Feedback is an amazing tool in our quest to improve our dancing. When we receive comments about what we’re doing well, what’s not working, or what we should try to change, it provides us with direction.
Yet feedback about our dancing is often something we mostly dread. Why is that? How can we redeem feedback to its rightful purpose? How can we give and receive feedback well?
The problem with feedback
I see two main problems with feedback: our automatic response to it, and the way it tends to be given.
First off, when someone lets us know they want to give us some feedback, our brains tend to activate defense mode. We’ve all experienced hurtful criticism in the past and we want to protect ourselves. Sometimes we don’t trust the motivation of others in giving us feedback, worrying that they’re putting us down. Even if we do value the advice of someone, say a teacher, we may apply the criticism too broadly to mean we’re hopeless as dancers.
In short, we very rapidly take things to extremes.
This is in part because dancers often give feedback in less than optimal ways. It may be sprung on us at a time when we aren’t ready and willing to hear it. It’s often vague, which leaves it to be interpreted in the worst way. Even when a dancer gives positive feedback, the remark is often so nonspecific that we may interpret it as a token statement rather than an encouraging comment.
The good news is that we can fix by developing a few simple good practices.
How to give feedback well
I truly believe you should always ask someone’s permission before giving them feedback. It’s as simple as: “Would you like a little feedback?” or “Could I give you a comment about something I noticed in your dancing?”
Yes, even if you want to say something positive. You don’t know what kind of headspace that dancer is in. Your comment could make them very self-conscious about something when they only wanted to come enjoy some dancing and get out of their head for a bit.
I would also advise you not to give feedback while dancing with someone unless you are in fact being made uncomfortable or even hurt by something your partner is doing. In that case, by all means specifically tell them what they can do to make you comfortable dancing with them.
When giving feedback, please make sure to speak in a tone that will not be overheard. You want to help someone improve their dancing, not embarrass them in a community they love.
Beginners tend to need much more positive feedback. They need reinforcement that they are doing right to invest themselves in dancing. They need to believe they can get better. More advanced dancers are much more ready for criticism that will help drive their progress.
At some point, pop psychology advised a sort of “sandwich” for feedback: positive, negative, positive, or praise, criticism, praise. I don’t advise that. I definitely want to let a partner know after I’ve particularly enjoyed something about their dancing, or even just highlight a good habit when I have observed one. However if I have some negative feedback to give, I don’t want it to be lost or overlooked in a “sandwich.” Also if I’m teaching a crowded class, I focus my personal feedback on what should be fixed. Then if there’s time I come back and reinforce when I see improvement.
Most importantly, feedback should be specific and actionable whenever possible. Don’t say “Your dancing is nice” because it may be taken as patronizing. Don’t just say “I think your styling is a bit weird.” Particularly with negative feedback, I think we sometimes believe that being vague will be less hurtful – but actually it may instead be interpreted as a sweeping judgment. When comments aren’t specific, they are interpreted through that person’s personal lens of insecurities and could be a major blow to their dance self-esteem. Alternatively, defensiveness may mean it gets brushed off as just a personal opinion.
Try to describe exactly what element of someone’s dancing you appreciate or think could be improved. “I love the rhythmic variations in your footwork!” really gives that person a point of pride. “The way you style your arms through a turn makes me have to work really hard to avoid getting hit” is a comment the recipient can clearly work on (and not easily ignore).
How to receive feedback well
Let’s start with the ideal situation: someone asks you if you’d like to hear some feedback. Consider your mood before replying; maybe right now you just want to be in the moment and have fun rather than think about your dancing. You could say, “I’d love to hear it another time, if that’s possible,” or just, “No, but thank you for asking.”
Of course at other times you may not get that opportunity to decline, because the feedback is just thrown at you. Whether you consent to feedback or not, try to receive it as though it were given with the best of intentions. Manage your insecurities by listening to what is actually being said, rather than what you are afraid is being said. Don’t put up your defenses too strongly. Listening doesn’t mean you have to act on what you are told.
Let’s have a look at an example.
Comment: “Wow, you sure like touch steps!”
Insecure thoughts: “I am a really repetitive dancer. I did way too many touch steps. Why don’t I ever remember any of the other moves I learn?”
Defensive thoughts: “Why is she even doing urban kiz if she doesn’t like touch steps? Hasn’t she ever seen any videos from the pros? They do lots of them!”
Reasoned thoughts: “She could mean that I did too many touch steps. Or it could be a neutral observation. Maybe she just wanted to say something nice but couldn’t think of anything else specific. Or maybe she’s new to urban kiz.”
When someone gives you feedback that isn’t clear, ask a follow-up question. For this case, perhaps: “Did you feel like there were too many touch steps?”
Let’s consider another example: someone comments, “I feel like you need to be more grounded.”
If we’re insecure, we may questions whether we’ll ever attain that wonderful state of groundedness. If we’re defensive, we may assume that we’re already grounded and dismiss the comment. In both cases, we miss the opportunity to learn from this outside perspective.
Instead, we could ask: “Could you give me an example of when you felt I wasn’t very grounded? What could I do to improve?”
Asking for Feedback
Obviously I encourage you to get feedback in order to help you improve! It’s best to ask people that you dance with regularly, since they’ll be familiar with your strengths and weaknesses. If you’d like comments from someone new or from your teacher, ask them before you dance or ask them to give you feedback after the next time you dance. Most people aren’t critiquing you constantly, despite what you might think. In order to give good feedback, they’ll need a heads up so they can be intentional about it.
Be prepared for some dancers and teachers to refuse to give feedback on the social floor. We all like to enjoy the moment and focus on the music and connection when we’re social dancing. It’s best to ask your teacher for individual feedback during a class or even to book a private.
When you seek feedback, believe it will help you improve. Try to make a plan of how you can act on the comments you receive. And don’t forget to say, “Thanks for the feedback!”
~Author - Rachel Cassandra ~
If you want to hear more from Rachel be sure to explore plenty more at KizombaCommunity.com, including more articles, instructional videos, and information on connecting to kizomba all over the world.