Personal Trainers

Personal Trainers

Dance studios in the States have long had a reputation of being overpriced, designed for the overly mature and even restrictive to the lonely and well to do.  In fact, dance professionals in America may well have been among the first generation of professional trainers.  Now popular in so many sports and activities, when individual lessons were introduced by dance studios years ago, professional “one on one” trainers were considered mere gigolos or at best someone ready to take advantage of the unsuspecting or naïve public.  Now days, one cannot go to any spa, tennis club, or gym without being offered the services of a “certified professional”.  Who better to inspire and motivate?  Newspaper stories are abundant of the many celebrities that avail themselves of them, and as many stories exist of their accessibility to the regular public.  In fact, they are promoted as one of the surest ways to accomplish goals, support to lose weight, motivation to show up at the spa, inspiration to quit smoking, or the best way to improve your ____ game.  When offered by these other activities, professional trainers seem almost mundane.  In fact when dancers act as professional trainers, they actually work along with the client, and don’t just sit on the sideline and shout “1-2-3-4”, and “give me five more”.

Not to say that our industry has not had its share of charlatans, and cheats, but so has every other industry.  All the corruption in the history of our industry probably doesn’t amount to one day in the life of recently exposed “respected” oil and accounting firms.  This industry is now probably more regulated than most other service businesses within the parameters of state laws and the FTC governs many companies as well.  Even our sanctioning bodies such as the N.D.C.A. take complaints to heart and are quick to revoke membership, as they should.  More of our membership organizations need to publicize their code of conduct, and be willing to support the good ones and expel the rotten eggs.  No one entering a dance studio anywhere in the country should have any doubt as to whether they are entering a reputable place with credentials or a fly by night establishment.  Whether that can be said of other industries is not really the point.  In fact congratulations are in order for those that have been willing to step in and stand up for what is right.

It was mostly somebody else’s idea of how much learning to dance was worth and not how much my time was worth that created bad publicity.  That studios in the States charge much more than their counterparts in other countries is not the question.  Whether adults are willing to go through the tortures of a class system designed for kids should be the real question.  European schools are quick to exclaim their relative low costs, but forget to explain why singles are not provided the same opportunities, and why if you have not learned this stuff in your youth, you are not entitled to do so now.  Yes, some European will write me to tell of how they know of somebody older who picked it up later, but that person is certainly the exception, and singles are still largely ignored.  In fact I have spoken to many in Europe and the far East that will tell you of how their cost of private coaching lessons now exceeds ours but are perfectly comfortable to charge the dancesport enthusiast, but still feel the regular amateur is somehow not entitled.

The departure from this class system should be one of the things Americans should be most proud.  All amateurs, clients, or customers (whatever you prefer to call them) can choose for themselves the importance of the private lesson, and then decide if the cost is worthwhile.  The idea that a select minority are the only ones entitled to the benefits of a personal trainer is an anathema to all good capitalists.  Personal trainers can provide a valuable service as long as they remember the service is for the benefit of the customer.  If I go to see my trainer to lose 20 pounds, the trainer has a responsibility to help me succeed in my goal, which includes advice on diet, exercise, good foods and bad.  Americans can learn much from the Europeans as to how to create a program that encourages the youth, and creates a culture of understanding for dance and dancesport.  Taking away from what we have accomplished doesn’t help a thing.

Professional dance instructors have a certain responsibility.  If I come to learn to dance with my wife in the real world, the trainer has a responsibility to help me achieve the goal.  He is not being responsible if all he shows me is how to become a competition dancer.  He is not being professional if all he promotes is the advantage of wearing dance shoes, which he sells, or costumes his partner makes.  He is not being competent if he teaches 5 dances before he finds out what music you will likely dance to, or even what radio station you listen to.  Professional instructors know the three things dancers have to have in order to be effective on the floor, and go about structuring classes and activities to accomplish those things.  Then and only then are they worth their money, and if they do they are probably worth a lot more.

Remember golf pros generally do not have to pay for the practice range or course they use for their private lessons.  Tennis pros don’t either.  So when they charge less, somebody else has already paid for the facilities.  Most likely you already have.  Studios promote activities, which are necessary to the accomplishment of the student’s goals, and then all too often advertise them for the wrong reasons like to justify the cost.  Just as a person will learn more about the basics of golf on a driving range, and not riding around on a golf course, dance and dancesport students need to use studio facilities to further their goals, and not necessarily for social purposes.  Their goal may ultimately be fun.  There is nothing wrong with it.  There are as many definitions of fun as there are people pursuing it.  We should be glad it is not life and death, and we need not be ashamed to charge what we have to.  We only need to be ashamed when we fail to provide the result the customer came in for.  You provide the service, and you provide the result; you provide it in a timely and professional manner, you deserve the money.  If you aren’t willing, get out of the business, and let others do their job.

Michael S. Reichenbach

Sent to Dance Week – 08-06-2003

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