WEST COAST SWINGMaking The Most of Your Private Lessons

by Louise Bretz

So, you’ve decided you want more than you can get from group lessons, and have called your instructor to schedule a private. "How much!? For only one hour?" Or perhaps you have taken some private lessons, but feel you are not getting what you should out of them. Here are some tips on making the most of that expensive lesson time.

Before the lesson: Come Prepared

1. Make sure you know the correct location and time of the lesson. At a convention, this could come down to "which hallway?" Showing up late typically comes out of your pocket.

2. Clarify the actual cost and duration of the lesson so that you are not surprised or disappointed later. For some teachers or studios, an "hour" private is actually 55 or 50 minutes. This helps them stay on time.

3. What happens if you have to miss or cancel?

4. Know why you are there. What are you hoping to learn or "fix"? In this, the same advice applies as is frequently given for consultations with doctors or lawyers. Make a list (mental is OK, but writing it down is better), of items you want to cover. These may be patterns, syncopations, or techniques you are having trouble with. If you walk in and say, "Make me a better dancer," you are at the instructor’s mercy. They will give you input to make you a better dancer, but it may not be the input you felt you were looking for. Example: A friend of mine once came from a private lesson with a famous instructor. I asked how it was. He looked chagrined, and replied "I just spent $50 to learn I should lead with my body instead of my arm." Obviously he already knew this, but had not planned on what additional input he wanted from this instructor in advance.

5. If you are at a convention, taking a one time private from one of the "Greats," you may want to ask yourself, "Why am I choosing this particular instructor? What is it about their dancing that I would like to emulate or learn from?" Example: If you want to work on syncopations, you may not want a lesson from the master of the multiple-spin pattern.

During the lesson: Take control of your dance destiny.

1. Talk to your instructor. They can help you better if they know a little more about you, whether it is your regular instructor or not. They will benefit by knowing the following information. Be honest...there is no reason to try and impress them!

2. Make sure your instructor answers your questions. All instructors have pet dance peeves, and can easily digress off your path. Keep your instructor on track.

3. Keep an eye on the clock, especially if you have multiple topics you want covered, and get the instructor to switch topics when you are ready to move on.

4. Know your own limits and learning styles. If you are getting too much information, tell them. If you want more or less repetition, tell them.

5. Be flexible. While it is your lesson and your money, you are paying for the instructor’s expertise. They may see a problem you didn’t know existed and it may change the course of a lesson in a very fruitful way. Example:

I once took a lesson at a convention, and asked the teacher to show me some of her syncopations, in addition to some other things. After dancing with me she told me, "If I were a guy, I wouldn’t ask you to dance. Here’s why." Thinking I was a pretty good follower, my jaw dropped to the floor. She gave me great advice, and I was still able to get my original topics covered by keeping an eye on the clock.

6. Be open to advice or techniques that are different from your previous instructors. After all, you are paying this person big bucks for their opinion. Don’t waste time and money arguing. Take it in and work with it for awhile before rushing to a judgment.

The Almighty Dollar: Stretching the Value

Here are a few tips for increasing the value of your private lesson dollar.

1. Ask if you may videotape the lesson. Many instructors allow this at no extra cost, some charge an extra fee, and some don’t allow taping. I doesn’t hurt to ask.

2. Bring a partner. Most instructors charge the same fee for a single person or a couple. A couple can split the costs.

3. Ask for a package deal. You may be able to get a discount if you buy 5 or 10 lessons up front.

4. Arrange a small group class with, say, two or three couples. You get more individual attention than in a regular group class, with less expense per person than for a private lesson. Ask your instructor for details.

5. Barter. Do you have a skill for which the instructor may be interested in trading lessons? For example, are you a massage therapist, advertising specialist, graphic artist, photographer, chiropractor, etc.

6. Some instructors charge more for varous conditions such as method of payment, or subject matter of the lesson, such as aerials. Ask before you go.