My husband and I have been taking ballroom dance lessons for quite some time. We began with a set of introductory lessons through a very popular franchised studio. New students usually are given the newest instructors, and we were no different. Our first instructor was actually an advanced student at the school who decided to give lessons to beginners. This particular school is noted for adhering to a strict syllabus, yet this new instructor chose to depart from the structured method. I will never forget our first salsa lesson; he began teaching us “Cuban Motion,” proper hip movement caused by bending and straightening the knees. This difficult hip action usually is taught after basic steps have been mastered. This “teacher” happened to have been an excellent dancer, but clearly, he was not ready to give lessons. He told us that we would just be able to pick up the steps easily. Yeah, right.
Shortly after a few lessons, he left and we had a series of teachers who ranged in skill level and experience. One teacher was quite good, but she was auditioning for acting and dancing roles in NYC and canceled on us quite a bit. Another instructor had an excellent background, was a dance major in college and classically trained in ballet. She was a wonderful person and teacher; however, she was relatively new to ballroom dance and relied on the syllabus and teaching videos to stay ten steps ahead of us. She feared to deviate from the curriculum and checked off each step as taught. We were learning a lot of steps, but those steps did not help us feel confident and natural when dancing outside the studio or with the school’s more advanced students. We ended up taking a break from dancing and never returned to this school.
After a while, one of our friends recommended our present instructor, Lisa Sparkles in Syosset, NY. Lisa, a former professional dancer, worked for various schools and learned from excellent teachers in the dance community. She also invested in her own professional development and was able to gather the best teaching strategies to use with her students. Lisa intuitively understands strong teaching methods: repetition with a cyclical review, positive feedback, error correction, and pushing us just beyond our comfort level without reaching frustration (although my husband might disagree with the last point).
Good teaching is good teaching. Whether one is learning a sport, playing an instrument, or learning how to read, students learn best from someone who is experienced, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and understands how to individualize instruction. As an educator, I appreciate those qualities, even more so now being an adult learner in a new situation. Learning to dance has been fun but humbling, and it has made me a better teacher. My husband, a natural athlete who easily picks up sports, but sometimes struggles at dance, also seemed to recognize the connection, once saying, “Every parent, teacher, and coach should try this and see what it’s like to walk in the shoes of a struggling student.” I couldn’t agree more.
And, so, I got to thinking, wouldn’t it be valuable to demonstrate how good teaching is good teaching, and no matter what the discipline, the fundamentals are all the same. In a series of videos, I will interview a number of expert instructors from various fields who will discuss the instructional methods they use. My first interview series will be with my dance teacher, Lisa Sparkles, owner of Lisa Sparkles Ballroom and Latin Dance Studio. We will cover such topics as foundation, accuracy, error correction, positive feedback, progress monitoring, fear, confidence, and explicit instruction. I hope you will all subscribe to my YouTube Channel. Click on my name, Faith Borkowsky to be brought to my channel. Be sure to subscribe and turn on notifications.
Faith Borkowsky, Founder and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties.