Here’s how the story usually goes. A dancer comes to me to prepare for an upcoming performance, we have a couple lessons, the dancer does the performance, sends me the video all excited, I see no less than ten things that could improve the performance, but the dancer never asks for a video critique or a follow-up lesson. Let me tell you, this is not the best scenario if you truly want to grow your skill quickly because you might not realize the most important lessons happen after your show. Don’t get me wrong, preparation is important and cannot be overstated, but I highly suggest after you perform don’t neglect the next critical step of getting a follow-up lesson to analyze what actually happened on stage. Don’t think, “Ok, I’ve performed, I’m done!” This can not be further from the truth and the most important lessons – the lessons that would have made the most difference for your dancing – are far too often left unlearned.
It’s important for you to understand what is done in the studio isn’t what actually happens on stage. Performance puts a different kind of pressure on the dancer than rehearsal, and all the little problems with a dancer comes out under this pressure. Preparation critiques are great for taking away the most obvious problems with a dancer’s skill and presentation, but what about all the little things that only happen under the rigours of actual performance? You know, those annoying things that allude you about your dancing. You know some things aren’t right, but you aren’t sure what they are and you certainly don’t know how to fix them. Those little things, if they were gone, would make a world of difference in your dancing. The performance preparation process is only 25% of the required work to improve your dancing, i.e. the easy part. You are likely neglecting the second, larger part – the performance refinement process.
The performance refinement process is far more valuable to your overall growth than the performance preparation process alone. This is the phase where those little things that take away from your performance quality are recognized and then strategically addressed. A good coach is able to see what didn’t go so well, suggest ways to address it, and then help you plan those next steps so your next performance can be better than the last. If those little things aren’t addressed then you are likely to keep doing them in performance and not improving your dancing as much as you could.
Even worse, you may perform and think your performance was terrible and you leave yourself feeling dismayed and disappointed. If there is one thing I know for sure, it’s that our perception of our own performance is often far from reality and it’s crucial that you allow the discerning, objective eye of your teacher, see what actually happened and advise and encourage you during these low moments in our journey. I don’t know how many times I have seen students struggle mentally and emotionally over a successful performance that they feel was poor and subsequently lose hope. Sadly, sometimes they even quit dance altogether. It breaks my heart because these dancers are often talented, but their minds and negative thinking get the better of them.
I know this all too well because it happened to me early in my journey. I didn’t reach out to my teacher and I wallowed in pity and fear for a year after the performance of my first choreography, until I couldn’t stand sitting on the sidelines anymore. It’s a time in my dance journey that I regret because I feel like I wasted so much time. I could have been growing and gaining experience that whole time, but instead, I let my own poor perceptions of myself convince me to quit – for a time. If I would have reached out to a teacher, maybe they could have re-framed my misperceptions, helped me to see the reality, and perhaps I would have jumped back into the performing game sooner. If you ever feel like you have a bad performance, I would highly encourage you to seek help from your teacher or mentor. We all need support and advice during these critical moments.