Interview with Joe Hack:
What is Peak Performance in Dancing?
CARNA: Joe, what exactly does peak performance in dancing mean to you; how is it measured?
JOE: Peak performance in partner dancing is measured by the consistency of moving together as one to music. And having fun doing that.
Your coach (teacher) will determine if you are “on.” Usually you cannot see it yourself and, while you may have some idea, you don’t have a real concept of your performance. Your coach is objective. He or she tells you how it is (“I’ve seen you stronger…”). That keeps you humble.
A good coach shows you what you need to strive for and brings you to it. It is up to you what you do with it. This means that you have to get the best coach you can find. For me that was Ron Montez. The workshops given by Brian McDonald and Nina Hunt from England also helped me immensely. If your coach doesn’t produce, you can just have fun with your dancing, or walk away.
As a teacher, is there a difference in training amateur and professional dancers?
JOE: No. Pros are not always better than amateurs, especially in Europe. There might be a difference in style—and I teach what the student or the couple want— but there is not necessarily a difference in quality. It is all about consistency, about being devoted to lessons and practice.
How did you achieve peak performance personally as a pro champion, and how do you achieve it now, on a daily basis, as a teacher?
JOE: As a professional dancer, I achieved peak performance through a high level of quality in partnership. The women were the center part. My two pro partners, first Tonja Garamella, and then Linda Lowell, had very different styles and personalities, but they each were on top of their game. Without them, I never would have achieved what I did.
As for being the best teacher I can be, I try do give the amateurs the same training that I give the professionals. However, sometimes my expectations are too high and I get frustrated. That is why I ask myself every evening what I could have done better during the day. This constant self-reflection is an important habit a top teacher should have. I’d also add continuous education to keep up with changes in style and teaching methods, plus staying healthy.
What is the difference between a mediocre and a great dancer?
JOE: Mediocre dancers just don’t have the passion, the drive, the perseverance, and the love that great dancers have. You get what you put into it. The men will frequently look for better partners in the “candy store.” As a rule, a great dancer will be seen on the floor with the same partner (there are exceptions). Staying together is what makes a partnership better. Being consistent. The same goes for coaches. No bouncing around with different coaches or instructors. Also, of course, practice as often as possible.
What does “ability” in a student mean? What is required of a teacher to lead his or her student to excellence?
JOE: Ability is physical coordination, how quickly someone learns, the drive to excel, and positive attitude. I specialize in beginners, because I prefer teaching students who have had no prior experience with other instructors. I call them jokingly “perfect specimens.” That way I know that all the mistakes they make, they learned from me (and I had better take care of the problem).
Sometimes people come initially to learn a little social dancing, but then I notice a change toward an increased dedication to quality and the drive to perform (to win).
A teacher leads his or her students to excellence with honesty about how they are doing, with support, positive attitude, empathy, and consistency in practice sessions. The exams we conduct in the studio are also also very important. When another instructor or coach takes a look at the pro/am couple, it ensures quality control of “the product” and, therefore, helps the teacher. I am in no way above that.
For amateur and professional couples, the mental attitude toward the partner is important. There should be the least amount of negative attitude from the man. Women don’t whine, they practice.
What should a student do— or not do—to support peak performance outside the dance lessons?
JOE: If you are an amateur and work with a pro partner, do not practice on your own. It only leads to mistakes that have to be dealt with in the next lesson and that is a waste of time and money. You can review patterns or a routine in your mind—visualize it, in other words. Couples, on the other hand, should and must practice outside the lessons.
Stretching is important, as is being aware of your posture in order to maintain a good topline. Be organized and have it together. Remember to keep a positive attitude and don’t talk yourself down by saying things like, “I can’t do this.” Perseverance is a valuable quality when it comes to peak performance.
Finally, what, in your opinion, needs to be improved in the (ballroom) community at large?
JOE: All dance instructors should be certified on the level of the teaching they are doing. This ensures “quality control” and is in the best interest of the student. When students are looking for a dance teacher, they should ask for credentials rather than just assume the teacher is qualified.
I am a passionate advocate of ongoing training for dance teachers. There should be continuing education—in their field—for the staff of a dance studio, five times a week.
Also, when teachers become frustrated because their students aren’t picking up the material quickly enough (I know what I am talking about…), corrections should always be made in a kind and courteous manner.
The studios need to have frequent Spotlights, Solos, and Showcases because they give students the experience of “eyes on you” and that builds confidence.
As for the competitions, I would like to see a more reasonable price of admission for spectators. Everyone should get the chance to watch the beauty and fun of ballroom dancing!
IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO is a self-improvement book authored by Carna Zacharias-Miller and Joseph E. Hack, consultant. It uses EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques), also called “tapping” to achieve peak performance in dancing. Available as paperback and as a kindle book.
Go to amazon for more information and to buy.