Learning from dancers

You might not be surprised either that I spend a lot of time driving back and forth between two dance schools or that a lot of the conversation en route is about dance. LoLo came up with something recently which made me stop and think. It was about the value of correction, and we thought there was a lesson in there from the way dancers approach being corrected. 

‘Correction is the teacher giving you some of their time just to you to help you improve and it’s better than just being ignored. In some schools, if you’re being ignored, they don’t think you’re good enough so they don’t bother to say anything. Instead of saying, You’re good but this is how you could be even better, you get nothing.’ (LoLo)

Dancers view correction not as something to be feared, but as something they crave because it is how they get better, and because they know that although nothing they ever do will be perfect, they can always improve.

Not all correction is equally valuable, however. What we really want is specific correction.

‘Lift your leg higher’ is not wildly helpful. Breaking down the movement into all its constituent parts and going through them slowly, possibly also helping to move your leg as you step through it so you can feel what you should be experiencing – that is helpful.

Correction is different from criticism. 

‘With correction, they want you to be better and they’re helping you to do that. In some schools they will just criticise you, like say you’re never going to get anywhere.’ (LoLo)

And nobody likes or benefits from that.

There is also something about the way in which correction is received.

‘Some choreographers are open to other ideas but you can’t just say “I don’t accept that” or be rude in any way to them. Dancers are some of the most polite people on the planet.’ (LoLo)

An example of the way dancers approach their classes is the ritual at the end of each class called the révérence (French pronunciation, please). This is a simple or elaborate set of steps ‘which exemplifies ballet’s traditions of courtesy, dignity, elegance and respect’ (Eliza Gaynor Minden – LoLo quote from her Ballet Bible aka The Ballet Companion).

This révérence is a thank you to your teacher or the ballet master and to the accompanist, your partner if it was a performance, and the conductor for the music. And all those curtseys or bows at the end of a performance are a simple révérence – the dancers are saying thank you to the audience.

We think those traditions would go a long way to making life more harmonious, and that seems like something we could do with a lot more of at the moment.

Back to that ‘I don’t accept that’ concept we mentioned earlier. Have you noticed how it seems to be becoming the standard government response to any suggestion that something might be amiss? That attitude would not get them past their first dance lesson, and more widely it struck us that there might be something we can all learn from dancers. Correction given and received in the right way can only make us better.

One Commentto Learning from dancers

  1. C. Clanton says:

    What a wonderful column, Jon. It is true about the difference between correction and criticism. Lo Lo, you are a wonderful dancer and ive us a lesson in patience. dgnity and respect.

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