Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: Knowing When It’s Time to Leave Your Dance Class

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I have spent a great deal of my life happily sweating it out in one dance studio or another.  Over the past several years I have been fortunate to study with a variety of amazing dance teachers whom have all contributed to my growth as a person and as a dancer.

However, there have been a few instances in which I have chosen to part ways with a particular dance teacher or class.  While some of these separations were fairly painless, others were almost gut-wrenching due to the relationships I’d built with my teacher and fellow classmates.

As difficult as it may be – sometimes it’s necessary for your personal well-being to leave your current dance class and find a new one.  Dance classes are not “one size fits all,” and sometimes it takes a bit of trial and error to find a class that really works for you.

It may be time to bid your current dance class “adieu” and find a new one if you find any of the following scenarios familiar:

  1. You believe that you know more about dancing than your dance teacher;
  2. You’ve been taking classes for a significant period of time but see no measurable improvement;
  3. You notice that your class has become more about “THE DRAMA” than about the dancing;
  4. You feel as if your dance class is bringing you down instead of lifting you up;
  5. You want to try something new, or you just need to take a break.

IF YOU THINK THAT YOU KNOW MORE THAN YOUR DANCE TEACHER

If you truly believe that you know more about dancing than your dance teacher, then it is time for you to find a different class.  Even if this is a COMPLETELY DELUSIONAL belief on your part, it is still time for you to go.  Once you start thinking this way you will be resistant to learning anything your dance teacher tries to teach you.  Even if you are not openly expressing your thoughts to your fellow classmates you may unknowingly be acting in a way that is potentially disruptive to the entire class.

I will never forget something that I witnessed a couple of months after I first began taking salsa lessons.  I was participating in a ladies’ shine class taught by a popular local dance teacher.  During the course of the class I noticed that there was one student who would continually deviate from the pattern being taught by the teacher.  Whenever the teacher would attempt to correct her, this student would ignore the correction and begin arguing with the teacher about “proper” technique.  As the class progressed the student gave up any pretense of following the classroom sequence and just did her own thing.  I kept waiting for the student to walk out of the class, but she seemed determined to stay in an attempt to embarrass and mock the teacher.

When the teacher turned away to set the music for the final sequence this student took the opportunity to move ahead of the teacher, to the very front of the classroom.  The teacher was obviously shocked by this blatant show of disrespect but kept her cool as she ignored the student and continued to lead the sequence.  The next four minutes were painfully uncomfortable for everyone present and seemed to go on for an eternity.

When the song finally ended I quickly gathered my stuff and practically ran out of the room.  To this day, I don’t know what happened after class between this student and the teacher, but I do know that I never saw the student in that teacher’s class ever again.

  IF YOU KEEP TAKING CLASSES BUT YOU DON’T SEEM TO IMPROVE

No two people learn anything at the exact same rate, and this especially holds true in regard to salsa dancing.  Some folks have natural dancing ability or may have previous dance training which enable them to learn at a fairly quick pace.  Other people may have never danced in their lives, or have difficulty listening to unfamiliar music, and will struggle to keep up with the rest of the class.  Whatever the case may be, it is a certainty that some students will progress at a faster rate than others.

However, at some point– if you are going to dance class, regularly practicing/social dancing during the week, listening to music etc., — you should eventually notice that your ability to dance is improving.  If it is not, this may be a sign that you need to find a different dance class. 

It may be that the class is too advanced for you or that the teacher’s method of communication is not one that works best for you.  You might be someone that would benefit from private instruction rather than participating in a group setting.  Or, you may be in need of a kinder, gentler class if your teacher is a fan of the “tough love” approach to teaching dance.

Regardless of the kind of teacher you have, you should be willing to honestly evaluate your own efforts and attitude towards learning to dance.  If you need to re-enroll in the Beginner class because you’re not feeling confident enough to take the Intermediate class, go back to the Beginner class.  There is no point in learning more advanced “moves” when you do not understand timing or basic musicality.  Nothing is more important than learning the basics and everyone will respect you for taking your time to learn how to do things the right way.

IF YOUR CLASS IS MORE ABOUT THE DRAMA THAN THE DANCING

Drama and adult dance classes tend to go hand in hand for some reason.  I don’t know if it’s due to people being excited about being legally able to touch strangers of the opposite sex, but whatever it is, drama is ever present in the salsa scene.  While a little bit of drama/gossip/intrigue is harmless, once your dance class has become one long episode of “Days of Our Lives” it is time to depart.

A few years ago I was taking a dance class that I really enjoyed.  The teacher was a lot of fun and I looked forward to attending his class every week.  However, the good times soon came to an end when a new female student caught the eye of the instructor.

At first, the teacher and student tried to be discreet about their personal relationship, but this soon became the world’s worst kept secret.  The teacher quickly elevated this woman from “student” to “co-instructor” of the class even though she was the least experienced female dancer in the room.  As you can imagine, this did not sit well with the other female students in the class.

The quality of the classes began to directly correlate to the quality of the relationship between the teacher and the female student.  If things were going well in their relationship, the classes would be fairly enjoyable.  However, if things were “off” between them, tension would fill the air.  Sometimes the female student would be happy and giggly, whereas at other times it seemed like she might burst into tears.  As this D-list drama became more and more exhausting, students began dropping out of the class.  Eventually, so few students remained that the teacher dissolved his once thriving dance class.

I am completely aware that love and lust can bloom anywhere/anytime and I certainly don’t think it is taboo for an adult dance teacher to become romantically involved with a consenting, adult dance student.  However, when this situation occurs the teacher must take extra precautions to keep things strictly professional.  When these precautions are not taken a teacher’s obvious romantic affections towards a student can make everyone else in the class feel extremely uncomfortable.  If this is happening to you, it’s definitely time to seek out a new dance class.

On a related note – if your dance teacher is making unwanted sexual/romantic overtures towards you it is ABSOLUTELY time to leave your class.  While I haven’t experienced anything incredibly traumatic in this regard, I did have one strange experience which I do want to share.

While visiting a nearby city for a work conference not too long ago I decided to participate in a Bachata workshop near my hotel.  Things started out normally, but during the middle of the workshop one of the female instructors attempted to fondle and sexually proposition me.  I have to say – this was weird as hell.  I mean, if I want someone to smack my butt and whisper naughty things in my ear I’ll go home and flirt with my husband.  Anyway–I politely disengaged myself from this woman and quickly exited the building.  While I can laugh about this crazy lady now, it still doesn’t make her behavior any more appropriate.  It is bad enough to experience groping on the social dance floor, but it is absolutely unacceptable when the groping comes from your dance instructor.

IF THE CLASS IS BRINGING YOU DOWN INSTEAD OF LIFTING YOU UP

Dancing is supposed to be fun.  Dancing is supposed to be joyous.  While I often choose to write articles about some of the negatives of “dance life,” please believe me when I tell you that for me, dancing is pretty much the equivalence of happiness.  The buzz one achieves from having a great dance is what makes Latin dancing so addictive.  So — if you are consistently leaving your dance class feeling angry, sad, or emotionally drained you are probably in the wrong class.

Over the years I have actually seen people crying before, during, and after certain dance classes.  These tears usually appeared to be the by-product of some kind of frustration, fear, or anxiety.  I remember one woman in particular who used to sob her eyes out after almost every class because she felt that she wasn’t “as good” as the rest of the students.

If this is happening to you, please drop out of whatever class you’re taking and find a new one.  Dancing is meant to relieve stress, not cause it.  Do research, talk to other students, check the Internet, and find a class that will set you on the joyous path that dance provides for so many of us.

IF YOU WANT TO EXPERIENCE SOMETHING NEW OR JUST TAKE A BREAK

Sometimes there is nothing negative about the class you are currently taking, but you feel a desire to spread your dance wings and learn something new.  I did this about four years ago when I decided to branch out from linear salsa and begin taking classes in Cuban Son and Casino.  I know that I hurt the feelings of my long term salsa instructor when I left her class, but it was something I felt that I needed to do for my own personal development.

Ultimately, this choice to expand my dance horizons was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.  While I will always enjoy dancing Salsa and Mambo – Son, Cuban ChaChaCha, and Casino have become the true loves of my dance life.  I am so glad that I allowed the restlessness I was experiencing in linear dancing to lead me to discover something new rather than to drop out of dancing altogether.  So, if you need to seek out a new class to continue evolving as a dancer, don’t let fear of disappointing your current teacher stop you from making a needed change.

If you’re really starting to feel burned out by your dance class, sometimes the best thing you can do is just take a break from class altogether.  While I’m a big advocate of dance classes, some of my friends, (who are AMAZING dancers), haven’t taken a regular dance class in years.  They prefer to improve their skills on the social dance floor and just take the occasional workshop.  For more experienced dancers, this approach to dance education certainly seems to make a lot of sense.

SUMMARY

In summary—the break-up of any relationship, whether it is with your significant other, your hairdresser, your auto mechanic, or your dance teacher can be an awkward or slightly painful situation.  However, the temporary pain caused by the breakup is a price worth paying.  Any dance class you regularly attend should make you feel intellectually stimulated, happy, and safe.   If your dance class is missing any of these qualities it may be time for you to make your exit.

3 Comments

  • Fred says:

    Melissa certainly seems to have seen her fair bit on the dance floor!! Some of the points I found interesting were: the student who feels he or she knows more than the teacher, and the teacher-student romantic relationship. Those are some truly awkward situations!! They also seem to me like products of, at least, inexperience, the first, on behalf of the student, and the second on behalf of the teacher.
    A student who tries to usurp the teaching, I think, only betrays his or her ignorance in terms of the dance and in terms of general common sense, too!
    A good dancer, or smart person, I think, keeps their mouth shut and their actions in check, or leaves the class to find a more advanced one.
    Most of the people I know or have seen who are great dancers, in my opinion, seem to be very smart people, at least socially! They know how to behave appropriately in social environments, and they usually don’t show off!
    The other related circumstance, which I hope Melissa or somebody discusses sometime, perhaps in another article, is the partner who teaches, “advises” or critiques their partner during social dancing. Is this ok or not?
    In terms of the teacher-student romance, to me, this also betrays the teacher’s inexperience, and likely mediocrity, too. Good and experienced teachers have seen this and other situations and know to keep things either away from class or professional.

  • Fred says:

    A further comment. I often don’t really understand the commitment to one teacher. I know and have friends who go to one studio and have for years, but when it gets to the point where there may be discomfort or conflict when a student goes to learn elsewhere, then, it seems, the whole thing starts to get unhealthy.
    I can understand when people are on dance teams. however, even then, one would think it would be ok to dance and learn in other places every now and then. and, learning in one place seems to be limiting. one needs to experience different places, different dancers, etc. as they say, the kid who doesn’t leave home thinks his or her mother cooks the best food in the world!
    if a single place works for somebody, then thats great, but it seems like one should experience different places, especially if one wishes to learn, or educate themselves further in the art, let alone have fun. a lack of variation can get boring and stale, even with the best dancers or teachers.
    now, as for stopping taking classes, i understand it, however, if i may share my take, personally, if one were to ask me, i wouldn’t recommend it, and i am not a teacher or professional dancer by any stretch! so, i have nothing to gain or lose from telling anybody to keep taking classes. i can see, and have seen classes that seem to be just a “money-pit!” however, i recommend continued learning. if that is through classes, then thats good. but it could also be through social dancing or self or private practice at home or somewhere.
    i personally barely take classes, mostly because i can’t find them where i live, but if there was a style i like nearby, i would love the practice.
    i personally don’t think it is wise to stop taking classes in salsa or any other dance, because i think, when one stops, then they peak. but this is me. for me, taking classes helps me to understand things better each time even when i already knew something or for basic skills, and it helps me learn and stay abreast of the latest trends, styles, moves etc on the dance scene at congresses or different places around the world. it doesn’t seem like folks are progressing, but i see people who don’t dance often, and when they get back dancing, they’re surprisingly adrift.
    not taking classes to me is a recipe for stagnating, peaking and falling back in terms of my skills. i’ve seen people who go to congresses or regularly practice while i don’t practice as much as i would like, and i can literally see their improvement. but, again, this is my opinion, and people obviously have a right to not take classes or such things if they feel they know enough.
    if one has a choice, i would highly recommend keeping the practice, whether it is classes or good quality social dancing, or private practice. i used to dance a lot of swing before salsa, and trained in contra dancing. i don’t do as much swing or contra as i used to, and i’ve rusted quite a bit. salsa is fun, but it is also quite challenging to learn, so, personally if i can, i wouldn’t throw away all the hard work, not to mention expense, over the years. but, again, whats good for one person may not be so for another! thats what being human is about!!!

  • Melissa West-Koistila says:

    Fred, thanks for taking the time to read this article and for leaving such insightful comments.

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