How to take criticism

Can you take criticism

 Dear Emma,

I know I have to take criticism as part of a dance career but my emotions always get the better of me. Is there a way to become better at taking criticism so that I can learn and grow from it?


Dear Dancer,

You’re right, learning to take criticism is a necessary step. Dancers regularly face the opinions of teachers, directors, the general public, dance critics and even their own families. And while we know that most criticism is well intended it is not always considerately delivered. So, it is smart to develop a ritual or a space that you can get yourself into to hear and digest criticism without overreacting.

Firstly, remember that criticism is part of the feedback loop that helps us improve and grow. Without it we would stagnate. If you can think of criticism as simply feedback it makes it more neutral and that’s good first step to keeping your blood pressure down. It’s all about perspective and compartmentalization.

Imagine this scenario -- you have just performed a solo on stage and your teacher is coming to give their feedback. You know that you fluffed a few steps and finished late. But you also know that your pirouettes were on and you felt really strong and connected to the audience.

Before your teacher arrives, practise some deep breathing. When you focus on your breath your mind is diverted. Next think through all the things you did well and congratulate yourself for them. It is important to do this before thinking about the things that didn’t go so well to bring yourself into a calm and confident place. Only now should you think about the things you would like to improve upon. This ritual will prepare you mentally to hear what your teacher has to say.

Let’s take a more immediate situation such as the rehearsal room. In this scenario you are dancing in front of your colleagues and a teacher criticizes you for getting the steps wrong and not dancing in time with the others. The teacher is frustrated and has lost their temper. Even while the teacher is speaking, you can start to practise your ritual: take slow deep breaths and move into your analytical mind space. When you are calm you will be able to understand and put into practice the teacher’s corrections.

As dancers we are often a small part in a much larger picture. The teacher or rehearsal director is concerned with the whole. So, in this sort of situation it is important to bear in mind the context of the feedback. The best way forward is to process each correction calmly and dance on! And if you take each bit of feedback on board quickly without overreacting, you will win the respect of your colleagues.

There are different types of feedback that require different responses.

• Objective feedback such as “your foot is sickled or your leg is not straight” is usually accurate and easy to take on board and correct.

• Subjective feedback such as “I don’t agree with how you are interpreting this step” is personal and you might not always agree with it.

• Some feedback is a combination of the two – things you can change and improve upon and things you can’t. That’s where your analytical mind has to kick in to separate the two and decide which parts of the feedback are valuable to you.

• There is such a thing as too much feedback. You should only take on as much of it as is healthy and necessary. And then you have to let it go, trust yourself and perform.

Many dancers are sensitive and insecure. When you add to that the highly competitive environment and daily fatigue it can make it even harder to hear things about your dancing that are not all complimentary. But when you put your emotions aside and create a calm head space for analytical thinking you can and will find way to hear criticism and grow as an artist a result.

So, to sum it up:

1. Remember that criticism is part of the necessary feedback loop that will help you grow as an artist.

2. Take a deep breath to create a calm mind space and compartmentalize the feedback so you can assess it without emotion.

3. Remember you have a choice in how to proceed – you can adopt the feedback and incorporate it or you can choose to ignore it. You are the artist. It is up to you.

 This article first appeared in the April/May issue of 'Dance Australia'. Buy 'Dance Australia' at your favourite retail outlet, or online here or subscribe here!


Emma Sandall is inviting dance classes to ask their questions as a group in informal discussions with her on-line. Read about what she is offering here. 

Emma Sandall




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