I stand corrected! From correction to constructive feedback
Author: Karine Rathle on behalf of the IADMS Dance Educators' Committee
Feedback is a process used by teachers, rehearsal directors and choreographers to provide information and guide dancers in skill acquisition, technique and movement quality. It is a powerful and necessary tool. Typically, teachers and choreographers have their own individual style of providing feedback. Their approach may come from their experience as dancers, their previous teachers and training, or their ingrained habits from working in dance.
Feedback is usually given to dance students through verbal feedback or physical touch, or a combination of both. Krasnow and Wilmerding (2015) use the term, augmented feedback, referring to the corrections that teachers frequently give in class in order to enhance performance. The term augmented feedback is used when the feedback comes from outside the performer themselves. Students can perceive teachers’ feedback as positive or negative according to a variety of factors including language, gestures and touch, facial expression, tone of voice, proximity to the dancer, timing and intention. In this blog post we will explore different types and styles of feedback including positive and negative, constructive and corrective, and verbal and tactile feedback. Ultimately, we want to help students optimize their performance by knowing more about the outcome of a movement, or about how it should be performed. Using constructive feedback appropriately helps dancers with skill acquisition and motor control. You can find out more about feedback and motor learning in dance teaching in our resource paper  .
Reflect on your practice. When you give feedback to your students, what is the intention within your words and touch? When you are thinking of ‘correcting’ your student, what is the main idea that crosses your mind? How are the students processing the information that you provide them? Do they know what to do with the feedback they receive?
Positive feedback versus negative feedback
Positive feedback can be seen as positive statements from teachers and choreographers, for example when you say ‘beautiful turn’, or ‘well done on your balance’. Positive feedback can provide students with positive reinforcement of their behaviors. It can also improve dancers’ motivation. For example, when your student achieves a jump or a turn that they have been working on for a long time, and it is the first time they manage it, it is important to notice it and let them know that they have done well. This approach can boost motivation. Yet repeated and vague positive feedback can affect your students’ motivation negatively, too. If you tell your students after every exercise, ‘very well done’, ‘good work’, ‘beautiful’, these generalized comments provide the students with information about your reaction to their general performance but not what they have done well to achieve the result. Furthermore, if they have not worked as hard or as well as the previous time they received such feedback, they feel that anything they do is good, and your positive feedback loses its value in enhancing learning. Focusing your feedback on the reasons for specific achievements in performance is usually recommended. Negative feedback should be avoided. Generally, the intention of teachers and choreographers is not to use words that will be mean or harmful to dancers. Shouting, insulting, putting down and comparing students to their peers are all things that we need to avoid, as they create a negative motivational climate that hinders dancers in their learning potential and psychological well-being. A negative environment can also be created through competition or uneven attention given to the dancers. For example, when a certain student is always praised and taken as an example in front of their colleagues, it can create a competitive environment for everyone, including the person who is praised. You can create a positive learning context by ensuring dancers focus on self-improvement through a task-oriented environment; where dancers receive positive reinforcement for their efforts and hard work, for their achievements and for their cooperation with their peers. Dancers need to learn that mistakes are part of their learning process and that each dancer is equally important (Miulli & Nordin-Bates, 2011). You can find out about positive motivational climates and how to create them in our Bulletin for Dancers and Teachers .
Providing constructive information to dancers versus correcting them
When using corrections, the teacher is concentrating on what the dancer is doing ‘wrong’. For example, saying: ‘don’t lift your shoulders’ will bring the attention to the dancer’s action of lifting their shoulders. The words bring the student’s neuromuscular awareness to the action that is not desired in the movement being performed. In contrast, teachers using constructive information bring attention to what the body could be doing instead. ‘Draw your shoulder blades down your back’, ‘find space between your shoulders and the earlobes’, and ‘let the shoulder blades expand like wings’ are cues which can develop new neuromuscular patterning, and should help the dancer to avoid lifting their shoulders. To be effective, feedback has to serve as added information for the dancers, providing them with tools in order to feel, sense and understand what they can do in order to improve. We want to deflect away from what is ‘wrong’, to what can be achieved.
Using imagery as a form of feedback
Imagery is a very powerful feedback tool, it allows dancers to process very complex motor skills through a single image. It can help improve the movement as well as its dynamics and it allows the dancer to focus on the intention of the movement rather than its execution. IADMS has posted several blogs about imagery and its use; do consider these when reflecting on your own practice.
Dancers, choreographers and teachers can benefit from using touch (tactile feedback) in their practice as it often adds further clarity to verbal cues. Our proprioception allows us to sense the position and movement of our own body. It allows us to know where we are in space and provides feedback to aid in balance and coordination (Goldstein, 2002). You can find out more about proprioception in our resource paper  . Through tactile feedback, dancers can improve their proprioception and in turn, improve their motor control and posture. (Krasnow & Wilmerding, 2015).
Like the verbal feedback examples earlier, touch as a form of feedback can be helpful or detrimental, depending on how it is used. Every dancer can remember a teacher’s touch that has affected their performance, whether positive or negative. Sometimes, the memory of negative tactile feedback can have lasting effects.
We can differentiate between a corrective touch and a constructive touch. When using touch in a dance setting, you can ask yourself some questions to ensure that your use of this feedback tool is helpful for the dancer.
- What is your intention?
- Where is your attention when touching?
- What information are you providing the dancer? It’s always helpful to think anatomically when using touch, how does the body move and how can I guide that movement through proprioceptive awareness?
Timing of the feedback
How many times have you received feedback from a choreographer or teacher just before performing? Or just after a performance? How did it feel? Was it useful? Were you able to apply the feedback right away? Did you remember it? Did you have time to integrate the information? Emotionally, how did you feel after the feedback? Timing of feedback is important to ensure that information is retained and acted upon to enhance performance.
Traditionally, choreographers and teachers tend to give notes to dancers up until the last minute before they go on stage or just after a performance. But is it helpful? At this point in the creative process, there is rarely time to adjust dance technique itself. Dancers might be able to process cues on spacing or ensuring that they know how to adapt the piece from the studio to the stage. But, it’s vital to consider that some dancers have a high level of performance anxiety. Giving them corrections shortly before they go on stage may increase anxiety and decrease the ability to perform optimally. The type of feedback provided at this point is very important to consider to ensure dancers feel competent and can do their best on stage. Prior to a performance, positive reinforcement and positive feedback can show your students that you believe in their abilities and that you trust that they will do their best.
Typically, choreographers and teachers tend to give notes right after a performance. Dancers might not all be as receptive at that point, as their bodies and minds are on the ‘high’ of the performance. Since their attention will often not be focused on the feedback provided, consider waiting until the next time you meet for class or rehearsal. It is important to leave dancers time and space to recover, breathe and cool down. If the performance did not go well for a dancer, they might need some encouragement and help to refocus their attention, so ensuring that they are in a positive mindset next time they perform the work.
When providing verbal and tactile feedback you have a responsibility to your dancers. They are reliant on your words and touch in order to enjoy their dance experience, as well as to improve their abilities. Knowing more about how you cue and provide feedback to your dancers is an important aspect of teaching practice so find time to reflect on the impact of your feedback. Observe the reaction of your dancers. Ask a colleague to observe your classes or rehearsal; ask them for feedback on your feedback style. Observe other teachers and choreographers to get new ideas and improve on your transmission skills. Feedback is important as we seek to optimize dancers’ performance and learning.
Karine Rathle, MSc
Dancer, choreographer, dance educator and researcher, President of Healthy Dancer Canada (HDC).
Goldstein, B., 2002. Sensation and Perception. 6th ed. CA USA: Wadworth.
Krasnow, D.H & Wilmerding, M.V. (2015). Motor learning and control for dance. Principles and practices for performers and teachers. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Krasnow, D.H & Wilmerding, M.V. (2017). Dancer Wellness. IADMS & Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Miulli, M. & Nordin-Bates, S. M. (2011). Motivational Climates: What They Are, and Why They Matter. The IADMS Bulletin for Teachers, Volume 3, Number 2.
Quin, E., Rafferty, S. & Tomlinson, C. (2015). Safe Dance Practice. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Taylor, J. & Estanol, E. (2015). Dance psychology for artistic and performance excellence. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.