Part of being a well-rounded dancer is to have the ability to articulate observations and speak about dance just as much as executing steps properly. A rich, thorough dance curriculum includes one in which “dance literacy” is acknowledged; where dancers are given the opportunity to view dance, edit dance and learn to give thoughtful opinions and constructive feedback to others while keeping it in a positive and supportive light.
In a time and a world where it’s unfortunately so prevalent for others to pick people apart, call out one’s flaws and put people down to make oneself look and feel better about themselves, learning the lesson that giving solicited feedback is a healthy form of communication amongst dancers is an art in itself. It is a very fine line to walk.
We want our dancers to be able to identify and speak about dance in a language which makes them knowledgeable in all realms of the genre. So how do we do this and keep it positive?
#1: Establish a controlled environment. Always be transparent in explaining to students, no matter what age, that constructive feedback is to help the entire group and should be solicited, thoughtful, helpful and supportive for the greater good of the entire ensemble. Remind students to phrase their comments in a nurturing and respectful way.
#2: Start young. Don’t be afraid to start with your young ones. Perhaps begin with watching dance videos or performances and then gather in a circle to ask each dancer something that they observed and liked about the performance. Get them talking and verbalizing how to speak about dance from a viewer’s perspective. Progress when you think dancers are old enough and mature enough to talk about each other’s work. Perhaps on a day when dancers are working on their own choreography, have peers sit and watch and tell each other what they loved about one’s work and what they think might be a cool idea in terms of development.
#3: The Sandwich: When giving feedback, always start by asking the group to raise their hands and give a personal comment they jotted down in their notes of what they enjoyed first. Always start with the positive. Then ask the group what is something that we could look at for editing; whether it being cleaning a certain section, clearing up an uncertainty of a particular count or tightening up a formation change or transition? Always end with another positive, whether it be individual notes or a final group comment.
#4: Self-assess to keep one in check: After peer feedback is complete, ask dancers to self-assess themselves. Have them write down notes about things they liked about their own performance and things they would also like to improve upon. This keeps everyone in check and reminds everyone that nobody in the group is perfect and always has some room for improvement somewhere. It also allows dancers to pinpoint the areas they can feel good about for themselves and have seen their own progress on.
#5 Remind dancers of the protocol. Always instill good classroom management over these peer feedback sessions and remind dancers that giving feedback, unless prompted by the teacher is never warranted unnecessarily. If someone has a comment or question regarding a note for a fellow dancer, it is to come strictly to the teacher/choreographer and will be addressed. Peer feedback sessions are solely at the discretion of the teacher and are not meant to be a free for all where dancers are giving other dancers notes. Be firm in reminding dancers that if this gets out of hand, then helping others through peer feedback and conversations will be reserved for a later time when the teacher thinks they are ready to handle it.
#6 Stay Positive: Remember dancers that the purpose for class observation and feedback is for the entire class to create a dialogue on observation, develop movement profile and discuss things that resonate amongst them. It is as much about learning self-assessment as it is peer assessment and can only sharpen their verbal and visual skills. This will make them more sensitive to the art and to one another while motivating and supporting each other in their growth and collaboration.
See you in the dance studio!