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Group Classes vs. Private Lessons

May 12, 2014

I thought I’d give an instructor’s perspective on the difference between private lessons and group lessons. We certainly teach (and learn) differently depending on the situation, and it’s useful to understand the differences between these two learning environments from a teaching perspective.

Please use the “Comments” area below to share your motivations for taking either group lessons, private lessons, or both.

Group Lessons

Learning in a group setting has a number of advantages, including:

  • The social aspect — it’s a great place to meet and interact with others who have a shared interest
  • Repetition & repertoire — you can build both your technique and your repertoire of patterns and styling
  • The community develops — in a group lesson, you hear your peers’ questions and the instructors’ answers, which is very helpful in understanding, learning, and getting everyone “on the same page”. And, because you took the class with others, you have a peer group to discuss with what you learned.
  • Social dance practice — because you’re with a group and constantly rotating partners, a group class is your best opportunity to try new things (or revisit old things) with a variety of partners. There is no better check & balance for your ability to lead or follow than trying to make it work with various people — and that’s a great preparation for social dancing, too.
  • FUN — group classes (at least, the ones that Smoothstyle tries to deliver) are also a source of entertainment; the instructors usually realize this and try to make the class fun as well as educational
  • Cost effective — in a group session, the teachers’ time is shared with others, so the price-per-hour is typically lower than a private lesson

Generally, our goal in a group class is to successfully move the large majority of attendees through through the material with a good degree of success. We’d like everyone to leave feeling that they learned something new, and/or have something new to work on.

As instructors, there are some things that we can do in group classes that we can’t do as well in private lessons. For example, a group class is usually planned around a theme that we feel will benefit the dance community as a whole. The “theme” could be a technical concept, a general rule of thumb, or a type of pattern that we feel that the community at large would benefit from.

What we CAN’T do in a group class is provide specific individual feedback or highly personalized training. Many students supplement their group lessons with regular or sporadic private lessons to “go deeper” into their own dance, their own technique, and their own concerns. We also can’t customize our teaching to any one student’s learning style — instead, we work hard to teach to all learning styles.

Private Lessons

Learning privately, either by yourself or with a partner, offers these benefits:

  • Highly specific, customized input and feedback on your particular concerns or needs — this can include customizing the way we teach to better match your unique learning style
  • The chance to “go deep” into your own dance and your own body
  • An opportunity to focus on Just You for an hour
  • The chance to practice with an “ideal” partner (i.e. the instructor), allowing you to calibrate your own dancing
  • Develop a dance partnership by training with your practice or competition partner
  • The chance to build excellent technique and to be regularly coached to ensure you develop the best possible habits
  • The chance to review and perfect technique and patterns learned in a group lesson

Of course, there are things we can do in private lessons that we can’t do as well in group classes. For example, while we may focus a private lesson on a theme or topic, that student is the only person getting the information at that time — so there is no opportunity to interact with others learning the same material to find out how it may be interpreted differently, and how the instructor may address any inconsistencies.

Mixing it Up

Most of our students combine group and private lessons in some way. The attraction to dance is usually wrapped up with the need for social activity, so group lessons and practices are appealing. But becoming a better dancer — whether it’s to be a more enjoyable partner or because you have competition goals — often leads to the desire to focus on your own skills more deeply.

I don’t think there is any ideal ratio of group:private lessons — try different things and see what works for you. If you are able to social dance and practice a fair bit on you own, then regular group classes and a monthly private lesson might be right for you. If your goals are more competitive, then you’ll probably clock more hours in private lessons than a purely social dancer.

I still mix group and private lessons in my own training. I like group lessons because it’s a great and inexpensive way to learn new things, or new twists on old things; to force myself to try and practice a technique or styling that is not natural to me; to get to know different instructors’ styles; to improve my own teaching through watching others teach and through watching students learn. I also train privately in two ways: as an instructor, to improve my teaching; and, as a student, to explore my dancing with particular professionals whom I have found to offer me useful input, ideas, inspiration, and motivation throughout my dance journey.

No matter how you choose to mix it up, remember that PRACTICE MAKES PERMANENT (not perfect). If you practice the wrong things, or the right things incorrectly, you’ll form habits that are often difficult to break. You may not even know if you’re practicing well or not. Smoothstyle offers a variety of opportunities to practice well, including:

  • Group lessons in which qualified and experienced instructors teach you the technique that’s behind cool moves and styling — and there are knowledgeable assistants in the rotation to provide some one-on-one help
  • Private lessons, during which some of the most experienced and practiced instructors in the region address your very specific needs
  • Coached practice sessions, during which an experienced instructor can give you feedback “in the moment” as you social dance
  • Practice plans to ensure that you get the most out of your opportunities to practice, whether that’s during time formally set aside for practice, or during social dances