In group classes, it can be a struggle to find the line between providing feedback to a partner, asking for what you want, and becoming the teacher.

In my opinion, feedback and asking for what you need from a partner is an integral part of learning. For example, asking a lead to do something with less force or focus on a particular element can make a follow’s learning experience far more effective. For leaders, asking a follower to wait can be helpful for understanding the actual mechanics of a movement.

But, in order to give appropriate feedback, the provider needs to avoid three main pitfalls:

  • The Blame Game
  • Vague Overgeneralizations
  • Assumed Expertise

The Blame Game

This pitfall is when people attempt to tell the other person what they are doing wrong. For example:

  • “You are not following.”
  • “You are not leading this movement well enough.”
  • “You are throwing me off balance.”

Even if you are right, the delivery of these messages is not constructive. Rather, it is accusatory. Let’s take the three examples above and rephrase in a way that is more likely to be well received:

  • “I feel like sometimes your body is ahead of where I am in the movement. Are you able to wait a little longer so that I can make sure I’m really leading you?”
  • “I am not able to pick up on this aspect of your lead. Can we try making that a little more intentional and see if it helps me?”
  • “I don’t seem to be able to hold my balance in this movement. Are you able to try to move your arm a little less in order to give me more support?”

In examining the rephrased feedback, you may notice two main things:

  • The sentence starts with “I”, not “you”
  • The feedback is stated as a request for help.

These two changes can completely alter how your feedback is received. Most partners want their partner to be happy, and being given direction on how they can improve your experience will usually facilitate an eager “Yes”.

Additionally, by not framing something as their “fault”, you may find your partners are far less defensive and change-resistant. In many cases, you can circumvent pride, fear, and ego by making it about you rather than about them.

Vague Overgeneralizations

The more specific you can be about feedback, the easier it is for you and your partner to fine-tune that element. For example:

  • “I don’t feel your lead” vs
  • “During the preparation, I don’t feel the contraction that the instructor was mentioning”

Even if you don’t know how to fix the issue, pinpointing where the issue is can target you and your partner’s focus. It also targets what you’d like to ask the teacher, if given the opportunity.

However, don’t feel pressured to be able to perfectly target feedback on the first attempt. If at first pass (or even second or third) you’re not sure what the issue is, it’s fine to ask for a repeat so that you can target it further. Even when working with my own students, I sometimes need them to repeat a movement a couple times before I can hone in on what exactly needs to be fixed.

Assumed Expertise

In someone else’s workshop, it’s a very risky game to assume that you know what is in the teacher’s mind. Even if two techniques are similar, there may be critical differences on how and why a movement is performed in a particular way.

Instead of assuming expertise or that you know what is being asked, make it clear that you are drawing on contextual knowledge. For example:

  • Less useful: “There’s always a weight transfer on movements like this”
  • More useful: “In similar movements that I’ve done, we’ve used a weight transfer. We should see if that is the case here; it might help us.”

Feedback Appropriateness

Beyond the three main pitfalls, there is a certain amount of situational awareness you need to have for feedback. For example, assessing whether a partner is completely overwhelmed, or whether the instructor is trying to teach. In these instances, your situational awareness will help make sure that your feedback is not only constructive, but delivered at the right time.

When Feedback Isn’t Received Well

It’s possible that even if you give great feedback, some partners may not want to hear it. Please respect that. It’s almost impossible to tell why a person does not want feedback, which means that it is safest to back off when it is not being received well. It doesn’t make you (or them) a bad partner or person.

Accepting Feedback

One other thing that you can do is learn how to accept feedback yourself. It’s very easy to get defensive, particularly if the feedback was given by someone with poor delivery. But, if you can see through your defensiveness, you may be able to find something very useful in what they have said.

This goes even when feedback is provided by lower-level dancers than you. Even in those instances, their feedback may yield valuable clues to something you could improve. The key there is to look past the delivery and to the message itself. And, even if you think the issue is primarily your partner’s fault, think about how it may be possible for you to compensate or help fix the issue.

Overall, when you are giving feedback, strive to find the best delivery to make it constructive. When you are receiving feedback, do your best to look past any poor delivery to the message behind the comment. This is the most effective way to utilize feedback for your personal dance growth.