Can I give you some feedback?
Feedback is an important part of dancing. Whether from coaches, judges, classmates, or yourself, feedback is the main way dancers learn what they’re doing well and where they need to improve.
Just like any dance technique, giving and receiving feedback is a skill that can be practiced and improved. It’s one that we have been honing through years of dancing, watching and teaching dance, and it’s one that we continue to practice every day since it is such an important part of helping our students become the best dancers they can be.
So, how do you practice getting and giving feedback to help you grow as a dancer?
Getting feedback can be scary. Our brains are wired to interpret feedback as stress and stress as danger, so when someone says “Can I give you some feedback?” our emotions can take over – we may get nervous or sweaty, find it hard to talk, or even run away. You may find you want to make an excuse to justify the comments you got “I was tired,” or “the floor was slippery,” or “there wasn’t room to do it the right way”. That’s a normal reaction, but not a very helpful one.
To make feedback less stressful we try to remind our students that feedback is about helping them grow. We also try to balance feedback between things they’re doing well and things they need to improve.
To respond to feedback:
- Take a breath if you feel yourself getting anxious
- Remind yourself the feedback is being shared because that person wants to help you get better
- Do your best to stay open to what’s being shared with you
- Ask questions if you’re not clear on what the person is telling you (“You said my arms need work, do you mean they aren’t straight, that they’re moving a lot, or something else?”)
- Most importantly – say thank you. Feedback can be just as scary to give as it is to get (particularly when classmates are giving each other feedback), so thank the person for helping you grow.
The amazing thing about feedback is giving it can help you improve as a dancer just as much as getting it can. Dance requires a high degree of body awareness, as on stage we can’t rely on mirrors to tell us how something looks, we have to know what it feels like to execute something well.
The first way to practice giving feedback is with yourself. When you’re practicing a dance move or step, watch yourself in the mirror, or film yourself and watch the video. As you watch, try to identify what’s great (maybe you’ve got really good posture, or your knees are really straight) and what needs work (maybe you need to cross your thighs more or get higher on your toes). You can write those things down, or say them out loud to help you remember. Then, when you do that same piece again, really focus on correcting the things you just identified needed work.
Once you get comfortable giving yourself feedback while you can see yourself dance, try doing the same thing without the help of a mirror or video. If you can feel when you’ve got great posture or your feet need to cross more without seeing it (or someone telling you) it’s way easier to correct those things in the moment while you’re dancing.
The other way to practice giving feedback is with your fellow dancers. Our students are encouraged to give each other feedback in class. Even in our school with two coaches in every class, it wouldn’t be possible to tell every dancer every single piece of feedback in each of their dances and still get through everything. Because Irish dance is a subjective sport, the more people giving feedback at a lesson, the better.
When giving feedback to someone:
Be specific, providing examples can help.
Share it in a way that will help them grow as a dancer – “I noticed when you do the spin in the corner, your arms fly out a bit” is a much better way to share feedback than “That spin sucked”
Answer any of their questions to help them understand
There are so many ways to practice giving your fellow dancers feedback: you could do it in class, you could film each other and give each other comments, you and a buddy could take turns being dancer and judge (where the judge would offer feedback and comments) – the possibilities are endless.
Getting the most out of feedback
The best way to get the most out of the feedback you receive is to try applying the comments right away. If someone tells you your skips need to be turned out more, practice your skips paying close attention to your turn out (whether in a drill or in a whole step). Likely you’ll need to focus a correction every time you dance for a long time, until the new way becomes habit. It takes a while, but if you focus on applying your feedback consistently, eventually all those good dance behaviours will become habit.
Feedback is an important part of dance, but it’s also an important part of life – we get feedback all the time at home, at school, even at work (when we’re old enough!). Being open to feedback and knowing how to give it and receive it graciously is an important skill to practice. By practicing it in the dance studio it helps you and your classmates grow as dancers and prepares you for feedback outside of the studio.