At some point, you'll hear it.
After pouring your heart out, and making yourself vulnerable by dancing in public... someone will sideswipe you with a comment that seems to tear it all down.
And that's the point where you just might walk away.
Positive Solutions for Critical Dance Students
While it may seem evil, pre-meditated, or malicious, there are some root causes to consider, and they probably have less to do with your dancing than you might think.
Your Dance Journey is too important to miss this.
NOTE: There are two main characters in these scenarios:
1. The Dancer - the person who prepared and performed.
2. The Viewer - the person who viewed the performance.
First we will pinpoint some typical scenarios, and then itemize some solutions for both.
1. The Tethered Response
Unfortunately, it's really easy for dancers to see others through their own dance level lens. So a Full Bronze student may feel fine leading a Newcomer through a passing twinkle, or for a competitive student to give performance tips to someone only interested in social dancing.
Look for this most frequently at dance parties where our own level can sometimes take precedence over the levels of our partners.
Bottom Line: Your feedback or instruction should match the level of the person. Like the dosage amounts for medication, it will always be specific to each person, not just you.
2. The "Helpful Commentary"
Let's step outside of dancing for a minute and imagine this as a karaoke night. You step off of the stage, after a pep-talk, a margarita, and some deep breathing, you grabbed the mic, and sang "The Greatest Love" by Whitney Houston to the best of your ability.
Truthfully, you sounded more like "Sexual Chocolate" from the movie, "Coming to America", but that's beyond your comprehension once you've finished, and adrenaline is overflowing through your body.
It's a mixture of the joy of survival, mixed with the sense of... pride, and you seem to float back to your table where your friends are waiting.
Then someone drops the feedback bomb.
"Nice job. You know, in a different key that would have sounded so much better for your voice."
Your visions of Super Bowl Whitney are replaced with feelings of reality show Whitney, and that's not a good thing.
Bottom Line: Helpful commentary isn't designed to hurt but it certainly can... just like a chainsaw.
3. The Hurt Locker
This isn't a direct reference to the movie about defusing explosives, but there are some hurt feelings that may be stored deeper than your dance hobby.
So, from time to time, that may be the well we are drawing our feedback from.
Bottom Line: Your backstory is powerful enough to act as a catalyst to motivate you to start taking dance lessons, but it also is powerful enough to injure the feelings of others. So celebrate someone's moment in their journey, regardless of what is happening in your own.
4 Solutions for the Dancer
As easy as it would be to lash out, fight back, or turn the tables, raise the stakes, and call out the Viewer - here are some solutions for keeping things positive, productive, and safe.
1. Breathing is a Good Thing
No, this isn't just a solution for parents who are nearing the end of their ropes, it's a perfect solution to postpone your knee-jerk reaction that may have helped you survive high school, or the occasional bar fight. Try three of these before commenting, and keep a smile on your face even if you're crying on the inside.
2. Zoom Out
Imagine looking at a mosaic up close without ever stepping away from it to really appreciate the mastery of the work. Feedback can instantly put us on the defensive, which will naturally zoom in our mental lens to allow us to find every microscopic detail... and that can sometimes cause a complete loss of perspective.
During your deep breathing, remind yourself of the positive moments you've had with this person. Hey, for all you know, they are sharing something incredibly valuable - even though it might sting a bit. Force yourself to find at least two positive things from this interaction before you latch on to anything negative. Don't open your mouth, or retaliate, until you have zoomed out and can see the full picture of where this person is coming from.
3. Ask Better Questions
Ultimately, this person could have kept their opinion silent. Going back to the karaoke example, a group of silent supporters may hurt even more than critiques on your singing skills. So try asking questions internally like, "what can I do to show that I value this feedback?", or "was there anything in our past that would make this feedback seem cruel or negative to me?".
4. Benefit of the Doubt
Ultimately, you're going to have some friends, dancer and non-dancer, that won't be able to appreciate the detail and backstory that goes into your performance. Unless they've been there every minute of the journey, they just don't have the necessary data to appreciate it.
Since they are lacking that information, it's important that you aren't judging them for it.
3 Solutions for the Viewer
99 times out of 100, you are trying to help. Alright, maybe 85 times out of 100.
But listen, there are some moments when we can all feel a little jealous, offer up a little passive aggressive masterpiece, and feel the momentary rush of feeling like you've got leverage on someone.
But it's not worth it.
So let's take a look at some easy solutions to avoiding the temptation of criticism, pain, or jealousy masked as feedback.
1. Take a Deep Breath
You're a human. You can have a knee jerk reaction that can unintentionally harm the people around you, and deep breathing never hurt anyone.
2. Empathy in the Moment
It may seem completely obvious now, but it can be challenging to practice empathy in the moment. The idea here, and it sounds much simpler than it is in the moment, is to put yourself in the shoes of the Dancer you are watching.
This doesn't necessarily mean to say and do things that you might find helpful or interesting, it means that you've got to focus on what the Dancer you are watching would appreciate.
3. Before and After
You haven't had a chance to see all of the incremental progress, so it's easy to overlook the fine detail of someone's dance development - and that's why we have dance teachers.
What you, the Viewer, has a huge advantage at seeing is large segments of improvement. So focus on the before and after.
"I remember when you were just starting that routine, and now look at you - it's finished, and you look like you've been dancing it for a solid year."
"This time last year you weren't sure about performing, and now check you out! You did it!"
Notice the Before and After?
Feedback like this allows you to share what you've seen, and shines the light on the big picture. This is something that anyone can appreciate, and it is coming from the best place.
Criticism is just one of the challenges on your Dance Journey - you need to expect it.
Thinking that your transition out of your comfort zone would be without resistance would be like telling a high school student to quit the moment that things got awkward.
(If that was the case, no one would make it out of 9th grade P.E.)
The great thing about criticism is that it's a language that, once interpreted, won't have the demoralizing power over you that it may have had in the past. Our goal was to create some necessary translations, and equip you - the Dancer or the Viewer - with the tools to move forward and see these comments for what they really are:
An opportunity for progress.
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