Before I became a good belly dance teacher, I didn’t have good students. I was an alright teacher with alright students. They didn’t become good until I began giving them good feedback and teaching them how to do this for themselves. There are many things that raise one dancer above another, but I believe the ability to self-critique is the most important skill a teacher can use and a dancer can learn if she is to become the best dancer she can be. So, let me give you some tips on how you can learn how to self-critique your own performances.
Videotape your belly dance performance in as much of a natural setting as possible. You are never going to be able to duplicate a live performance, but the closer you get, the more you will have to work with. This means hair, make-up, lighting, costume, whatever! If you have another person available, have them watch it too. She doesn’t have to be a dancer. The feedback you get from a member of the general public is of incredible value.
Watch the performance mindfully. This means you pay attention to everything that is happening without letting any other thoughts in. No multi-tasking. No thinking about what you should have done. No comparing of past performance. Just watch for your gut reactions. Jot those down as they occur. Those are your emotional elements.
When it’s over, think about the technical aspects of the piece- the construction, the execution, the level of skill, how you used your stage, how you used your space, think about the energy, the impact on the audience, and all the things that make up an effective piece. (If you are not sure what should go in a good piece, check out BDT chapter 8) .
Now use this information to weigh whether your intention was realized. What did you hope that this performance would do? Did it live up to that? If so, how? What did you do that was effective? What didn’t work as well as it could have? What might be more effective instead? What evidence do you have that supports your beliefs? If you had a second set of eyes, did that person agree or disagree?
If your comments are subjective, meaning they can’t be substantiated with some fact, put those in the B pile. These are not useless, but they will not be as valuable to you in making improvements or taking a stand to keep something in. Things like, “Wow, that blue really popped under the light” or “White is not a good color on you” are subjective comments.
Everything that can be backed up with physical evidence goes into the A pile. These are the observations you are going to work with. Keep and enhance (if possible) everything that is favorable. If you have a stunning smile, use it strategically. If you have a killer Turkish drop, put it where it will make the most impact. Don’t overuse your pow! moments. These are the things that make a performance glitter. Too much and you look like a drag queen at a carnival. Easy does it.
Anything that is weak needs to be tweaked. Think about what worked. There is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. If you have too much repetition, you don’t have to get rid of every incidence, maybe just one or two. If you can’t do a move well yet, it’s probably best to replace it with something that is excellent. (Never show them what you can’t do and they won’t know). If you disappear in the back of the stage because of the lighting, move up.
There is no point in going through the time and energy of critique if you don’t make the necessary corrections, but don’t beat yourself up either. Change one thing at a time and you will produce results. I promise you. It’s not practice that makes perfect. It’s perfect practice that makes perfect. Without adequate critique you can’t know if your practice is perfect or not. And why keep making the same mistakes or giving a less than stellar job for want of critique?
If you would like to have your belly dancing critiqued by me (Taaj), please send a youtube link and a paypal payment of $35 to receive a written critique of what was done well, what could be improved upon, and specific suggestions on what to work on to improve your dance skills. You can also use this critique to check your own skills of self-critique. See how well you do at spotting your strengths and weaknesses and figuring out what to do about them. Learning how to critique your own performance will make you unstoppable.