Recently on an instructor discussion group, a fellow teacher asked a question about giving feedback to a student after a show
“I was recently at a student show put on by another instructor where one of my students performed in a group choreography. At the break she asked me what I thought. I told her that she was doing well with the choreography, obviously knew it, but she needed to get her eyes off the floor and look at the audience some.
She then told two of my other students that were there as spectators (when they all went out for a smoke) that I was criticizing her. Seriously, I didn’t think I said anything that would be taken wrong but obviously I did.
I repeatedly tell my students when we start learning about performing in front of an audience not to stare at the ceiling for divine guidance or constantly look at the floor, so this is something that she has heard before, over and over and over…….
What should I have said or not said? If I wasn’t asked I would have kept my mouth shut.”
I make it my policy to not allow critique AT a show–only general encouragement and positive commentary at the venue, and save the critical discussion for later. We are very vulnerable when we perform, and when we’re done it is common for our brains to immediately jump to the negative. I encourage dancers to believe the performance space is a very positive and safe space, free from self-talk and negativity. The rehearsal space is where we get down to the real work. To be clear, I don’t think you were being “negative”–teachers understand that critique is neither positive nor negative, but all of it is tools to become better and stronger. But not all students understand this, and even we as professionals have a hard time taking in critique when what we would most like to hear is glowing praise, yes?
You may not have the opportunity to see her in a “rehearsal space”, but perhaps saving any critical feedback for another time would have been of help in this case. Give her a few “‘atta girl” comments, and then tell her that if she would like to hear a more detailed assessment, you would be happy to talk to her later in the week (or e-mail her or whatever she likes). Then the ball is in her court as to whether she wants to receive more guidance from you, she can prepare herself to best receive the feedback you are offering, and you have set the tone that the performance space is a safe and happy cocoon.
Just some food for thought!”
And don’t forget the “feedback sandwich” technique when delivering any feedback! It may not seem important that it was two nice things and then a critical thing. Just changing the order of the feedback to nice-critique-nice can change the perception of the interaction for the student from “she criticized me” to “she complimented me and gave me a good tip”. Always end on a positive!
For a really great article on instructor critique, check out this page:
And this short blog entry has some good tips for artists on how to accept critique, and learn to continue to be open to it. Maybe this could inspire a handout for some teachers to give their students when they advance to performance level?
I think another takeaway here, for the student: don’t ask what your teacher thinks if you aren’t ready to hear both positive and critical feedback. Both are equally valuable tools. Your teacher’s job is to see and deliver both messages; so choose an appropriate time to ask, and don’t assume it’s always going to be candy and roses!