How good are you really?

It’s been my experience – as a teacher and just as an observer – that most dancers don’t have a truly accurate sense of their own abilities. A lot of people think they are either better than they are or worse than they are. And, not surprisingly, the truth is usually somewhere in between. 

We all know dancers who think they’re better than they are. They’re the ones with the cocky attitudes, often accompanied by some sort of swagger or strut, but they’re also the ones who do complex or difficult patterns and stylings that don’t look or feel good to their partners. The ones who look like they’re having a blast when they’re partner isn’t. The ones who don’t really pay attention to their partners or try to show off to their partners or, worse, constantly try to show off to people watching.

And we all know dancers who think they’re worse than they are. They’re the ones who belittle themselves and their dancing all the time. The ones who are too timid to ask others to dance. The ones who frequently criticize themselves during a dance and apologize to their partners. The ones who apologize even when there’s nothing to apologize for.

As a teacher, I’m mindful of my students’ attitudes, knowing how their mindset can affect their progress. And I find that while nearly all my students are positive about their potential, most don’t give themselves credit for how much progress they’ve made and instead they focus on the gaps ahead. Because they aren’t where they aspire to be, they can be self-critical and negative in their self-assessment, leaving them with a “glass half-empty” view of their dancing.

On the flip side, there are those who don’t take group classes or private lessons, because they don’t think they need the instruction, without considering the benefits such instruction offers. Ironically, the ones who think they don’t need instruction are often the ones that people wish would take a lesson. Fortunately, I find that most people will pursue instruction of some kind, knowing that there is always more to learn.

This isn’t to say that everyone has this issue. I know several dancers, particularly champions and some All-Stars, who know both their strengths and their weaknesses. They have both confidence in their abilities and the humility to know they have more to learn. These people inspire me and I think they are good models for others, showing us how to take pride in our progress while staying open to learning and growing.

Knowing your own dancing is important, since both self-criticism and over-confidence can inhibit your progress and have negative consequences for your partner. Being self-aware, knowing your strengths but also knowing your limits, and having confidence while being open and humble help us to be better dancers and better partners. After all, it’s not just about you. The goal is to create something with someone else.

But what do you think? Do you have an accurate sense of your own dancing? Do you agree that most dancers do not have an accurate sense of their own dancing? For those of you who teach, how do you help students balance self-criticism with confidence?


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