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J M (Mike) Nelson
Phone: 612-810-0157

Worst Group Dance Lesson
(How Not to Teach Anything)

The following is a personal account of the worst dance lesson I have ever experienced. I also learned that this is the way this person teaches. Worse, I learned that he had an eager following who tolerated his teaching style because of his knowledge and otherwise jovial personality. It didn’t seem jovial to those unacquainted.

I have a relative in a major US industrial city, and I visit occasionally. I try to schedule my visits to coincide with the monthly USADance event. Thus, I was casually acquainted with several of the dancers. This evening, the lesson was Argentine Tango, and the teacher was a highly respected imigrant who performed and taught Argentine Tango.

We gathered in a circle for the lesson, and he asked if anyone had studied Argentine Tango. A few raised their hand, but most did not. Later I would learn why. Of the few who raised their hand, he selected one of the women and invited her to the center of the circle. I knew her casually from previous trips. She was Hispanic, and the best partner one could imagine for Latin dances; her American Smooth was also enjoyable. My tango is modest, but she had always seemed pleased to dance with me. We had never discussed Argentine Tango.

He then invited someone to dance with her. No one volunteered. He insisted. After several minutes, it became clear that he had no intention of continuing until someone agreed to dance with her. So, there she stood, the focus of attention, and no partner forthcoming. I was not comfortable; I do not like to see people put in such a position, and I wanted to get on with the lesson. I had studied Argentine Tango a bit, and, though not comfortable with the dance, knew perhaps a dozen or so syllabus figures. After almost 10 minutes of waiting, I volunteered. She had difficulty following me, but we survived a minute or two of attempting a few simple figures.

The class applauded, he seemed gracious, and I was relieved that the lesson might now continue. It did, but not as I would have ever expected. He proceeded to use us as examples of how NOT to do things and as a vehicle for his pointing out the correct way. The choice was either to accept the situation or leave. I decided that I really had nothing to lose, so I suppressed my opinions and endured the reminader of the hour.

I later learned that there had been several of his students in the class, and that they simply took his method in stride. Each had often been singled out to demonstrate how NOT to do something, stopped at a point of error, shown how to do it, and the remainder of the class was expected to stand and watch, theoretically learning from his working with the errant couple until they were able to perform to his satisfaction. Sometimes that would take a while.

Fortunately, he was only there to teach the basic, 8-step pattern, but he managed to find numerous faults to discuss throughout. We learned a little; I doubt that the group learned very much from watching our being admonished and corrected. Several people expressed their sympathy.

I have encountered some substandard teachers over the years, and perhaps some of my former students might consider my teaching substandard. However, this is the only time that I have experienced a respected teacher demonstrating essentially all the things that beginning teachers are taught not to do.


Worst Private Lesson

I was invited by a friend to share a private lesson for an International Standard Waltz. Unfamiliar with International style, but curious, I agreed. Though I learned a little about the dance form, I consider the time and money essentially wasted; for the cost, I can acquire better content, precisely organized, and clearly explained in great detail froma Dance Vision DVD.

The following are some reasons why I would never return to THAT studio or take another lesson from THAT teacher.

Most business owners are welcoming, friendly, and proactive, especially with a new client. In this case, when I entered the studio, the owner was rude, confrontational, and unhelpful, seemingly uncaring about who I was or why I was there. Upon being told, the owner simply pointed toward an instructor at the other end of the room and said, "oh, he's over there."

The teacher was friendly, but the verbalization disjointed, seemingly unable to explain the terminology, the scope and sequence, the rationale for scope and sequence, or articulate specifics regarding the content.

The lesson content was fragmented and the sequence unclear.

We were admonished for "rushing" when we were following the count precisely. No explanation was given as to why we were NOT to follow the count precisely, and the count, provided by the instructor because the music on the sound system was a distinct contrast to our lesson style, was often uneven, clearly a major contrast to the music associated with the style in question and certainly difficult to follow. Worse, it was unclear whether we were expected to maintain a constant rhythm or follow the uneven count being verbalized. In particular, the terms "slow" and "quick" were often verbalized inconsistently and in clear disregard to their expected meaning.

It was not clear as to how long the lesson would be, but it seemed to be approximately one hour.

Occasionally we were told to "practice," which we did, and the teacher sometimes watched, but sometimes left on our own for a few minutes.

Much of the lesson was implemented by physical force rather than via articulated, detailed, precise explanations, though detailed, precise execution seemed expected.

Sequences expected were rarely articulated clearly, but often the expectation was rigid.

The burden of learning was on the student, who had to ascertain by trial and error what the teacher intended.

For the first 50 minutes of the 55 or 60 minute lesson, the music was a distracting, fast Latin, and our lesson was a slow waltz.

When we were finally provided music associated with the lesson, we were still admonished for our cadence, even thought we were precisely on the beat. (I have been a musician for over 50 years, and I have played in many different bands. I know when I am on the beat, and I am known for being precisely on the beat as a dancer. We were precisely on the beat, and no explanation was forthcoming as to why were not supposed to be following the music.)

On one occasion, while OUR music was playing, the teacher abandoned us with the admonition to "practice." When the song ended, I expected the next to be in our style. It was not. When I requested adjustment, the owner confronted me about an extra charge for floor time; unknown to me, the lesson had ended. The owner also indicated that the music was for the lesson in progress, a courtesy not afforded us. Thus, we had to tolerate distracting, incompatible music throughout the lesson, but the next student, now being taught by our instructor, had music compatible with their lesson. Evidently the previous admonition to "practice" was a dismissal, and, from the owner's perspective, an invitation to incur additional charges for floor time.

The cost of the lesson was deceitful; the price quoted did not include the 30% surcharge for "floor time." Furthermore, our last admonition to "practice" was actually a final dismissal, not clearly articulated and certainly not understood by us, and, because we had continued to dance, the owner attempted to charge for an additional hour of floor time. At that point, the instructor was now in another lesson, we had not yet paid, and it had not been made clear whether to pay the owner or the instructor. Thus, with the threat of additional charges simply for not leaving, I interrupted the lesson, paid the instructor, and left as quickly as I could, never to return. Dance Home Page Dance Curriculum Dance Articles

Copyright (c) 2006, J. M. Nelson. All rights reserved. Reproduction of contents prohibited without prior permission from the author.