Teaching vs. Coaching Dance

I recently had a friend ask me to write a blog post about the difference between teaching dance vs. coaching dance. I’ve been thinking about it over the past couple weeks and I actually think are 3 phases of being a dance teacher. The teacher, the mentor and finally the coach. Here are my thoughts…

Teaching

Being a dance teacher is difficult. You need to be a proficient dancer in your own role as a leader or follower but you then need to understand the other role as well. Leaders have to learn the steps of the followers and the followers have to understand the steps of the leaders. This obviously a huge step towards become a dance teacher but its still just a baby step toward become a mentor or coach.

As a beginner teacher your relationship to your students tends to be a very transactional one. The student pays money and the teacher teaches what they know. The teacher is simply working out of a the small knowledge pool that they possess with very little experience in communicating that information. It tends to be a very structured process because the teacher is simply regurgitating what they know. The students will ask questions and the teachers will answer them based on their own limited knowledge. If a teacher is to grow out of this stage its important to understand that they don’t have all the answers. This is the most basic level of teaching dance. The teacher is simply now a student of the learning process itself.

 

Mentoring

I think beginning dance teachers should strive to be monitors as quickly as possible. Here is why. As a mentor you will be forced deeper into your relationship with your students. You may not always have the answers so you will need to seek advice from your own coaches and begin to open your mind. Not all students will process information as you did. Often times only a small percentage of students will understand things as you did. You will need to find alternate ways of communicating and organizing the information so that you may taylor it to your particular students. You will begin to find your uniqueness as a teacher and will be able to better apply your particular knowledge and experience. This is a process that takes time to learn. Its helpful if  you do this under the guidance of your own mentors and coaches. Personally I was in the phase for the better part of 10 years and still use my coaches and mentors to help me to this day.

 

Coaching

If you know the way broadly, you will see it in all things. -Miyamoto Musashi

I believe as a teacher moves in to the roll of coach the teacher now understand things on a far deeper level. The teacher is now able to foresee the problems a student will have in advance and will be able to give advice in advance to head off these bumps in the road. The teacher is able to create a culture in the relationship that allow the student to discover things on their own. Its impossible to reach this stage without lots of experience in the mentoring role. The lessons in this stage are far deeper than just the dancing. Learning steps is now easy. Learning and choreographing routines is a piece of cake. Exploring the motivation of these things in now the concern. Learning to manage your mind and enjoying the process become the focus. The dancing is just a vehicle through which we explore our lives. Its hard for the new teacher or the new student to understand the final level of the student teacher relationship but when this level is achieved the true joy of dancing can be had.

To really become a dance coach you have to go through these levels of discovery and understanding both as a dance and as a teacher of dance. After 36,000+ hours on the dance floor myself I truly believe that the reason we are dancing is to discover ourselves and learn the lessons of live thought dancing. As the winningest coach in NCAA baseball history said “Baseball is nothing more than another classroom in the educational process. Really, baseball is a metaphor for life.” I believe dance to be the same thing. As a coach the more quickly I can get my students to understand, this the more successful I will be in my role.

Final thoughts

Tips on finding a good coach.

  • Find a teacher with a good track record. You can’t replace experience.
  • You will have a strong relationship with your coach. Find someone you trust and respect.
  • Have fun with your coach. Isn’t fun what its all about?
  • Ask questions of your coach. Once they earn your trust, stop being critical. Now its time to learn!