“Come on Monica…you should be doing better.” I hate when one of my dance mentors says this. The words sting, partly because deep down, I know that he is right. My initial desire when I hear this is to always put up a defensive wall but experience has taught me otherwise. I look over at my partner who also looks like he had been hit by the struggle bus during this particular training session, he gives me a nod of encouragement…I take a deep breath as our mentor stops the music and begin to listen to what is being said….
Dance does not come naturally to me, especially learning the dances of Kizomba, Semba, and Tarraxinha. I have to work hard on so many levels. I’m very left brained by nature and the way I learn is already a two step process! So if someone tells me to “just feel it” or worse “dance more African” (YES, I’ve been told that by an instructor…next blog post will be about how to give constructive criticism ;P ) my first response is WHAT are you talking about?!…Dance is not concrete, it is qualitative, so I have to adapt to this paradigm shift by first conceptually understanding what is being said, and sometimes THAT is a struggle in itself. Then I begin working on readjusting my body to internalize these movements and intentions. It is a daily struggle, this does NOT happen overnight.
So yes, I am very qualified to write a post about accepting constructive criticism as a dancer. I have received lots of it! I welcome the feedback although the initial remarks may sting. My dance partner and I continue to work hard daily on improving how we dance. We do this because we are passionate about being the best that we can be. We also have another level of learning to add on! We need to be able to TEACH what we have learned which is also a whole different skill set in itself (as you all know, being a great dancer doesn’t necessarily mean that you are a good instructor).
I will now introduce the acronym L.I.P. as a way to accept constructive criticism and to use it to your advantage. Give yourself LIP service if you will…because you owe it to yourself as a dancer to be the best that you can be.
STEP 1: L is for LISTEN
There is a saying that there is a reason for why humans were made to have two ears and one mouth. Listening is more important than talking in this instance.
Listen Part A: Check your source. Make sure the person that you are receiving criticism from is reliable, has your best interest at heart, and is someone who is worth your time. There is so much talk nowadays about how “haters are going to hate.” Well, just because someone says something that you don’t like or that is inconvenient to your interests, that does not necessarily make them a hater, but you have to be able to distinguish if the person is really a hater or not. If they are, brush them aside. More than likely, if someone has taken the time to comment about something, they are your friends, colleagues, or instructor and they ARE looking out for your best interests. I would hope that if you were my friend, you would help me to improve by giving me feedback, congratulating me when I act on that feedback, then giving me some more constructive criticism so that I can continue to become the best that I can be!
LISTEN Part B: Listen without judgment. This is HARD. First identify what your defense mechanisms are. For me, I turn into the micro machines “motor mouth.” I will try to out talk someone that is giving me critiques to feed my ego at the SAME TIME criticism is happening. I try to tell my criticizer why it wasn’t my fault, to tell myself that I am okay! Well duh, I’m okay, more than likely, someone wouldn’t take the time to try to give me good feedback in the first place if they thought I wasn’t okay. The issue though is since I’m so busy running my mouth and thinking of ways to make myself feel awesome, I don’t listen to what is being said at all. And with that, I just missed a golden opportunity to take my dancing to the next level. When I feel this urge to start talking, I have now learned to cope by just nodding my head. It looks weird like I’m a muppet but it’s better than not listening to what is being said. Nodding my head gives me something to do but allows my ears to really listen to what is being said. Also as a way to confirm that I have heard everything correctly, I will summarize what was said or say “uh huh” after repeating each point in my head, or write down everything. There is no point in listening at the present moment if you are unable to remember what was actually said.
Step 2: I is for INTERNALIZE
Internalize Part A: Have a method of measuring your progress. For my dance partner and I, it is our Kizomba Harmony YouTube Channel. I guess we have a more public way of measuring our progress because you guys can see it too! With each successive demo that we do, we make it a point to make sure that our dancing is improving. During practice we also film ourselves and analyze the videos after each practice session.
Internalize Part B: Be kind to yourself. It’s okay to not be there yet. I look at videos of my favorite Kizomba and Semba couples and sometimes it can get discouraging. Especially since the more I learn, the more I realize how much I have to learn, and the cycle just keeps continuing. Be able to congratulate yourself on your success. Each small victory should not go unnoticed. Our YouTube Channel has a dual purpose and we do not take down old videos for this very reason. Of course it would be great if we could have this image of always knowing how to dance, but we would be lying to ourselves and to our students. We want to be the opposite, to show them that it is okay to learn, to struggle, and to enjoy the journey by celebrating how far you have come. At the end of the month, my dance partner Billy and I always schedule a day off to celebrate by going out to dinner or doing a fun activity to congratulate ourselves for a month of hard work.
Step 3: P is for PLAN
Plan a strategy after feedback is given. How are you going to improve? Make a step-by-step outline if necessary because targeted practice is more useful and saves time and frustration. Once you have a plan, attack it with full gusto diligently and hold yourself accountable. Continually reassess if you are on the right path, and if you struggle, ask for help again or clarification.
Dancing is fun but can be frustrating. Trust me we have all been there. Excellent dancers are not born overnight, some may have been blessed with more innate talent than you, but that will never trump hard work as the saying goes. Hope this blog post was helpful. Stay tuned for my next one on the topic of how to GIVE constructive criticism, and if you like this post, feel free to share on Facebook or wherever you’d like and check out our other blog posts at www.kizombaharmony.com/blog. I hope to dance with you all sometime soon!