Private lessons. After IDB, I realized that while group classes are all good and well, you really need private lessons and some one-on-one time with someone truly knowledgeable to improve your dancing. I was lucky enough to take virtually every Smooth class that Eulia Baranovsky taught during the week in Rockville, so I asked for her card after the last class I took with her and asked her for a few lessons once we returned to New York City.
Here's the thing. I am a hardcore Rhythm/Latin dancer. The way my hips move, the way the rhythm courses through my body, the kind of partnering work you need -- that's all me. My lessons with Eulia made me truly appreciative of how much harder (in my quite subjective, respectful opinion) the Smooth/Standard side of things is, especially Smooth. The biggest problem I encounter in my dancing is my balance, or lack thereof. It's difficult enough to balance yourself in relation to the kinds of partnering connections in Rhythm and Latin, but it gets taken to an entire new plateau with Smooth and Standard and the different positions and holds and rise and fall and parallel foot positions and driving off the standing leg and stacking your spine and -- argh.
The bottom line is that while I will continue with Smooth and Standard and work as hard as I can on them, I know now for certain where my strengths lie. I hope to become better at Smooth and Standard, but it will require a mountain of work that I truly have to commit myself to.
Which is a problem, considering how in LOVE I am with Rhythm and Latin, and I devote a significant amount of my limited time to them primarily. I suppose we'll just have to see how this competition season goes!
Sidenote: My poor bank account. Private lessons, while very necessary, are also very expensive.
Sidenote corollary: Will dance for food. Then will sell food for more dance lessons.
Group classes. So, what is a poor, starving, ballroom-obsessed grad student to do when his funds for private lessons runs out? Why, purchase an unlimited group class card at a well-respected studio, of course! I had heard my friends sing the praises of Stepping Out Studios, so I decided to bite the bullet and get an unlimited card.
At first, I was very ambitious - between my Sunday marathon of class at Dancesport and the classes I signed up for (all Latin and Standard with one Smooth class), every week of the August cycle, I was going to be dancing 21 hours a week. Needless to say, although I pat myself on the back for being an ambitious little toaster, I couldn't keep it up, so now I'm down to a much more manageable 14 hours (after dropping virtually all of my Smooth and Standard classes).
Have the classes been worth it? Absolutely. I'm getting exactly what I want out of each of my classes (a plethora of new moves with explanations of the technique behind them), the other students (for the most part) are quite pleasant and fun to dance with, the teachers are very knowledgeable and personable. All in all, I definitely made the right choice (even if my bank account would beg to differ).
You can work on your own all you want, and indeed you should. You need to work on your own sense of balance, your understanding of technique, your personal style and flare, and so on. But ultimately, you're not dancing alone out there -- you have partners, and if you're part of a team, you're also learning alongside other folks who are trying their best, just like you. It does indeed take a village to raise a dancer. Where would any of us be without friends to practice with, teammates to learn from and cheer us on, teachers to communicate what they know to us to the best of their abilities, and partners to share a special dance or two with on the floor?
Once the season starts up, it's back to the NYU team full time. And I wouldn't have it any other way. I've been working on my own personal dancing all summer to make myself a better leader for my followers and hopefully a role model for new members of the team. I just hope it's all paying off. The proof will be in the pudding -- let's see how the team lessons and competitions go!