Harsh Criticism and Feedback in Dance

From the time you start taking dance seriously, the focus is honed in on technique. Your teachers help you to work out all the little technical details . The best teachers create an environment for healthy dedication and improvement.

However, a lot of dancers are criticized for not applying corrections quickly enough. The assumption might be that they’re lazy or not dedicated. Perhaps they lack focus or attention in class.  This post will delve into how to deal with criticism in dance.

The reality is, if a correction is not applied quickly, it may not be understood or prioritized, by the student, teacher, or both. For some dancers, anxiety gets in the way of mental focus in class. Still, other dancers are so hyper-focused on trying to pick up combinations that applying corrections becomes too much to handle.

As a dancer, you can be empowered by knowing that you are the keeper of your destiny. By taking care of your body, being open to feedback or corrections, and working hard every day you can get where you want to go. You can reach your goals.

It might take some additional focus on applying those things that you hear in class or staying present to remember the intricacies of each combination. If you want to really get ahead, consistently create additional personal benchmarks to make your improvements measurable.

This is where goal setting and accountability come in.

how to deal criticism in dance

Most of us have been in a situation where it felt like a teacher just really didn’t like you for some reason. Those can be some of the most challenging, disheartening experiences.

Here’s a personal story, major criticism in dance…

When I was 15, I went away for my second summer program. I was put into the highest level, but worried it was a mistake. I don’t think I was ready for that at all, and apparently, neither did the former New York City Ballet *star* my level worked with most closely.

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This former NYCB principal dancer (we’ll call her Ms. M) was one of the people I was most excited to work with. I never had any Balanchine training so I was looking forward to experiencing her perspective and learning some incredibly beautiful Balanchine choreography.

It became clear on day 1 that Ms. M was not impressed by me. She would often single me out and give lots and lots of corrections in a very mean, degrading way. I was not totally alone in this. Ms. M was harsh in general and called out a number of ladies in my class with lots of yelling.

Then, there were her favorites. The ones who could do no wrong. Were they working harder than me? Applying corrections more quickly? Simply better?

I cried to my mother on the phone every day that I had class with her (which was almost every day of that summer program).

Ms. M threatened to demote me to a lower level. I secretly wished she would, just so I wouldn’t have to take her classes anymore. In the beginning, I was determined to win her over. Tis’ the plight of the determined dancer I guess. I tried to work harder. Then, I tried to disappear. 

Honestly, that experience informed a lot of my future confidence and actions as a dancer.

When I think back on that experience the pain is still quite palpable, even though it was so long ago. When I revisit some of my dancing experiences after that summer, I see myself hiding. Doubting. Worrying.

This is where the importance of taking on responsibility for your own success comes in. You’ve got to assess yourself and work towards your goals, regardless of these sometimes negative, studio experiences. If you’re not sure how to deal with criticism in dance, you’re not alone.

Don’t let your dancing be defined or defeated by one person’s opinion. Here’s how…

Luckily, I’ve had lots of different teachers over the years and many supporters. I’m glad I only dealt with such a defeating experience for four weeks. If you’re dealing with a challenging experience on a more consistent basis, you may need to take bigger action. 

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It might be in your best interest to seek new training or teachers in your area. If you plan to pursue dance professionally, this is going to make a huge difference in your levels of confidence and therefore chances for success.

In a temporarily challenging time, bring your attention back to positive training experiences. Who were the teachers who supported you? How did they make you feel? What did they say that helped you see your own potential? 

During my very challenging summer intensive experience, I wrote down the choreography to every variation we learned. There’s value to writing down choreography but what I wish I had done, was set some personal goals for myself. I would have been empowered to focus on the work instead of the fear.

Clear goals can provide an outlet to turn your attention inward. They can counteract feelings of failure and help you stay aware of your big picture, big goals, and ultimate dreams. Goals allow you to be in the driver’s seat. 

Are you a goal-setter? Do you have a vision for your goals? 

Check out these posts and videos for more: 

How to Deal with Criticism in Dance was originally published in October 2015

Edited for content and clarity July 2021 

Photos of Casey by Luis Pons

How to Deal with Criticism in Dance
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Jess Spinner

Jess is a former professional ballet dancer turned Holistic Health, Nutrition, and Lifestyle Coach for high level dancers. She founded The Whole Dancer in 2015 after identifying a greater need for balance, wellness and support in the dance world. Since The Whole Dancer was founded, Jess has worked with 100's of dancers worldwide at top companies and schools. She has been featured in or written for Dance Magazine, Dance Teacher Magazine, Pointe Magazine, and Dance Spirit Magazine.

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