Feedback is the angry red pen on what you thought was a perfect essay and the standing ovation to what you thought was a horrible opening night. Feedback can also be our thoughts said out loud by someone else, exactly the way we needed to hear them. When paired with encouragement (which the best feedback often is!) feedback can be one of the most useful tools an artist can have when learning or honing their skills.
In short, honest feedback is the perspective on ourselves or our work that we do not have access to, and are often missing.
When constructive criticism, compliments, or general words of encouragement come from someone established in the field you are training in, it can be especially helpful. Dance is at the intersection of art and athleticism, so feedback can help us to become not only better artists, but also stronger, healthier athletes. On top of that, the dance industry is both a business and a community, so understanding the perspective of established dancers and dance teachers can help you to find your voice in the crowd!
Cut Yourself Some Slack
A mirror is one of the most common ways to get a constant form of “feedback” in a typical dance studio (or your home, if your mirrors are big enough). While the mirror provides a supposedly objective reflection of how you look as you’re dancing, our perception of what we see can oftentimes be the source of our negative inner critic, even when we mean well!
The discipline needed in a dance class can turn into a critical inner monologue that is always looking to turn faster and kick higher, without stopping to celebrate all the awesome things that are already happening in class. Or, maybe the pressure of performing for a big crowd turns into stage fright and your perfectionist tendencies start to take over.
The thing is, we can be way more critical to ourselves than we need to be! That’s why receiving trusted feedback from an instructor or dance teacher can make a world of difference to a dancer. By seeing your dancing through someone else’s eyes, you can learn what you should look for in the mirror! Feedback can also help for those high-pressure situations, as an instructor that has already been worked in the industry a professional dancer can share what they know will shine on stage, and what an audience won’t even notice!
Tip: If you do find yourself saying things like “That turn was sloppy and should be faster,” try saying “I’m going to work on my turning technique to achieve more control and speed this month.”
Comparison, Compliments, Constructive Criticism?
So, what does feedback really look like? We’ve been specifically talking about an instructor giving feedback to a student, but it’s important to remember that feedback comes in all forms.
- The mirror
- The comments and reactions of your friends
- Comments, suggestions, compliments, and even questions from dance instructors
- The way you feel before, during, and after dance performances
We’ve already discussed the purpose of the mirror: providing an objective reflection for you to see yourself while you’re dancing. The mirror is one of your handiest tools when it comes to cleaning dances. When you’re trying to move in unison with a group of dancers, you can see in the mirror that you are a count behind the rest of the group.
As for the reactions and comments of your friends, nothing feels better than your dance family cheering for you as you’re on stage, or spontaneously clapping when you nail a pirouette. Those reactions are positive feedback, too, and you should allow yourself to enjoy them! ay!
The most essential type of feedback will often be the one from an instructor. If you’re receiving an honest compliment, it’s not just a pat on the back, it is a guide to what the instructor thinks worked, and what you can continue to do more of.
You can look at feedback as a guide that an instructor is creating for you. It’s still the dancer’s responsibility to enact the suggestions or corrections, but with a clear guide and understanding of where you are, you can achieve your dance goals much quicker than you could alone!
Lastly, a form of feedback that is sometimes overlooked is feedback from our bodies! For example, pain often tells us where we might be injured, and feelings of warmth and excitement tell us that something we are doing is working. Tension or tightness might tell us that we might be having some mental blocks.
You can practice checking in with your body to get more of this kind of feedback. For example, if you left a certain dance class feeling elated, then you can take a moment to try to remember what you did differently so you can repeat it next time.
We Learn By Making Mistakes
Babies learn to walk by watching their parents and those around them and trying to copy them, and failing until they succeed. But without guidance from those who have already learned to walk, it would take an infant a long time to understand how to do it, and to fall and get up enough times to be strong enough to walk on their own.
How do babies relate to a dancer’s need for feedback? Because learning any new skill requires a similar amount of failure, guidance, and encouragement. We might have eventually figured out how to walk without a step-by-step breakdown (pun intended!), but try learning how to do a fouetté turn without ever receiving feedback from an instructor or seeing yourself in the mirror or on a video. It would be quite hard, and even if you were to achieve the skill somehow, without feedback you might never be certain that you were doing it correctly.
Getting corrections and compliments from an outside eye can be a great way to break up an otherwise unforgiving learning process. Consistency throughout your “mistakes” and your less-than-perfect moments will make you grow the most as a dancer.
And They Lead to Achievements!
Receiving feedback is only half the battle. It’s still the dancer’s responsibility to enact the changes in their training needed to reach the next level of their dance career. However, when good feedback is paired with a good work ethic and attention to detail, you will be surprised at how far you can push yourself and how much you can achieve.
If you keep at it, one day, your favorite teacher will give you an honest compliment— not because you were able to do something spectacular, but because they watched you try your best and succeed at something that you had to work hard for.
Try It Out
Fun Fact: It’s scientifically proven that feedback is even more effective when the person receiving the feedback actually asks for it—like for example, you ask your teacher directly for constructive corrections, or you actively choose to post a video on an app where you can receive feedback directly from the instructor!
With CLI Studios’ Challenges feature you can post videos and get feedback from some of the best instructors and choreographers in the country!
Challenges are short pieces of choreography taught by top instructors in different styles that you get to film and upload directly to the app. There, you get to see your challenge amongst the rest of the community videos and have a chance to get feedback from the instructors themselves! Challenges run for a limited amount of time, and are a great way to engage with other students of dance, receive feedback, and support many dancers!
Would you like constructive feedback from choreographers and instructors like Chris Scott, Teddy Forance, Katy Spreadbury, and Grasan Kingsberry? Become a member to start joining Challenges.