Giving (and Receiving) Feedback
We would like to believe that we are perfect that everything that we do functions to what we believe is ‘right’ or ‘good’ or to our ideals of these things. They don’t have to be perfect, but things have to work. The problem with this line of reasoning is that a good portion of the time, this is essentially operating in a vacuum without external input, or external query, or oversight. This way of operating (anything really) can be desirable and it can also be less than desirable. A good portion of the time it’s less than desirable, but you don’t know that because you live in a bubble of information that is self deluding and self created. Think election 2016 and you’ll sort of get the idea of where this is going.
Related to Tango ? Yes. This is entirely related to Tango. Without clear, clean, and honest feedback from the people that we dance with we can never change what we’re doing, or even know that change is required. And that’s the kicker right there, for a lot of you reading this and watching the video above, change is required, the problem is that you don’t know it. And furthermore, rightfully so, you’re afraid to ask for feedback because it means change, which means work You’re fearful of the work involved, that it will be hard, difficult, work. Further still that work will, or so you believe, uncover your ignorance around X, Y, and Z. And no one, absolutely no one wants to look like they’re ignorant of the facts. And when you really get down to it, you just don’t want to do that kind of work for something that is supposed to be ‘fun’. Right ? But here’s the kicker, you absolutely need to do that work. And you absolutely need to start from a place of ignorance. Why ? Think of it as if you were going to do your taxes for the year. And you forget a few things that are the difference between paying no taxes (cool) and paying hundreds of dollars/euros/rubles/etc in taxes. And all because you left out a few very important details. It’s the details that matter. Get those details right, and you pay no taxes. Get them wrong, or don’t supply them, and there goes your tango budget for the year! How is this related to Tango ? The details matter in Tango, everywhere, everywhere.
Qualified Feedback. The fact is that good portion of people are 1.) not comfortable giving feedback. 2.) don’t feel qualified (because they’re not a teacher) to give feedback. and/or 3.) that they could be of any help to you because they don’t want to feel responsible or give you false information. At the same time we want to give qualified feedback, and receive qualified feedback, from a qualified source or a source of information that has a track record of teaching. The fact is that most people do have qualified feedback, they just don’t know how to put into a form that is useful to anyone. At the same time, we also have to give feedback that is useful and helpful to someone else. The fact is most people can’t do this, they feel overwhelmed as to what to say to someone without hurting their feelings, while at the same time providing useful information that could help someone.
So here’s how to give constructive feedback. Use “I” statements. Example ? “I feel pressure from your right arm and shoulder” or “I see that you’re watching my feet” or “I know that we’re not on the beat”. And so on. However those statements don’t go far enough, you must be specific in exactly what isn’t working in your opinion. Note the very last words there -“in your opinion”. Understand that you are not the sole of all wisdom and as such you have an opinion about how things operate, so you must state things as such. Saying anything more than that, unless you teach professionally, makes you seem arrogant and out of touch with reality. Further you must keep whatever feedback you do offer limited to you and what you are experiencing and not extend that to what your teachers have said, or what others have said. Example: “I am feeling pressure from your right arm and shoulder, and it’s causing me pain to have to resist you like that”. And not,“My teacher said that you have to resist me” or “Chicho said...” Got it? What this boils down to is that we want the feedback to be authentic and real.
Where to give Feedback ? There is really only one appropriate place to give someone feedback, and that is at a practica (as defined in the video above). Never while dancing with someone, even if they ask for it and make it ‘ok’ for you to do so. Never while on a social dance floor at a Milonga. Ever. Again, not even if they ask for it.
When to give Feedback ? When someone has specifically asked for it, and/or when you have cleared with them first if they would like to hear some feedback about their dance. But only under those conditions. Any other time, it is not appropriate to do so.
Asking For Feedback ? There’s a desirable way to ask for feedback and dare I say it, an effective one. And there is an ineffective method of doing so. Lots of them actually. By example a very desirable method would be to say directly to someone at a practica, “I would love some feedback about my embrace from you, if you feel comfortable giving it ?”. Notice that it was specific and not nebulous. The questioner asked specifically what they wanted feedback on and didn’t just leave it at “Feedback”. Also notice that the questioner gave them the opportunity to not participate at all, “if you feel comfortable giving it”. This part is absolutely critical to getting direct feedback and making someone feel ok with giving you feedback.
Asking To Give Feedback ? It’s important to recognize even though you may have tons of information to hand someone about their dance, that they quite honestly don’t want to know about it, especially from the likes of you! So how do figure out if someone wants feedback ? Ask them. “Would you like some feedback about your embrace ?” or their walk, or their ochos. And so on. If they don't want any, and no coaxing either, then you must, absolutely must let it go.
What To Feedback ? This one is difficult but there are generally four areas that we want to talk about when giving feedback, and really 5 if we’re being detailed. And of course we’re being detailed.
1.) The Embrace (yours and theirs)
2.) Posture (yours and theirs)
Most times your feedback will be limited to item #1, the Embrace. Relating that something isn’t working. But really the rest of it comes into play when you start to think about it. And again, we’re using “I” statements to reference this stuff. “I am feeling a lot of _____________ (pressure, tension, force, lightness, softness) from your right arm along my back. It feels _________ (nice, not nice, painful, hurtful, etc).” The more detailed you are with this stuff the more helpful it is.
Too Much Feedback ? Yes. You can in fact overwhelm people with too much feedback and this happens a lot especially with beginner teachers, they suffer from this problem as well. So here’s a good rule of thumb. No more than 3 things to feedback in one dance. And really just the one. So you can mention the 3 things that are going on. But focus on just the most prominent one and stay with it until they get what you’re on about.
The Last Word. The fact is that just because you gave someone feedback, does not mean that they’re going to change magically. Recognize and understand that people like what they’re doing. They don’t see anything wrong with it, or right with it for that matter. A good portion of the time what they’re doing is unconscious behavior and because it is that, you may have to remind them every few steps that they’re doing X, Y, and Z. Which is to say that most people will revert to what’s comfortable for them and instead of doing what’s right for the dance, they’ll revert to what’s comfortable for them to do. And more frequently than you would imagine. Like as in, every 2 or 3 steps! So reminders are kinda helpful here, and lots of them. At the same time, you have to remember something, that too many reminders and you'll drive someone crazy. So it's important to let a few go by and then remind someone, let 10 more screw ups go by and then gently remind them and so on. Oh and by the way, if you like this website, and the resulting videos, and want to actually, oh I don't know...become a better dancer ? you might want to hit that annoying button in between the paragraphs...just saying. 😉