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. Their thoughts are that valuable to me.
Some dancers have an incredibly difficult time when getting corrections. They see it as a teacher picking on them or criticizing their ability, 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 have the potential to be better. However, being better often requires direction from someone who has already been in our (pointe) shoes. 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 an addicting art.
That is why I treasure criticism and corrections so much. I hold the highest respect for my instructors, as 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 frustrating student. I work incredibly 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. Despite my setbacks, I enjoy knowing 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 wants to give 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 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 appropriate doses, it can be an essential source of information and wisdom.
I often find myself being very critical of the work I do outside of ballet. Any suggestion of any slight adjustment in something I produced makes me question everything about the product. It’s more difficult – but increasingly important – that I apply my mindset of gratefulness towards criticism or corrections for any kind of work I do. 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 due to a fear of acknowledging 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. When I find myself upset that I will never be a flawless dancer with beautifully refined technique, I remind myself of this quote by Michelangelo: “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.”