As a ballet dancer, I get a lot of corrections. In fact, I go to class and hope that my teacher takes time to correct everything I do wrong. After my day is done, I have a notebook where I write down every last piece of critique or advice that any of my instructors have given me throughout the day.
Some dancers have an incredibly difficult time when getting corrections. They see it as a teacher picking on them or criticizing their dancing, which can really impede their progress. It can be frustrating to witness those people when you understand where they are in their mind and how far they’ll need to go to move past that mindset. We don’t go to class six days a week and push our bodies to their breaking point because we already have perfect technique, we do it because we know we can be better. However, being better often requires direction from someone who is already better. It requires acknowledging that we will always be stronger and weaker in some areas of our dancing, but that constant search for balance is what makes ballet a life-long love.
That is why I treasure criticism and corrections so much. I hold the highest respect for my instructors, ballet is a horribly frustrating art for everyone involved. External rotation of the hips is something you can’t teach, it’s a feeling each student has to develop differently. I know I can be a difficult student. I work really hard, but I don’t have the best rotation or the best lines or the best back, etc. I do have a few things going for me, such as my superhuman hyper-extension and extreme passion for the art form. I also appreciate that I will always have something to work on and strive for.
Ballet has brought me a lot more than strength and flexibility (although I very much appreciate those two contributions), it has also given me an immense appreciation for criticism and those who are willing to provide it. When I finally understood that a teacher will only give corrections to those that want to get better, I was so happy to hear “point your foot, Eloragh!” from halfway across the studio. It’s motivating that someone recognizes my hard work and gives me more opportunities to push myself.
I will admit that some teachers go so far. Last summer I went to Carlisle, PA for a five-week intensive ballet program that I really did not enjoy. It was obvious that the teachers didn’t want me there, the administration was not willing to be flexible, and the technique was so extreme that I ended up injuring my lower back by rotating too much. If I had stayed another week, I could have crushed some of the smaller vertebrae near my tailbone. So, yes, criticism can go too far, but in moderation, it can be an essential source of information and wisdom.
I often find myself being very critical of the work I do. Any suggestion of any slight adjustment in something I produced makes me question everything about the piece. It’s more difficult – but increasingly important – that I apply my mindset of gratefulness towards criticism or corrections from anyone I am working for or under. I try to remind myself that if they didn’t think I could do better, they wouldn’t ask me to strive for more.
So, in some ways, I pity the dancers that won’t or can’t take corrections. They are limiting their achievements because they are fearful of someone pointing out that they are less than perfect. I was only able to start improving when I accepted that perfection is unachievable, but still something to strive for. I am reminded of this quote by Michaelangelo: “The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”