that, because they lavished upon the instructors the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to teach at their sublime event, they own every minute of the teachers’ time for the duration of said event.
There is a specific scientific term to describe this approach: Fucked. Up.
Here’s a little tip: some teachers are more than happy to spend time with organizers during the weekend – don’t feel like an asshole for organizing a dinner with them at some point. Realize however that it might be a bad idea to cram it on Saturday night, right between classes at 6pm and a show rehearsal at 7pm.
Most teachers will just perform a lot better if they have a little bit of free time during the event – and that’s all in your interest as an organizer. While it’s understandable that you want to optimize your investment, there’s a very real danger that you’ll burn them up, transforming them into useless slobs come Sunday morning.
You’re way better off giving the teachers at least 2-3 hours of free time after class, which will insure that they’re pumped up to dance and socialize by evening. And obviously, if they’re holding auditions at 8 in the goddamned morning, they’re not going to go to the post-late night party even if you assure them it’s going to be the amaze-sauce.
In other words, if you don’t give them that free time, they’ll take it out of something else, most likely the social dances. Maybe you’re working super hard and not sleeping for three days during your event, but these guys are working the same type of events every other weekend. You can’t just expect them to put up with your crazy schedule.
4- They will socialize with people of their choosing
This is one that’s oddly hard to understand for some people, but let me put it this way: let’s say your day job is to sell dildos. Not judging: everyone needs paperweights.
That’s… That’s what they’re for, right? Because that’s what my grandmother told me.
Now let’s say your boss insists that you spend your lunch hour every day with dildo buyers, demand that you bring those informed customers home with you for dinner, take them to the movies… Not just the distinguished dildo buyers who buy dildos by the case either: just ALL the dildo buyers. And all they talk about is dildos, all the time. Their size. Their texture. Their stretch. How their favorite dildo didn’t place at the dildo competition you were judging.
Does it sound like a hassle? Can you imagine being pressurized into socializing, day in and day out, with random people just because they happen to like your product?
Of course you can’t.
That’s because, according to anthropologist Robin Dunbar, as primates we only have a limited number of fucks to give about others. Around 150 to be exact. Biologically, we can’t relate and be genuinely empathic with everyone but those 150 people in our monkeysphere, which explains why, in small villages, you’re on a first name basis with your postman, whereas in cities you’re lucky if you actually get a passing look at your neighbor.
Teachers meet thousands of students a year, so don’t be so quick to judge if they can’t remember your name from a conversation you had two years ago at Beantown. Conversely, don’t belittle them for hanging out with other teachers: a lot of them are away from home a lot, and other teachers’s faces are literally the only familiar thing in a string of random cities and workshops.
Not only that, but these are mostly the people they can relate to: people with whom they share common experiences; people who can understand what they’re going through; people who know all about the things in this article.
3- They’re doing a job
Don’t get me wrong: it’s a GREAT fucking job. You get to travel, meet people, spread the joy of dancing, see your students progress…
There’s nothing quite like living your passion to the fullest.
But it’s still a job. Not a hobby.
Most professional teachers spend a crazy amount of time crafting their classes, listening to music, honing their teaching skills, putting together dance routines, working on their technique… Remember, they had to quit a day job at some point – unless they were lucky enough to do that from the start. But the point is, it’s a very scary thing to do, and job security is almost non-existent, as well as any of the benefits (dental, medical) you take for granted at other places of employment.
There’s also a lot of things that have nothing to do with the actual dancing, but you have to do anyway: booking flights, crafting contracts, looking for gigs and, you know, actually spending the time to get from one place to another. A teacher working half of the weekends in the year (which is pretty conservative), with an average travel time of 10 hours per weekend (which is also pretty conservative, considering that even a direct flight from New York to Europe is usually, all told, 8 hours) will have travelled more than 250 hours in a year.
So in order to teach 8 hours in a weekend, it’s really not uncommon for a teacher to travel for double that amount of time.
Part of their job is also to tell you things you don’t want to hear. When your swingout needs work, or when there’s a real possibility you’re going to injure your partners. How would you feel if you’d hire a consultant for your company and, after a week of hanging around your office, drinking your shitty coffee, he would say that nothing’s wrong, and advise you to just keep going that way?
Despite all this, a lot of students are not looking to advance further: they’re just looking for validation of what they’re already doing, or confirmation of whatever other teacher told them.
As we touched upon in a previous article, the phenomenon of confirmation bias is a plague upon our brains. In a famous experiment, Peter Wason discovered that the subjects, when given a sequence of numbers and asked to create other sequences according to the same rule, would only create sequences that prove their hypothesis correct, instead of trying to test out sequences that would actually disprove their theory. In other words, they didn’t want to face the possibility that what they believed might be wrong… Which explains a lot of the fanboy rage out there.
It also explains why some students are so resistant to notions that might contradict what they already heard from another source – spectacularly missing the point that dancing is also an art form and there are several “right” ways to move your body and interact with your partner. Finding the right one for YOU is the ultimate challenge.
The organizers flew teachers halfway around the world because they thought they would help you: the least you can do is to let them do their goddamn job, and welcome the opportunity.
2- They probably didn’t notice you in that audition/competition/class
The hardest question an international teacher can be asked is “what did you think about my competition/audition/dancing?”
Assuming that there’s sometimes up to 100 people in auditions, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a teacher who took a look at every single person: most of them will have noticed the top and bottom dancers, and have gone from there in their selection. In other words, sometimes it’s a GOOD sign that they didn’t see you: you don’t want to be that dude who stood out so much that all the teachers froze in place, terrified, as their petrified gaze helplessly caught you attempting a sad excuse of a swingout that looked more like Joe Dirt clumsily trying to mop up a vomit residue in a cold Detroit high school hallway than any actual dance move known to mankind.
So don’t take it personally if they don’t have an exhaustive list of things to work on for each and every student or competitor.
Even if they DID notice you, the best they’ll come up with 95% of the time is: “Well, there simply were better dancers out there.” If you’re really lucky, they might tell you one thing that they thought was lacking in general: your rhythm, your bounce, your posture… But don’t expect a full-on lecture that’s going to transform your dancing.
Other students will take a slightly less stealthy approach and ask teachers for feedback immediately after dancing a social song with them.
While in theory this looks like a sound plan, most teachers on the social floor are focusing on having fun and making their partner have fun as well. By asking this question, you’re putting them in the position where, by giving you answers, they’re more or less admitting that all they do when dancing is analyze their partner’s shortcomings… Do you really want to feel scrutinized by every teacher you dance with?
You’re still desperately yearning for that personalized feedback? The best thing to do is to take a private lesson.
Wait, that’s not free?
1- They have shortcomings too
Here’s a mind-blower for ya.
Teachers are people.
We tend to forget this because we see them out there, being awesome, backflipping on stage, teaching complicated patterns, and being awesome just a little more for good form.
We see them in what has become their natural habitat: a place where they’re in control and confident, where they’re appreciated by their peers, and in some cases admired and adulated.
There’s a reason why people use the term “rockstar dancers”, even though I personally hate that ridiculous phrasing and the negative connotations it brings up. But, just like actual stars, high-profile dancers and teachers have an enormous pressure to always present their best side, always be welcoming and inclusive, always be there when we feel we need them.
But they also have insecurities, frustrations, aspirations, moments where they’re down… Just like you. Just like anyone else. They feel joy, anger, love; they have friends, acquaintances, family. “My parents were murdered in front of me so I became an international dance teacher” is a sentence that was never uttered as far as I know.
In other words, teachers don’t exclusively exist for your benefit.
In any given case, an extremely small percentage of their life relates to you personally. I’m pretty confident when I say that no teacher in the history of ever has gone out for a night of dancing and said to themselves: “AH! I’m so bored. Tonight I’m going to go out and piss off as many people as I can.” If you feel a teacher is ignoring you, maybe they just didn’t feel very social that night ( bonus fact: a lot of teachers are actually pretty shy and reserved people); maybe they taught 7 hours and practiced for another two, and were a little tired for that 250 BPM song; maybe their chihuahua is ill and they’re feeling a little distracted.
We tend to assume the worst of people. If the cashier at Costco overcharges you, it’s not because she was a little distracted: it’s because she’s an asshole who’s trying to make some extra cash, or a blubbering idiot who can’t count to ten. That guy who cut you in traffic did it for the sole purpose of pissing you off and is the worst human being to have ever lived. That advanced dancer who refused a dance hates your fucking guts and thinks you’re a piece of shit.
Not everything is about you, you egocentric maniac. Sometimes, people have bad days and maybe they’re going to have a different attitude: it doesn’t say anything about you as a person. I really long for the days where we won’t have to hear bullshit like: “This guy didn’t want to dance with me. What a fartfucking prickmaster!”
No one “owes” you to dance with them. That’s very far from the spirit of it.
So here’s the most important tip of all: be nice. No, be better than nice: be good. Be understanding. Don’t talk shit when you don’t know anything about the situation. Hell, even if you DO know – talking shit is vastly overrated and usually tells more about the one talking the shit than anything else.
Be the better person: you might be surprised at all the great things that will come back your way.
When not talking shit about people who talk shit, Zack can be found pretty much minding his own business at Swing ConneXion.
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