Welcome back to our “All About Coaching Series!” This week I’ll be focusing on advice that’ll help you build a stronger partnership with your coach. Returning with his expert commentary is Champion dancer Jb Brodie. Joining him this week with their westie wisdom is Champion dancer, US Open Classic Finalist, Judge and Coach Hugo Miguez and Pro-Am routine performer and competitive dancer Rachel Dotter.
Can We Talk? Before you even take your first steps in a lesson, a coach will ask “So, what do you want to work on?” This is where the conversation starts on how to build your progress in West Coast Swing.
Hugo Miguez identifies his students in one of two ways.
Typically there are two categories of students. Supplemental students are looking for a specific technique, concept, or movement to learn. Primary students aren’t necessarily sure what they want out of the lesson; they’re looking for what I feel we need to improve in their dancing the most.
As a coach, I assess their work ethic and develop a game plan or phases to efficiently improve them. I teach them to input drills and ideas to their time outside of the lesson to really get results. I help keep them motivated, but most importantly, I teach them how to learn and think. During this process, it’s important to work hard while learning to be proactive about their improvements and situations, all while having fun and exploring creativity.
You’re Speakin’ My Language – It’s imperative that you and your coach are on the same wavelength with your aspirations and your ambitions in West Coast Swing. Oftentimes this involves making sure you’re aware of each other’s teaching/learning methods. For instance, if you excel better by dancing it out versus doing several drills, LET YOUR COACH KNOW THAT! Effective and clear communication is essential in making your coaching partnership work. Rachel Dotter gives us an example of the type of communication dynamic you could have with your coach.
Are you the type of person that would be offended if your coach said “Your leg line almost made me throw up,” as long as it’s in the right tone and joking matter? Do you like that kind of ‘tough love’ joking, or do you need someone to be more sensitive and careful in how they word things? I personally find it helpful when my coaches personify my bad habits. For example saying ‘In this leaning section you look like a corpse,’ helps remind me not to do [those bad habits]. Of course, this feedback is always supplemented with helpful information on what I should be doing.
You’ve Got a Friend in Me – Working With Supportive Coaches
You want to be viewed as a protege rather than another client or paycheck. Real talk – your emotional health is a part of dancing too. Just like relationships, the mark of a great partnership doesn’t exist only in the good moments. Great coaches will be there when you make finals, and they’ll also be there when you’re having a rough weekend at an event. Jb Brodie describes why coaching is much more than just a teaching and learning experience.
I know each of [my students] personally. I’m there for them not just inside the dance, but outside of it as well. I know when they are frustrated, bothered, sad, discouraged, and starting to give up. But I also know when they are excited, happy, encouraged, driven, and determined. Because of this, I can work to the best of my ability to help them in the best way I can. … I’ll push as hard as I can to achieve my coaching goal, which is to help them succeed.
Brandon Parker has impressed me so much with his professionalism and caring persona throughout our coaching partnership. I was randomly waiting in line to compete and he stopped to work out logistics on when our lesson took place. He even found me at one point during late night to block out a time. That persistence and attention to detail are rare. He’s also been incredibly supportive of my DJ career. He didn’t just say, “Yeah, I’ll have you DJ for Sound Check [local Friday night events he and Kristen Humphrey host (Swing Junkies) sometime.” He actually made it a reality! We have a teacher/student chemistry that makes working together very effortless. He keeps me motivated to constantly work outside of the lessons to improve and get better.
Dotter comments on the mutual respect found within the partnership.
Chances are that if you are taking [regular] lessons from an instructor or instructor-couple, you admire what they do, and are proud to work with them. Your coach doesn’t need to ‘admire’ your dancing the way you do theirs. Hopefully they can pick it apart quite easily. They should be invested in your learning and excited by your progress. If this is the case, you’ll sense it.
Working with Multiple Coaches – Is It Taboo to Work with More Than One Coach? West Coast Swing is a dance full of different opinions and ways to do things. Sorting out different perspectives for one concept can be difficult, but it definitely can further your dancing. Hugo and Rachel give their take on studying from multiple coaches.
Dotter: It’s great to have multiple coaches, even for the same thing. Sometimes you need to hear something in a dozen different ways before it clicks, or hearing another perspective helps you understand the concept on a deeper level.
Miguez: When I was first learning West Coast Swing, I wrote a list of my five favorite male WCS dancers. I thought it would be insane if I could mesh characteristics of those five dancers to create the ULTIMATE WCS MAN. I believe it’s so important to go to coaches for specific reasons and sometimes to simply seek information. I’ve taken lessons with coaches just to understand why they teach what they teach. I personally believe in always being relevant. I believe there is a place for every tool and in specific situations I will have the upper hand if I have that tool when another doesn’t. I encourage all of my students to take from others and listen to information [being presented] in different ways. Sometimes a little bit different wording can really make a big click.
The Beginning of a Beautiful Friendship – How to Keep You AND Your Coach Happy
You know how they say to never “dip your pen in the company ink?” While you should always maintain a good balance of professionalism/friendship, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make efforts to strengthen your connection (eh, eh, you see what I did there?). Here are some tips to maintaining a healthy partnership.
Whatever type of instruction you’re looking for, remember to always focus on your lessons, take notes, and pay close attention to what your coach is saying. Even pros like Brodie continue to practice after reaching All-Star status.
Brodie: For me, until I got to All-Star, I went to 3-4 group classes a week, took two hours of lessons a week, practiced by myself in a mirror almost every day, and took lessons as well as workshops at events. There are many resources at everyone’s disposal, so use those resources as much as possible. Even if you don’t compete, give the person on the other side of your hand the best dance you possibly can by getting someone to work with you.
Find other opportunities to work with your coach outside of lessons. A good way to better your dancing is if your coach sees your dancing from other vantage points. In West Coast Swing, there are a couple of ways you can work with your coach outside of private instruction.
Social Dances – Coaches can get a feel for your dancing when you’re in the moment, enjoying the music and the dance and don’t have competition on your mind.
Pro-Am Strictly – Pro-Am Strictlies are a blast! They don’t attribute to WSDC points, but they’re a great way for your instructor to see what you’re like in a competition setting when they’re not judging.
Pro-Am Routines – Pro-Am routines can be a great launchpad for anyone who’s looking to perform in routine categories later on. Rachel gives us insight on building and performing a Pro-Am routine from a student’s perspective.
Dotter: It’s amazing! I highly recommend it! I could write an entire blog post on pro-am routines alone, but in short, it’s both rigorous and rewarding. Because both your own funds and your coach’s time are extremely limited, it’s imperative that you learn how to practice on your own and maintain the discipline to do so.
I had no idea how much I simply did not know before going through this experience. Throughout the year from reviewing every performance video (under the microscope, in slow motion, backwards, you name it), I have learned so much about performance, quality of movement, and choreography, that will be so valuable when I (one day, hopefully) put on my next routine in Rising Star.
Update your coach on your progress. Not being able to travel to events frequently, can make training with a coach consistently difficult. If you’re unable to see your coach on a regular basis I recommend sending in videos of your dancing. Video analysis has been a major tool for progression for westies and it’s a good way to update your coach if both of you aren’t at the same events.
Be honest. You’re going to know whether or not collaborating with a coach works or not. If something’s not meeting your needs as a student, BE HONEST WITH YOUR COACH! Remember time (and money) are valuable resources not to be wasted when it comes to your passion and enthusiasm for West Coast Swing. Coaches will understand that you want to seek others to help you with specific elements of your dancing.
Here’s a last minute tip from Miguez:
Stacy and I are serious competitive coaches who are devoted to our students’ progress. The more you invest in your progress, the more we invest in you. NO EXCUSES. BE COACHABLE. Coaches really want to invest. I don’t want to hear about how Joey Suckalot made you not get to finals. Your question needs to be, ‘What tools can I use to continue to BLANK when my leader is BLANK?’ I don’t want to hear about how you’re so tired so that’s why you can’t do BLANK. NO EXCUSES=HEALTHY STRONG RELATIONSHIP with COACH.
That’s it for this week’s article! Tune in next week for more Welcome Wagon how-to’s and tips. For Wandering Westie blog, I’m Stephanie Pham. Keep dancing!