Lately, my mind keeps returning to a shortage of honest feedback in dance. I’ve thought a lot about when it is, or isn’t, appropriate to offer. I’ve thought about some of the things I’ve been told throughout my career that were, initially, tough to hear but made a huge impact on both my dancing and professionalism. I’m actually quite grateful to these people because I know, with total certainty, that these women had my best interest in mind. That is the key to delivering feedback. In order for it to be heard, one has to deliver it in a way that emphasizes the good intention behind it.
I often hesitate to offer feedback because I don’t want to offend anyone or imply that I’ve somehow mastered everything — believe me, I haven’t. No matter how gently it’s presented, not everyone is so open to hearing how often their underwear is showing or that their wrists are over-circling. There is something to be said for minding our own business and staying out of conversations where we don’t belong.
Whenever I watch a dancer that I care about, (a friend or mentor), I watch with love. I am in the mode of watching to give support to someone without bringing my critical eye. Of course they may do something that particularly stands out or impresses me and I’ll share that in a post-show compliment. There are people in my life that can do no wrong in my eyes because I’ve had years of watching them and I love where their dance takes me. Even then, if one of them should say, “Tava, please be honest. I’m trying something new tonight and I could really use your feedback.” I will oblige. It is helpful to be asked before the performance so I can get in the right mindset and take off my “beaming support for friends” glasses.
In my “day life” I am paid to give feedback and I have learned to be as tactful as possible with full honesty because I want my clients to succeed or break dysfunctional patterns. Why would it be so easy and natural to do in this context? For starters, they are coming to me because they are trying to reach a goal that has been challenging for them and they are paying me for my time and expertise. So, I think the same should apply in the dance world.
It’s my opinion that dancers should ask for it – regularly. We should identify the dancers who inspire us and see if they are open to critiquing or offering feedback. If we rely on post-show compliments as our only cue about our ability, we aren’t getting the real picture. Furthermore, feedback from one person is not always the right way to go. Someone who is so familiar with our style might develop dance blind spots or focus on a particular aspect while unknowingly ignoring others. Below is my approach to seeking and accepting feedback that works for me and, who knows, maybe it could work for you :)
Video feedback: I have sent practice videos to my mentors over the years and paid them to review it and give me feedback.
Private lessons: I’ve paid for private lessons with dancers I admire so they could watch me closely and critique as I go. This just cannot happen in a group class situation.
The 24-48 hour rule: I get what I can only describe as “post-show rawness.” Devoting countless hours of practice for a major show and hearing an honest critique immediately after the fact is not a good thing. I am too raw and vulnerable after nearly every performance to want to hear something critical. It’s better for me to ask a day or two later when I’ve got my “tough skin” back on. Someone once said to me in the car as we were leaving a venue, “Well, not bad, but not your best.” It surprised me because I hadn’t asked and I had a different feeling in my head of what happened on the stage that night. I won’t ask for anyone’s opinion right away; especially if I’m riding a post-show high.
Supply prompts: Every so often I have a list of things I’m working on: dynamics, expressive hands, incorporating emotion or numerous other concepts. I might ask a friend, “Can you pay attention to my hands tonight? Specifically, how do they hold up when I’m doing fast hip work?” This gives people an idea of what to focus on and can lead to better results than, “So, how was I?”
Learn to separate opinion from feedback: This is huge. There are lots of areas of disagreement in our dance world and sometimes people can disguise their opinions as feedback.Personally, I don’t like the look of visible dance shorts in costumes but that’s pure opinion and I would never say “Your shorts are showing under your costume so you might want to visit a seamstress to fix that.” Um, no. Totally inappropriate.
Sometimes I do have to bite my tongue as the amount of visible crotch with certain floorwork transitions gets to me after a day of videos rolls through my newsfeed. Or I see someone making the same early mistakes that I made and I want to offer an opinion. It’s a case by case basis and, sometimes, the risk is worth it. It’s always great to seek it. Ask for it and be willing to accept whatever it is, so long as you trust the source.
Tava is a professional bellydancer in NYC and CT. She performs regularly for all family friendly events, galas, weddings and corporate events. Tava also performs in creative/theatrical endeavors and enjoys her balance of commercial and artistic fulfillment. To learn more about classes in Fairfield County, CT or to inquire about hosting Tava for a workshop, please visit: BellydancebyTava.com