Let Me Show You My Privates Back
Jun 23, 2014
By Tracey Bivens
As I sit here listening to my Pandora (I don’t think anyone listens to the radio anymore-Laughing), I am contemplating Tina Turner’s 80's classic, "Private Dancer.”
"I’m your private dancer, a dancer for money
I’ll do what you want me to do.
I’m your private dancer, dancer for money
and any old music will do.”
Now clearly, Ms. Tina focused on a genre of dancing that provides pleasure for most men who frequent dens of iniquity. However, because I deal with content that is relative to steppin, I want to focus on the word "privates” as it relates to steppin.
In the unofficial steppin dictionary, the word "privates” refers to a length of time, usually an hour that is designated for one individual to learn a component of steppin from one instructor. The cost of a private usually ranges from $25 to $90 an hour. By the end of the session, the person will be able to…..will be able to….will be able to……..unh huh….let’s get into the content of this commentary.
I’m in a unique position in that I have interviewed a countless number of steppers, steppin instructors and promoters through the years. I’ve even kicked it with my fellow steppin linguists, Terrance Pratt of Chistepper.com, Markie Bee from SteppersUSA.com and Cynthia Bean's from Steppers 411, about any and all subjects pertaining to steppin…except this one. The controversial private sessions.
As an educator by trade, I understand the design of curriculums and how to identify measurable growth among students. As a result, I have a hard time separating myself from the mindset that every student, especially those who are paying money, should receive measurable and desired outcomes when they take a private session in steppin.
Let me tell you what I’ve SEEN over the years as I observed private sessions.
The woman pays her money and just follows the male instructor for an entire hour while he says things like, "Nope…you didn’t do that right!” or "Do it like this!”
The man pays his money and does the instructor’s version of the male basic step for an hour two different ways… (Gasp!) and there’s no woman in the session for him to execute his basic moves with.
The woman pays her money and she does her basics for 20 minutes, her right turn for 20 minutes and her left turn for 20 minutes. She knew those before the private session began.
The trio couple pays their money and they listen to a lecture for 50 minutes and dance for 10 or they watch their instructor dance with his two friends for about three songs as though they were at a set and not on the clock.
I am a consumer (student) advocate and one who is NOT afraid to express the views and opinions that many share with me on the phone, in boxing me on Facebook, and in the parking lots, I feel that in order to make this educational process run smoothly for the consumer AND the instructor, some guidelines need to be put in place.
I’m going to ask that Rockin Rodney Mack have a "So You Want to be an Instructor” workshop at his 12th Annual White Party in 2015. I would also like to see the following individual participate in such a workshop. Larry Collins, of The Steady Steppers out of Detroit, has always had a written curriculum that his organization prescribes for his students as a whole and for any individual who seeks a private lesson along with step by step DVDs. The key words are "written curriculum.” You as the student, should know what you should be receiving in a 6 week session and during that six week session, there should be some progress monitoring taking place that allows for the instructor to assess if you need more training in a specific area…cue the private session. A student should NEVER ever have the ability to come into a class or workshop and say, "I’m advanced like Tyk Myn or I’m better than Tina Moore and Lady Margaret Fisher.” L.C. Henderson out of Chicago is another such example of an individual who has a dynamite curriculum.
If there is not a written curriculum in place, the instructor should be articulate and skilled enough to relay a concept so effectively that a "blind man or woman” can execute it. Again...I’ve only seen a handful of people who can do this with verified testimonials from their students. Tyk Myn, Keith Hubbard, Donnie Davis, Darrell Davis, Sherry Gordon, Edward Donaldson, Jamie Graham (Montgomery), Charnice Simmons, Cheryl Powe, Sarah Teagle, Brian Patterson, James Pacely and Dave Maxx. Now once again…these are only a few instructors who I’m mentioning in this article. Are there more? Yes. So please don’t inbox me if you don’t see your name trying to curse me out. (Laughing)
"Tracey…what about the high cost of the privates? What am I paying for?” Ah yes…the cost. Back in 2002 was the first time I’d ever heard of privates being offered and they were mainly to the hungry out of towners who would schedule them if they came to Chicago for a visit. In later years, the privates became associated with the White Party Itinerary, Steppin to a King’s Dream in California, the Atlanta Heritage Ball weekend lineup, etc. I remember these privates being offered at $20-$25 an hour during the early 2000s which I thought was reasonable. You have to think…if I live 10 miles away from our designated spot for the private session, you should at least be paying me enough to cover my gas and my time. So a two hour session at $50…yeah…I could see it. Now…when we start talking about $75 and $90 a session…I, as the consumer, should have more expectations to justify that amount. "What am I getting for $90 an hour?” should be the first question a student should ask. The instructor should be able to say something like, "At the end of this session, you will be able to steal the beat, execute a double spin with your partner on one toe, (you know I gotta make this stuff funny so you’ll read it) and my assistant will be here for you to practice with during the session. In addition, I’m going to videotape our session so you can take it home and use it as a reference point as homework. Lastly, Student A from Hawaii, I’m going to check back with you in about 10 weeks to see how you are coming along…maybe you can send me some video footage of yourself.” This is an example of customer service at its finest and justification of my hard earned money spent well. I’ve seen people over the years spend hundreds of dollars on private sessions and unless they are gluttons for punishment or just like to throw their money away…I don’t see evidence of their advancement in the dance. You receive not because you expect not.
The last thing I want instructors and education students to focus on is…being humble.
Instructors…if you have love for this dance…it will come out in the way you educate yourself and your students about the history of the dance. Focusing on the evolution of the dance from old school to new skool steppin and knowing when to say "I have taken you as far as I can go Student B, I’m not going to take another dime from you…let me refer you to instructor so and so.” Also…get someone to write your steppin bio and instructional syllabi. In that bio, you should mention who you learned from, why teaching this dance is important to you and who you have produced. Note…if you put down someone’s name that you are claiming…make sure you talk to them first, because you will find that instructors will say one thing but students will say another.
Students…if you have love for this dance…it will showcase itself in the way you do your homework. If an instructor spends time with you for 6 weeks and you decide you want to become an instructor and your basic looks like you have to urinate badly or you can’t tell me who Janice Roberson, Calvin Barnes, Darlinda Russell or Claudell is (yes-he known by one name) or anything about The Dungeon or Mr. G’s…you need to go somewhere and sit down…seriously. This dance is nothing without its rich history. Students…ask your favorite steppers who THEY learned from. Stop taking flyers from people who will promise you that you will sit on Mount Olympus with the other steppin greats. Finally, students…ask your instructors how you can assist them in their instructional endeavors. I’ve seen many good instructors get discouraged by the amount of public relations and marketing that it takes to become recognized as a good instructor. Volunteer to pass out flyers for them, go to Jeff Clark’s I Love Steppin.com and ask if you can get a line of I Love Steppin t-shirts made for your instructors’ students or donate bottles of water for their classes. This type of support is needed on a much wider scale than is currently provided.
Well…I’ve caused enough damage for the day. I think I’m going to stepperize the lyrics to one of Tina Turner’s stanzas in "Private Dancer”.
"I’m your private instructor, I won’t take your money
I’ll give to you all that I know
I’m your private student, I’ll take what you give me
as long as it helps me to grow”
Educate your steppin!