Topical Series #3: I’m A Free Agent

Ooohhh, I’m a bit nervous writing this post, but I think it is a very important subject that is not often talked about. It kind of relates to my previous post about when learning to dance that you make sure you find an instructor that can teach in a way that you can understand and process. And if it’s not working out, to feel free to move on to a different instructor who can suit your needs. Sometimes that can be a little tricky. One of those situations where it is easier said, than done.

The topic I’m talking about is whether or not as a dance student we are free agents, at liberty to dance with whichever instructor we desire and the sometimes-weird possessiveness that the instructor or studio may exhibit for his/her/its students.

When it all boils down, I personally believe that I am the customer, I am the one paying to learn, and I should be able to go wherever I want to do that.

However, it actually isn’t as black and white as that. It isn’t as easy to navigate as one might think.

Hopefully you can avoid some of the difficulties I’ll mention by doing “dancer-views” before settling on a particular instructor. I plan to write a post later on about how to go about the process of finding and selecting an instructor, so I’ll leave that for another time. However, even if you do your due diligence, it may not always be possible to stay with your current instructor indefinitely. Life happens. I’m with my third instructor, and in both previous cases, there were life events that pushed that change along.

But for now (and for what I hope is a long, long time to come) as you know from the blog, my primary instructor is Ivan, who is an independent dance instructor. He is my #1. Any place I go to take group classes or whatever (unless it is just social dancing or I’m not there enough for it to matter and it’s none of their business) is aware of my instructor. Conversely, Ivan is aware that I take group classes at Inna’s studio, and I often inform him if I go social dancing as well, out of courtesy.

With Ivan, he has made it clear that if I want to dance with other instructors for ballroom, then I need to not dance with him. Coaching would be a different situation, or a lesson with Marietta or Nona as a one time deal for styling or something would be fine too, and he’d know about it.

But if I want to learn something that he doesn’t have expertise in, like West Coast Swing, or Argentine Tango, then I just have to tell him my desire and he’d be cool with that. That is the arrangement we have set up. But the point is, we had a conversation about it. At no point did I go behind his back and do things. I wouldn’t want to risk losing him as an instructor. We have this agreement set up and I respect it.

Somehow, however, I’ve managed to be dancing at like three different places (sometimes more), but this is not, from what I’ve heard, the “norm” when it comes to ballroom dancing. And if you are going to go that road, it is extremely, extremely important to be respectful of the professionals at each location, as well as their students, and the relationships between them. It is extremely, extremely important to be upfront and clear on what relationship you have to each place you dance. Otherwise, things can get very messy, very quickly!

From my past personal experience, and from that of others who have shared with me, some teachers and studios can become almost possessive of their students. I can even understand it, to a point. They want to protect their business and that only makes sense. However, I feel like it comes from a scarcity mindset – the idea that the instructor or studio has to keep the student away from any other dance influences for fear that the new or different dance instructor or class may “steal” the student away is focused on a fear of losing something. From my perspective, it isn’t possible to steal a student. If you are providing the value a student is looking for, they won’t go anywhere, no matter how many “other” group classes they take, or instructors they are exposed to. This would be an abundant mindset.

If a student leaves, that is some feedback for you. Dare to ask the questions about why the person left and work to amend the area of weakness. Sadly, many professionals and studios don’t see it that way. They see it as a cut-throat business and rivalries with bad-blood can exist, especially if a student is particularly bad about “studio-hopping.” (You have to know that some people just cannot be pleased, no matter what!)

But the fact is, some of the studios just don’t offer everything a person might be looking for. Not everyone offers Lindy Hop, or ballet. If I can’t get those at my primary studio, and I want them, I should be at liberty to go elsewhere to find them. My primary studio can always take that as feedback and grow such areas if they so desire. But to prevent me, threaten me, or guilt me into not doing more dancing if I have that desire, I feel is poor behavior. To allow myself to let any threat, or guilt deter me from what I really want is not okay either.

However, there is really something to be said for sticking with one instructor or studio when its good for you, even if it is tough. Sometimes there are issues to work through, even if you adore your instructor. I’ve had a lesson or two with Ivan where we had to get clear on a few things and it wasn’t necessarily comfortable. But I’d choose being uncomfortable and having open, honest communication, than to lose a fab instructor any day of the week. That is just me.

Again, as mentioned in a previous post, there isn’t necessarily one “right” way, the be-all and end-all way of dancing. That means that each instructor you learn from will give you some similar information, and some very different information than others. This can be very confusing and muddle the clarity of your dancing. A person has to be careful of not always thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. It might be very green right where you are. Sticking it out with your instructor may be the best choice you ever make. Also, if you do decide to receive instruction from multiple sources, be aware that you may need to filter some of the information and make sure that you apply those things that will best serve you while leaving the rest behind. This will take discernment on your part.

If the time does come when you feel the need to change instructors, I’d encourage you to do it in as clean, clear, and honest manner as possible. Although some people just stop taking lessons, not only can this strain your relationship with the instructor and the studio, but it steals the opportunity for the instructor or studio to respond to your issue, and even if the issue can’t be amended, it robs them of the feedback you could provide so they don’t recreate the same pitfall with another student.

So, to answer the primary question of this post, am I a free agent? Yes…and no. Yes, because I take classes at a variety of places that I feel will enhance and enrich my dancing. But no, because I am very clear that Ivan is my primary ballroom instructor and I’m not going anywhere else for that. I mean, the entire relationship is built on trust. You can’t have trust if you are not engaging in open, honest communication or going behind someone’s back. I guarantee it will show up in your dancing.

What about you? Do you only dance with one instructor at one location? Why? How does that work for you? Or do you dance a lot of places? What positive or negative experiences can you share around that? What advice would you give someone who was considering dancing more than one place or changing instructors? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

-Stef

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