Let’s start at square one – what is a “coaching?” A coaching is when you pay for a third set of eyes to give feedback and instruction during a lesson. If you dance pro-am, the coach would be another person in addition to the instructor you usually dance with. From my experience, the coaching is usually with someone more elite (ex: someone who has won national titles) and they may have traveled from out of town to work with students at your studio for a day or two.
What is the value of a coaching? The coach may have new ways to explain things or may have strengths that your instructor doesn’t have. For instance, they may be great at arm styling, performance, or choreography. In some cases, the coach may also tell your instructor changes they can make to their own dancing/lead to help set you up for success. Some of the pros who do coachings are also judges, so this can be a great way for them to get to know you and provide feedback on what they’d like to see you do better on the competition floor.
When is a good time for a coaching? Your instructor should advise when he/she thinks you are ready to work with a coach. Please note I am not an instructor, but if you want my advice, I would suggest that you take private lessons for at least a year before you work with a coach in order to get the most out of the session. Ex: You don’t need to bring in Karina Smirnoff to teach you how to do an under-arm turn in rumba. I also feel like coachings are more advantageous for competitors. If you just dance socially, this might be an area where you consider saving your money. Unless they bring in someone famous and you want to be able to tell all your friends you’ve tangoed with Tony Dovolani 😉 in which case I don’t blame you! hahah
How do I pick the right coaches to work with? In most cases your instructor or studio manager will help advise who you should work with. But it’s good to keep in mind what information you are hoping to get out of the session and what style(s) the coach excels in. For instance, it doesn’t make sense for a top-notch swing dancer to critique your quickstep. I’ve also learned from experience who has a teaching style and personality that really clicks with me. Some coaches have a way of pushing me super hard (which I want!), but also giving me enough encouragement that I walk away feeling like the session was productive and enjoyable. Or the coach was a person I was in awe of and nervous to work with, but they completely put me at ease. As a taller girl (5’8″), I also like working with tall female coaches because they can give tips on how to use height to my advantage and remind me that I can take bigger strides. Of course, you can also ask fellow dancers if they have worked with said coach before and what they thought of the experience. You don’t want to pay $250+ for the guy that started the lesson 10 minutes late, seemed distracted, and didn’t tell you anything new…or at least I don’t.
How often should I do coachings? This depends on your budget, because when you have a coaching you are paying for both your instructor’s time and the coach’s time. So you could be paying $250-$500 for a 45 minute session. To me, coachings are super helpful and I would do more if I could afford more. But you also want to allow yourself enough time after a coaching to let their pointers sink in. As a ballpark, I’ve done 5 coaching lessons in the past year, but I know other students who have done 20. One thing I would encourage is to not have too many different coaches advising you on the same style of dance. For instance, you don’t need 4 different people weighing in on your smooth. Try to find one or two coaches for each style of dance you compete (“style” meaning smooth, standard, latin, and rhythm).
Final thoughts: Speak up! If there is a pro that you would love to work with, let your instructor know, maybe they have the connections to make it happen. And on the flip side, if you have a coaching lesson that you are underwhelmed by, politely bring it up to your instructor. They should be aware that you weren’t satisfied. It’s possible they may be able to give you a partial refund, but at the very least they will be able to steer you towards a better coach for you in the future.