How to Give Feedback in Dance

What is the least useful piece of feedback you’ve ever received as a belly dance student? For me, it was “contract your abs”. I could be contracting my abs ’til the cows come home and a move still won’t look or feel right on my body. Instruction in dance and sport often consists of a teacher imparting correct technique to achieve an end result. Kicking a ball in a certain way to score a goal or ‘contracting your abs’ to execute the perfect figure 8 with your hips. There’s a much broader spectrum of feedback techniques beyond this out there. I’d like to explore a few of them in this blog. I hope you can apply this in your own practice giving and receiving feedback as a dance teacher or learner.

Types of Feedback

As dance teachers and students, we’re all too often used to giving and receiving prescriptive feedback. That is, feedback that is aimed at correcting an error. What about descriptive feedback, feedback that alerts a learner of an error committed? So instead of “contract your abs” (prescriptive), “I noticed that your hip movement wasn’t isolated. Your upper body was moving too” (descriptive). Which one would you find more useful? Personally, I would prefer the descriptive feedback. I would rather know what I was doing incorrectly (and why it was incorrect) and figure out the how myself. On the other hand, someone who’s newer to dance might prefer the prescriptive feedback. Especially if they don’t know how to accomplish a certain look or movement.

So far, I’ve been referring to feedback given by a teacher, called extrinsic feedback. What about feedback you observe yourself as a consequence of performing a movement (intrinsic feedback)? You can use your senses to notice how a move looks and feels for you. What is the visual quality of your movement (if you are using a mirror)? How does it feel, based on your muscles, joints, and balance? Are you satisfied with how your movement looks and feels? If not, what would you like your move to look or feel like? For example, if you are performing a hip figure 8, does it look isolated? How smooth does it feel? Do you feel your weight shifting around, or centred on your feet? Is there any activation in your core muscles? Do you feel any of your muscles or joints getting ‘stuck’ during the movement? If there’s anything you’re not satisfied with, how might you fix it?

How to Give Feedback

All feedback should start from the what and why. What do you or your teacher want a movement to look or feel like? Why do you/they want it to look or feel this way? Back to our hip figure 8 example. “I would like my hip figure 8 to feel fluid with even movement across both hips because it is supposed to be a symmetrical, smooth belly dance movement”. If you are using intrinsic feedback, you can look and feel your movement. Then figure out how to adjust it to be closer to your goal. If you are using extrinsic feedback, your teacher could tell you the what and why. And you could figure out the how intrinsically. Or, they could give you prescriptive feedback about how to fix your mistake. “I see your hip figure 8s aren’t as fluid as they could be. Try to do the move really slowly and focus on continuously moving your hips.” Prescriptive feedback may be particularly appropriate for beginners who do not yet have their own intrinsic feedback skills.

How often should you give or receive (extrinsic) feedback? After every repetition of a movement is probably too frequent. Learners who are less experienced with the task at hand may require more frequent and detailed feedback. Someone more familiar with the task may need less. There are a variety of techniques you can use to provide an appropriate amount of feedback:

Summary feedback: Feedback provided as a summary of performance on the preceding block of practice attempts.

Bandwidth feedback: Provision of feedback only when performance falls outside some agreed upon criterion or bandwidth.

Descriptive versus prescriptive feedback: Provision of descriptive feedback rather than prescriptive guidance encourages learners to find their own solutions.

Question and answer style: Asking learners to come up with their own solution through a question and answer approach (e.g. “What could you have done better on that attempt?”).

Reproduced from Table 1 of Williams & Hodges 2005

Next time you dance, try to apply your intrinsic feedback skills, whatever your level of dance expertise. What would you like your dance movement to look or feel like? Why? If you’re not satisfied with your movement, how might you fix it? What might you like help from a teacher to observe or correct? How would you like to receive feedback from your teacher?

Further reading for the academically inclined:
“Practice, instruction and skill acquisition in soccer: Challenging tradition” by A. Mark Williams and Nicola J. Hodges, Journal of Sports Sciences, 2005.

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