M&E 016 : Swing Ecosystems: Private Lessons

In this podcast, Michael Jagger and Evita Arce examine the economics of offering and taking private lessons during weekend workshops. When teachers accept private lessons at events there are extra burdens on the event organizers to find space and time for that private to happen, and it can potentially cut them out of the financial equation if students aren’t also paying to participate in the workshop. Michael and Evita use a specific example from a regional event where they were teaching, and they unknowingly gave a private lesson to a student who wasn’t registered for weekend classes. At this same weekend, other instructors also gave privates, which interrupted the flow of the weekend and created undue stress on the entire organizational team.

Michael and Evita discuss behaviors on the part of teachers, students and event organizers that can potentially disrupt the environment and can destroy the entire ecosystem.  When students have a finite amount of money to spend on their hobby, and neither the organizer nor teacher is making a fortune off this thing we call Swing, Michael and Evita ask who is ultimately responsible for seeing and understanding the pitfalls of offering (or not offering) private lessons during workshop weekends.  How is one’s money and time best spent at weekend workshops, and how can we all benefit from our Swing Ecosystem in a sustainable way that ensure longevity for the whole?

Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!



10 thoughts on “M&E 016 : Swing Ecosystems: Private Lessons”

  1. Heya! This was a really great podcast covering so many factors to think of. I love this idea of everyone should maybe try thinking a bit more about the overall community and not so much about their own immediate benefit.

    Another thing that I really liked and which you just mentioned shortly is this idea of often communities developing some sort of invisible frontier between everything from beginner to say int-adv and the top elite advanced circle (who might only do free training amongst themselves etc). I think this might actually be stuff for another podcast (if there isn’t one yet, will check later) if this is a good thing or bad thing or if that’s just natural etc etc.

    However sometimes I feel in terms of the private lesson discussion as an Intermediate I sometimes have the feeling that there’s some sort of a knowledge gap: So suddenly I hear someone from that elite circle say: oh I actually secured a slot for a private lesson during that weekend with XY and I stand there like: Oh nice I didn’t even know there would be slots and time and space. So often I feel because this elite circle is part of organization or because they are teaching classes in that community themselves they kind of get the advantage of knowing beforehand and thus are able to “book out” all these private lesson slots there might be (especially if the organizers themselves offer them in agreement with the guest teachers). Because that’s another point: Guest teachers’ time is limited so how can you make it actually fair offering everyone interested a chance to ask for a private lesson? I am not sure first come first served is actually the best option there. Obviously though an advanced dancer might take more from a private lesson than a beginner but not sure about this intermediate or intermediate-advanved level who is always fighting the frustration of maybe never being able to get into that “upper circle” of dancers. (Also is it fair that if teachers give a lesson in this slot between day and evening party they kind of decrease their own amount of energy they’ll have left for everyone during the evening?)

    I mean this would lead back to that general idea of a frontier between elite dancers of a community and the “rest”. It often seems they form two seperate ecosystems, too and I feel it’s really hard for any Int-Adv to ever actually cross that line because how should they get better if advanced dancers don’t take same classes and if advanced dancers get the first grab when it comes to reserving private lesson slots…….

    So after all I think the last thing you said about organizers should just be very clear about their policy is probably the most important thing. They should be clear and fair to everyone in the system.

    Wow… sorry for the long comment 😀 But it shows I really enjoyed your podcast 😉

    • Hi Nina,

      Thanks for your reply, and I would say that the knowledge gap may be more about certain people thinking about a private lesson as a possibility, regardless of their level. I suppose a dancer who is more immersed in the dance scene and its ways, may be more privy to the fact that a private lesson is even an educational option. It’s not common for weekend events to announce or formally offer privates to their community for the very reason which you stated above: there’s not enough time in the day to serve everyone’s needs. If organizers did offer privates, then, as you also mentioned, the conundrum becomes who gets access to those services.

      I think it’s also important to discern between advanced dancers and those that simply perceive themselves above needing to take group classes. It’s the “better than” mentality that truly damages local scenes because dancers who view themselves as not needing to participate in the community contaminate their scene with a sense of hierarchical status. Not only do they deny other dancers access to what they contribute in terms of their skills and experiences, but they also create bad feelings among the younger, less experienced dancers.

      I’m glad this podcast resonated with you, and I hope others will think about their role in the scene and how their behavior impacts so many others. Side note: because you now know about privates as an option, and because Facebook gives us all easier access to each other, it might be worth your time to reach out to the organizer and instructor of any given workshop you plan to attend to inquire about a private. 😉

      • I wanted to just say this is an excellent quote Michael and we plan to share it (and the podcast) with our local scene,

        “I think it’s also important to discern between advanced dancers and those that simply perceive themselves above needing to take group classes. It’s the “better than” mentality that truly damages local scenes because dancers who view themselves as not needing to participate in the community contaminate their scene with a sense of hierarchical status. Not only do they deny other dancers access to what they contribute in terms of their skills and experiences, but they also create bad feelings among the younger, less experienced dancers.”

  2. So glad you two have addresses this topic head-on. I know Evita and I have talked about this kind of thing in depth in the past. It is a fact that instructors have to pay rent (would that we were all independently wealthy). There is also a need to build a sustainable and growing scene, otherwise that ability to pay rent slowly shrivels away. It is a terrible balancing act to have to pull off.

    Everyone needs to be aware of this conundrum, including the students. I know people have complained to me that in New York, you never see the instructors out dancing, and when you do, they just socialize with the advanced dancers all night. And I can see why they would do that when people have said to me, “Oh, yeah, when I see the instructors out dancing, I ask them to dance and try to get free tips while they are dancing with me.” Not cool. Similar offenses are more benign: “Oh, we’re all friends, of course Michael and Evita will take time out from their socializing to help me with this step I’ve been working on.” More innocent, but still not cool.

    I hope to see more discussions in the near future on how to set boundaries, as well as balance your responsibilities to yourself and the larger swing dance scene. And that is a balance that I think instructors, organizers and students could all think more about.

  3. Hi guys.. great topic – the ramifications of which one I hadn’t even considered as a keen student. What interests me, as well as the financial aspects of this discussion, is the ‘elitism’ that I see in some swing scenes. On the one hand, I appreciate and am inspired by watching a group of teachers and high level dancers dancing together.. reminiscent I guess of ‘Cats Corner’ at the Savoy back in the day. But on the other hand, i feel that it’s important that high-level dancers integrate with lower level dancers. I think that’s the essence of Lindy Hop, and am fortunate to see that in my own scene (Bic & Simone, and Ryan Francois being great examples). I never knew Frankie, but I imagine that he was a fine role model in this area. I feel that there’s sometimes an air of ‘I’m too good a dancer to waste my time dancing with you’ which isn’t very ‘Lindy’, imo. Having said that, I don’t personally feel a great desire to dance with teachers.. Whilst I have had some wonderful dances with teachers, I’ve also had dances that are ‘flat’ and uninspired’. I find that my most rewarding dance experiences tend to happen with dancers around the same level as me (or slightly higher) and that this has been true as I’ve advanced in my dancing.

    Anyhow.. I’m not sure I articulated my thoughts clearly but I’ll post anyway 🙂 xx

    • We appreciate your thoughts Tim and I think you made yourself clear. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Personally I have really enjoyed dancing with beginner dancers more recently because my husband is an absolute beginner dancer and through being patient with him it has opened up my eyes even more to the creativity and playfulness that can sometimes exist more purely in young dancers. It is so important for more experienced dancers to remember this.

  4. Thank you so much for bringing this topic up. There were elements of this topic that I’d not thought about so it proved great food for thought. It definitely left me with a greater understanding of the range of intricacies of the ecosystem and it’s left me with a whole bunch of questions to ask next time I approach someone for a private in order to clarify the impact of my request.

    TLDR: The impression I get from this thread though is that there’s a tendency to view people who don’t attend group classes and who prefer to learn by privates as wanting to do so because they feel themselves superior to the level of the events offered. I think the reality is more layered and complicated than this.

    IN DETAIL: Evita touched on a point which I’d like to revisit, which was financial access to events. Students, self-employed people, unemployed or simple those of us on lower incomes cannot always afford the prices asked for for events. As an organiser myself, I understand and trust that events are priced on the whole for sustainability (covering costs only or allowing a profit margin that sustains a event’s future or perhaps subsides others), but even this is sometimes just too much for people to afford, especially when extras such as travel and accommodation, and perhaps paid or even unpaid work leave, are factored in. A private may in these circumstances prove a more affordable method of tuition for some people. It’s not that these people intentionally seek to take money away from organisers/communities, it’s simply that they need to be a little more thrifty with how they spend their money, if order to be able to participate in the scene at all and most likely to then share their developed skills with their community at, often more affordable, social events.

    I recently became self-employed, so I’m finding that I simply can’t afford to attend much more than social dances or social passes at the moment and I can only take advantage of learning opportunities as and when my finances allow. These are most likely to be the odd weekly class, private or on occasion a bargain dance event. Perhaps there’s scope for creating greater social inclusion at events by offering multi-tiered pricing options. I have seen examples of tiered payment options mostly at alt-Blues events, where lower priced tiers are subsidised by higher priced ones and attendees are asked to offer to pay what they can afford or help financially support the tiered system or even a scholarship program. An option might be to include a low-tier that is essentially a social pass with a single small group private or similar – allowing the organiser, teacher and low-income earner to each participate in the ecosystem. Student discounts and group discounts also help as do payment-by-installments. The inconvenience of administering these things maybe be the price of broader social inclusion.

    Finances aside, there are many possibly reasons why someone might prefer to take a private, that are not related to any self-perceptions of superiority. Parents, particularly single parents, might find it logistically difficult to find child care for an entire weekend, making privates a more suitable option for them for example.

    There are also personal reasons why someone might feel unable to attend group learning. After attending classes and events during my last period of depression, I unfortunately developed negative associations with this learning environment and now find that following in group classes causes me flashbacks, anxiety and panic attacks. In order to continue to develop as a dancer, I’ve since sought privates that give me a more supportive and focused experience which helps me mediate my mental and emotional hurdles, or by attending events in another role, as a leader, or solo dancer when feeling able. In this way I’ve been able to continue to participate and develop as a dancer but also to maintain my ability to contribute to my scene as social dancer, organiser and teacher.

  5. I think it is important to note there there are non-monetary ways a poor college swing dancer could contribute to a weekend event so that they could spend the little money they have saved on a private lesson, but not cut the link between themselves and the organization. That student could instead volunteer his time to help the event run smoothly, therefore contributing back to his dance community while still spending his money the way he thought was best for him.

    I would also like to note that not all groups of advanced dancers are as “elitist” as they seem, even if they generally keep to themselves during social dances or skip out on lessons at workshops. In the Southeast U.S. (where I dance), you can certainly see separation between the advanced dancers and lower-level dancers, but as a lower-level dancer, I just kept asking the advanced dancers to dance, and they did, and now I feel welcome to hang out with them or dance with them even though they are still way better dancers than me. No one has to wait until they are “good enough” to dance with someone. Besides that, I encountered a great number of advanced dancers in this area that seek out beginners to dance with, and that is really beneficial. I would also like to mention that exchanges can help a lot with regaining that sense of community since there are not classes or serious competitions to separate levels of dancers.

  6. Thank you for the thoughtful postcast.
    I´ve read the comments.
    But I don´t think that more advanced dancers benefit more from private lessons and therefore should be preferred. When I take a private (I´ve been dancing for 8 years now) we always end up focussing on the basics. Why should beginners not learn the basic tailored to their needs in a private? I don´t believe any dancers deserve more or less attention from a teacher than another dancer because he´s more or less experienced.
    Privates tend not to be announced (also not to the more advanced dancers). In my experience if there is a teacher coming and you´re interested in a private it makes sense to first ask the organizer if a private is possible. Sometimes they´ll arrange it for you. Sometimes they´ll give you information concerning possible timeslots and use of rooms and ask you to arrange the private by yourself. Please don´t think you´re less worthy of a private.

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