I’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons from “Joe” for two years. I had never danced before but Joe was a kind and supportive teacher, and pretty soon I fell in love with ballroom dancing.
Now dancing is my life! I take four private lessons a week and study ballet and yoga as well. Joe and I travel to DanceSport competitions in and out of state. We regularly work with a visiting choreographer to help us prepare our routines.
My problem, incredibly, is that I think I’m getting better than Joe. The choreographer spends half the time helping Joe with his part, while I write everything down because Joe can’t remember the routines. I also have to pay double for this lesson; I pay the choreographer and I pay Joe his regular rate for his time.
In our private lessons, Joe spends a lot of time watching DVDs of the figures we’re working on. It seems that we’re about at the same level, and I’m starting to feel resentful about paying the choreographer and paying Joe for training we both need.
I’m so grateful to Joe for introducing me to dancing, but right now I feel stuck in a situation that is limiting my growth. Would it be wrong to ask Joe to pay for half of the choreography sessions?
I don’t want to hurt or insult Joe, but I want to move forward. I really appreciate any advice you can give me.
Marilyn in Maryland
Congratulations! It’s wonderful to hear how dedicated you are to your dancing and how much you’ve already accomplished.
Your situation with Joe is very common and the solution seems clear: it’s time for you to move up to a new teacher. As you say, Joe was a great teacher for you when you were just starting out. In fact, Joe’s early support helped you to discover your love of dancing and your desire to pursue it more seriously. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that you can continue to grow if you stay with Joe.
I wouldn’t recommend asking Joe to split the choreographer’s fee because that blurs the line between teacher and student. Dance partners split the fee, but that is not where you and Joe are at. No matter how friendly you are with your teacher, there always needs to be some professional boundary, or teacher and student can end up in murky ethical waters.
It’s almost unheard of for a serious dancer to stay with the same teacher for her entire career. There are beginning teachers and then there are progressively more advanced teachers. It’s time for you to start working with a teacher who has the capacity to take you to the next level. All dancers benefit from working with a wide variety of teachers with different backgrounds and skills.
Ideally, Joe would recognize the situation and say to you, “I think I’ve taught you all that I can.” Since that doesn’t seem likely to happen, it’s time for you to initiate the conversation. Remember that your intention is to be grateful for all that Joe has taught you, and honest about your goals for the future and your need for a different teacher.
Joe has done his job. A beginning teacher who instills a love of dance in his students has given them a gift that will stay with them throughout their lifetime. I know that you are clear about this, and at the end of your conversation, Joe should be as well.
I’m proud of your hard work, Marilyn, and look forward to hearing about the next stage of your career. Let me know how things work out.
my daughter has been with her ballet teacher since she was little. Now she is in a circumstance where she is moving on. And she is a decent teacher. Though I feel that there are issues with her studio shrinking. She really should retire and maybe make a comeback. We have been through so much good and bad with her. Now I really think we need to move on. Daughter has many friends at studio. And I know that if we leave there will be hard feelings. That is not how I want it to end. But really she only has a half a dozen to a dozen students from over a hundred students. I feel guilty about considering moving on. There is so much history with this teacher. I am torn and scared of the repurcussions of moving on to another teacher. Should I stay with her or should I move on to a fresh start? This teacher has moved 7 times in 3 years. I am grateful for all that she taught my daughter but I have had enough of this whole drama. And I am trying to move on without creating hard feelings.
Hi Dance Mother,
I certainly can see your predicament.
The first thing I would do is to research other teachers in the area. It would be great if your daughter took some classes from several well respected teachers to see who she clicks with most. Research everything that would be germane to your situation—cost, travel time, what the teachers are most known for, references on Yelp, etc. But most important is the connection you and your daughter have with the teacher.
When you find a new teacher and want to make a break with the old teacher, I suggest your daughter write a beautiful letter to her. In the letter, your daughter can tell her teacher how much she has learned, grown, and accomplished because of her tutelage. Honor the teacher for developing her into a true dancer with a desire to continue to become the best she can be. Then add that you are going to explore a new path, mostly out of curiosity and desire for change. Ask that she understand and to not take it personally. Also, ask if the door may remain open for your daughter to return.
I believe this is the best thing to do. You have no control over another person’s reaction. But as a teacher myself, I’ve experienced many students moving on over the years. When students have shared themselves like I explained above, I respected them and we were able to continue to be friends.
On the other hand, when a student left with no explanation, I did feel hurt. I’d think to myself, “Wow, I wonder what happened? I’ve done so much for that student. I understand people want to make a change, but I sure wish we could have completed our work together in an honest and clean way.”
My last piece of advice is to stay out of the drama. Do not talk to others about it except to say positive things about the teacher and that the decision is based on a desire to try something new.
Good luck and let me know how it works out!