As a dancer, unless you’re only ever going to perform for yourself in the safe space of your own living room – feedback and criticism are going to be a part of your dance life. How you deal with both says a lot. It has a lot to say about how you’ll handle experiences and yourself in the greater dance world where both feedback and criticism, in a different way, play a role in your dance journey.
I’ve always been sensitive and more inclined to be hard on myself. It’s a combination I’ve seen in many dancers. Framing feedback, criticism and understanding how to get the best out of both has been a game changer.
When it comes down to it, feedback is essentially like an answer to a question - it’s a response to what was seen, an opinion offered with a view to objectively improving and encouraging. Now, dancers are especially FEELING humans which makes sense really - we physically FEEL our way through class with our bodies, we invest our emotions and FEELings into what we do and ultimately want the audience to FEEL something when they watch us. The challenge is that when the feelings live that close to the surface and dance FEELS like such a personal expression of who we are – it can be easy to misunderstand feedback or even take it as a personal attack rather than as an invitation to grow. Taking feedback too personally looks like the moment when a teacher gives you a small technical correction and you decide that they clearly ‘don’t like you at all’. Taking it too far, looks like getting hung up on and obsessing over one comment and letting it snowball to the point that you can’t be present in the rest of class… it happens, but it’s worth doing the work to notice an over the top, defensive reaction and perhaps listen further for the opportunity that’s really there in feedback.
When it comes down to it, feedback is essentially like an answer to a question
You NEED feedback because you need to know what people are hearing, seeing, connecting to when you dance. You need to remember that feedback is mostly given by those who see potential in you and as an invitation to more. Constructive criticism or critique in this same way, gives you information that looks like anything from technical corrections to letting you know that your energy drops or that your story isn’t ‘reading’ in certain places in your performance. It’s up to you what you do with it but it makes sense to ask yourself questions about how it might apply – to be open to growing in new ways. And, in the case of working with choreographers as a professional dancer, to take on what the choreographer wants to see and how they want you to use your skill set.
Criticism, on the other hand, is more regularly defined and felt as ‘passing judgment’, and in the dance world there is constructive criticism but there will also be negative throwaway comments, shaming and opinions because people will always have them. In dance, in life. Criticism and comments of this type usually say way more about the person making them than it does about you. Look for any information and leave the rest. This takes work of course – just like training a tendu, it’s a muscle that we learn to flex.
Here’s the thing. How and when feedback or criticism show up plus the way it is delivered is totally out of our control, as are other people’s opinions in general. People are going to be who they are and communicate in ways that work for them. This is why I believe it’s so important to learn take it all in ways that actively work for you.
It’s perfectly ok to be disappointed with feedback. Or hurt by criticism. It’s also ok that some people won’t like the way you dance, your work or your style. It’s normal. It’s essential to have mentors and habits in your dance life that will help you sift through the comments and reviews to work out what you can constructively apply and take on.
How and when feedback or criticism show up plus the way it is delivered is totally out of our control
As a dancer we can process in our heads, see ourselves in the mirror and feel it in our bodies but feedback plays a huge part in letting you know what it’s like to see you dance from the outside. Criticism of the not-so-kind-and-helpful variety also plays a role but not in the same way. It allows us to develop our resilience muscle, it asks us to dig deeper into our self-confidence and remember that there are a lot of other dancers out there dealing with the same vulnerable and tricky dance world that we are. Sometimes criticizing others is a way of offloading your own insecurities when you feel sensitive and unsure. It comes from the same place as those defensive and resistant reactions to feedback. As dancers, we all basically juggle the same tough situations, feedback and criticism and we choose our responses differently.
Of course then the question that pops up… which dancer will you be?