Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Soliciting feedback

Finally, the long-awaited follow-up blog on soliciting feedback. Or maybe it wasn’t long-awaited! :p Ahem…

Note: This post will be about the person soliciting the feedback and not about how to give feedback/critique. Also, the post is really about soliciting feedback about improving your performance quality as opposed to how to do a move better.

Soliciting feedback is a hard thing to do at times as we often don’t really want to know. However, that’s one of the ways that we get valuable information of what to work on to improve our dance.

Who should you ask?
First off, you need to figure out who you should ask for feedback. Here are some of the characteristics of an ideal person to request feedback from:
  • Honest: You want to find someone who will be honest with you. That is, someone who will really tell you the positive, negative and anything in-between. As such, close friends make bad persons to ask… they will be afraid of hurting your feelings and may not tell you the whole truth.
  • Similar style: You want to ask someone who does the same style as you do or similar enough. The issue is that the person can only talk about what she/he knows and the comments and advice that you will get will come from that knowledge… and it will most likely not be appropriate. For example, if you were to ask me to critique a Turkish piece and give you feedback on what to improve on, I would be a baaaaad choice… while I could indeed give you my opinion and my feedback on what I saw, I most certainly don’t know enough to point you in the right direction. Also, I could potentially say that I liked something that is a big no no for the style… you never know.
  • Someone you look up to in dance: You know, someone who makes you say/think “I want to be like her when I grow up in dance.” (And, hopefully, you don’t want to be ‘just’ like her but you with some of her skills… but that was already a topic for a portion of a blog.) If you can find someone who you are looking up to, someone who has performance qualities that you want to emulate, you will find a lot of valuable information from said person. The person could tell you how she/he went about working on whatever item you like from her style and that could be useful for you. Also, you will get that person’s perspective on your dance.
  • Ideally, an instructor: Not all instructors are created alike, of course, but a lot have the knowledge and skills to give you pertinent feedback and critique and will be more apt to tell you how to work on whatever. Again, make sure that the instructor is one who will tell you the truth, though… I mean, some will be hesitant to tell you things because they want you to come back to their classes and/or workshops. Hopefully, this is not the norm.

Off limits?
Do you think that someone is really off limits to ask feedback from? Probably not. As I mentioned in the previous section, most instructors will do it… you need but ask…

Paying for feedback
What? Some people pay for feedback? Why, yes. Yes they do. I’ve most certainly done that. Generally speaking, it’s considered as a private session since the instructor spends time reviewing a performance and helping you figure out how to improve aspects of your performance. It’s totally customized for you. Believe me: it’s money well spent.

You definitely do NOT want to ask for feedback right after you’re done performing… that’s when you are at your most vulnerable and will generally not be in the best frame of mind to listen anyway. So you want to at least wait one day. Any time after that is fine. Note, though, that if some time elapses, it might be beneficial for whoever you are asking the feedback from to have a video to go by to trigger the memory of the performance, if the person saw the performance live.

Frame of mind
So, when you’re going to ask someone for feedback on your dance, you want to make sure that you are in an ‘open’ frame of mind. You need to be able to listen. And when I say ‘listen’, I’m not just saying hearing the words that are being said but actually understanding what the person is saying. So doing active listening.

Don’t be defensive
You may feel attacked or end up going on the defensive. Try to resist the urge. Don’t try to explain what was going on unless it’s something that will help the person give you tips on how you could have done something better. Actually, during the Mira Betz intensive, we received two critiques (one at the very beginning and one at the very end) and, during the time that we were receiving the critique, we were instructed not to speak but just take it in. It was hard to do but it was indeed very helpful. The goal was mainly so that we wouldn’t go into the defensive mode and excuse away some things. So you may want to even resist the urge to speak at all, especially if it’s to say anything that starts with ‘but’.

Don’t twist the words
I’ve been guilty of that many times over when Jeff (my husband) gives me feedback/a critique. In that specific case, I wish that I was perfect and all that… and it’s the typically husband/wife misunderstanding. But I’ve gotten much better at not twisting his words. It may happen in the course of the discussion that you will misunderstand what the feedback really was… even if you’re doing active listening and even if you’re not defensive. Take words at face value unless otherwise specified. So if the person says that XX could be improved, it doesn’t mean that it’s crap… it means that it’s an area where you may want to work on.

Follow-up questions
Now “the” time when you can speak (and should speak) is if you have a follow-up question. It may be because the person wasn’t clear so you’re not quite sure what the point is. Or it may be because it’s bringing another idea that you have. Or what if it was in a different setting. This will engage you in a conversation with the other person and it’s generally all good and fun… but do remember to go back to the original conversation. I’m real good at digressing so that happens to me a lot.

But I feel like crap now!
Hopefully, the person giving you the critique did a good job of stressing out areas where you did well. That being said, it’s super easy to kind of dismiss those and focus on what else was said… so those areas for improvement and all that. While, yes, some dancers that you look up to are near flawless, it’s important to remember that no one is perfect… not even them! So there will always be room for improvement, just like you can always bend your knees more and lower those shoulders more. ;) It most certainly doesn’t mean that the performance was bad. But, yes, even your best performance so far can be made better… and that’s what you’re learning: where to go to next.

Whoa! What a list!
After some of those feedback sessions, you may end up with a relatively long list of items that you could tweak. While it can seem like a daunting task, don’t feel like you have to incorporate everything all at once! Some of the items on the list will be technical aspects: those can be handled in drills so the more you drill those items, they will ‘magically’ (i.e., through work and effort) get better. There are other items that have to do with performance quality so you want to pick maybe 1 or 2 of those items and work on them for your next performance; you want to pick those that are actually applicable for your next performance and/or those that could have the most impact. Since performing requires so much and thinking of so many details, you don’t want to overwhelm your brain with too many additional items to keep in mind. ;) Once you’ve successfully tackled some issues, tackle other ones.

Suggestions – not mandatory
Unless it’s something related to potential injuries (for example, if you keep doing this move this way, you’ll hurt yourself), it’s also important to realize that whatever you are hearing are suggestions. It’s up to you to decide whether you will incorporate the items that you were told in your critique. No one really is the end all be all belly dance authority; therefore, realize that you may have a different take and that it may be okay… you still want to assess whether the item could have some application but there comes a point where some things will be subjective … and you most certainly can agree to disagree.

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