What should a student look for in a teacher?


Staff member
“What should a student look for in a teacher?” - Lou Bucher, El Paso, TX

Karen McDonald (Smooth and Standard Competitor): Everyone has something to offer. When you come out of a lesson, you should feel you learned something you can keep and take with you, and you don’t know what a teacher can offer until you try them. Unless they don’t dance the way you want to dance, everyone’s worth a try.

Stephen Cullip (Coach and Adjudicator): Compatibility is important. Obviously, physical compatibility is important. A taller lady dancing with a shorter man is not necessarily the best, but more important is whether or not you get along with a person. You don’t want to take lessons and spend a lot of money with somebody you don’t like just because they’re supposed to be good. You have to be careful you don’t mistake a disciplinarian or a teacher who’s trying to get the best out of you for someone you don’t get along with. Quite often a coach is hard on someone because they’re trying to get the best out of them.

Glenis Dee (Coach and Adjudicator): If a student goes to a competition they can see if the teacher is a nice dancer. But also, most important, are their personalities a match? You should be treated as an intelligent person and taught accordingly. A lot of times people don’t realize that the best dancers are not always the best coaches because they have been working on their dancing for so many years they haven’t broken it down. Sometimes they may not be champions, but they may be very good coaches. Personality has a lot to do with it. You have to get along.

Michelle Officer (American Smooth Champion): Find someone who’s dancing style appeals to you. It’s important that you and your teacher have the same goals. Your teacher should be your role model. One of the most important things is to be open minded and try somebody for more than just a single hour. It’s hard to understand what a person’s teaching is like and how you can benefit from their teaching if you only have one lesson with them.

Maja Serve (Coach and Adjudicator): Find someone who has a lot of knowledge and who is good at teaching. Many teachers are very good at teaching but don’t have enough knowledge and a lot know that 2 + 2 = 4, but don’t understand how to teach it. You need to understand how you learn best. Some people learn through feeling, others through technique. If you learn from feeling, don’t look for a teacher who only teaches technique.

Bill Sparks (International Latin Champion & Adjudicator): It’s important that the student feel the teacher is patient, wants to teach him and is not in it just for the sale. The teacher should always treat the student as if he is capable of learning. Look for a teacher who is aware and sensitive to the individual student’s needs. The teacher should be creative in meeting those needs and not treat the student like he’s on an assembly line.

Debbie Avalos (Coach and Adjudicator): I like to see teachers who really care about their students. They should enjoy dancing with them, not just be doing a job to make money.

David Hamilton (U.S. Smooth Champion & Adjudicator): If a student has a special interest or a style of dance that they want to specialize in that would be their first point of interest; to find a teacher who is extremely experienced in that field. If it’s a student who is looking for an overall social teacher I think it’s only fair to question the experience of the studio and the longevity of the teachers in the studio.

Edward Simon (American Smooth Champion & Adjudicator): One of the most important things is that teachers communicate clearly and that they primarily teach in principles. A teaching principle is something that the student can take away from the lesson and apply to every single action that is similar. Good coaches are open minded and sensitive to different opinions. They work to merge those opinions rather than being ultra sensitive and just saying other view points are not right. Good coaches leave their ego out of it.

Chris Ford (Pro/am Teacher): It’s important to feel at ease and relaxed enough to ask questions and get involved with a teacher. Someone who communicates in simple, easy terms without getting too “wordy” is a plus, as well as someone who has a desire to pull out the talent of the person with whom they are working.


This question and response is reprinted, with permission, from Dance Notes – only $25 for a one year subscription!

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