“Heidi, can I pay you to give me private lessons?” I have been asked this more than once by students in my group classes, typically on a night when we’ve done some particularly tricky moves. The short answer is “sure.” But most of these students don’t really know what they’re asking.
Who Benefits from Private Lessons?
Most commonly private lessons are requested for audition or competition preparation. Whether you’re heading to a major dance conference or entering the county fair talent show, you can benefit from some private coaching. This can range from hiring a teacher to choreograph an award-winning dance number for you to just having him or her observe you rehearse once or twice for some fine-tuning.
But what if you’re a recreational dancer who doesn’t compete? Well, let’s face it. Sometimes having other people around messes up your dancing. If you’re a tap dancer you know how frustrating it is when you can’t hear your or your teacher’s taps because of the cacophony of your classmates’ tapping. Or maybe you’re the aspiring ballet dancer who’s too timid to ask questions in class. You attend a popular hip hop class and can never actually see the teacher from your spot in the back. Did you enroll in class a week or more late, and it seems like everyone already knows what’s going on except you? These things are common hindrances to learning in group dance classes. The longer they go on the more likely you are to fall behind or get confused. A private lesson in this case can catch you up to speed, and help you develop a rapport with your teacher that in turn could help you be less timid about asking questions in class.
If you are a recreational dancer, but you want to get really good you could benefit from private lessons. In adult group classes, the teacher generally teaches to the average; yes, he or she wants you to expand your skills, but not if it means leaving some of the students in the dust. It’s hard enough to find adult classes let alone those at a more advanced level. You’re ready for triple pirouettes and your classmates are barely making it around once! In a private lesson, your teacher can coach you on more advanced modifications of skills you already have, help guide you on what to practice at home for continued improvement, and even expose you to steps you may not ever see in your group class.
Who Doesn’t Need Private Lessons?
If you’re a little confused about a step and aren’t able to ask about it during class for whatever reason, or if you just want your teacher to see you do it once (or you want to see your teacher do it once) to make sure you’re doing it right, these aren’t really situations that require private lessons. Most teachers are willing to talk to students before or after class for these quick questions.
What Should I Know before Requesting a Private Lesson?
Private dance lessons seem expensive. I say “seem” because the cost is not out of line for what you get, but they typically cost more than the per-lesson rate for group classes. Don’t balk when your teacher says it will cost you anywhere from $40 to $200 for a private lesson. He or she most likely needs to build in the cost of studio rental (call around – it ain’t cheap!), parking if you’re in an urban area, commuting time if he or she lives far away from the studio, hour(s) of preparation time prior to the lesson(s), original choreography if you’re also asking for a dance created just for you, and the cost of the actual instruction time at an increased rate. You’ve basically asked your teacher to work overtime for you after all. Many students will offer somewhere between 10 and 20 bucks, and that may be reasonable depending on what you’re doing, but doesn’t take into account the extra time and expense the teacher laid out before you even got to the studio. Sticker shock will get students to change their minds about private lessons pretty quickly if they feel they are blindsided by the cost. If it is cost prohibitive, most teachers are willing to negotiate or barter to help you out, but they typically can’t go in the red for you. No offense!
Know what you want to get out of the lesson beforehand. If you can let the teacher know prior to the day of your private lesson it will save you a lot of time (and, by default, money). You should be able to clearly state if you want him or her to go over a routine with you, teach you a new dance, drill you on skills you want to improve, etc. Yes, the teacher knows more about dance than you, but you’re still the boss. You’re teacher shouldn’t have to guess at why you’re there; and if he or she does, they may pick something to work on that isn’t at all what you had in mind.
Have reasonable expectations. Private lessons are to help you, but they won’t cure your bad habits and make you a sensation after only an hour or two. You’ve hired a dance teacher, not a miracle worker. That being said, you should see improvement and have a better understanding of how to execute your moves after the lesson. Those skills don’t go away, so it is time and money well spent for all dancers.