the Game of Argentine Tango

Everything is a range of possibilities

Feedback

Feedback tells us, “Am I moving closer to or further away from the results I want?” It's an essential tool for developing any skill.

What and why

Through facial expression, tone of voice, words, and more: Consciously or not, we get and give feedback throughout life and dance. Often to ourselves, positive and negative. We keep a healthy, happier connection with our feedback partner and get a better result when we learn, practice, and improve how we give and get feedback.

Video and transcript

English transcript

Transcripción en español

How

Wow! This is a big topic and a most important one. From our upbringing as children, feedback can be such an emotionally fraught subject. Please, please study and consider all of this. Can we relate these points to experiences we've had in the past. Can we project to how we want to use them in the future?

  1. Have we ever noticed how naturally and unabashedly a dog or cat lets us know where it likes to be scratched and what kind of pressure it likes?
  2. Feedback with another human being is an imperfect system at best. But sometimes it is the best thing we can have. Feedback is a way for us to check things that we cannot easily or objectively see or feel for ourself.
  3. Save it for designated practice time. Social dance time is for enjoying ourselves.
  4. Think! Is this something that needs to be said? Is this something that needs to be said by me? Is this something that needs to be said now?
  5. Check-in with our their-need-for-empathy detector.

We want to support a good relationship with this partner and we want the mutual benefits of useful feedback.

Before giving or asking for feedback:

  1. Get buy-in.
  2. Set clear intentions before any feedback event.
  3. Discuss the level of feedback desired.
  4. Remember that the feedback is not about who a person is or what they can or cannot do, nor is it about telling someone what we think they should do.
  5. Feedback is a way to check things we cannot easily or objectively see or feel for ourself. [Repeated for emphasis.]

When we're giving and receiving feedback, remember that:

  1. Not everyone will know how to give good feedback.
  2. Some people will have an inappropriate emotional charge to giving or receiving feedback.
  3. Some people will misinterpret what they are feeling.
  4. Some people won't know how to express what they are feeling.

When we give feedback, think like a reporter who can only provide the facts for What, When, and Where. Not Who, Why, or How! (Save the Who, Why, and How for collaborative problem-solving between equal partners who find the approach helpful.)

Feedback methods

  • Mirror
    good – Immediate, “Am I tilted?”
    bad – Can only see when facing it. Left/Right of a partner or teacher in mirror image can confuse. Distracts from other monitoring and intentions. Can make us look vain, always looking at ourself.
  • Video
    good – A record we can save. We can speed up, slow down, stop, or rewind. It keeps us in view even when we turn away.
    bad – Time needed to set up, review, manage, cull. A small 2D presentation of a big 3D act can look flat and lack energy, but that can also be a good thing to drive more practice.
  • Partner
    good – Get feedback on feeling, forces, clarity, and comfort.
    bad – Emotional entanglement.
  • Teacher
    good – Expert (we hope!) on reproducing what they feel and, more importantly, on what a good dancer wants to feel.
    bad – Teachers are fallible, too. May focus on “corrections” rather than building on the positive.

Feedback criteria differ depending on the situation:

  • Professional partners training every day.
  • Amateurs getting ready for a performance.
  • Regular practice partners.
  • Someone we've just met at práctica.

Social dance time is for dancing, enjoying music, and socializing, not a time to practice a move we're not yet confident of nor to give any kind of feedback except to share the enjoyment.

Sometimes at a relaxed milonga or a práctilonga, someone, especially beginners, may ask us for specific feedback. We can say whether we feel comfortable giving verbal feedback or any feedback. The two of us can agree on a non-verbal signal, such as a hand squeeze when the concern in question occurs.

Even at specific practice times, we still want to take care in how we give and receive feedback. We want to support a good relationship with this partner, and we want the mutual benefits of helpful feedback. Here are guidelines to consider before we are in a feedback situation.

Get buy-in.

  • “Shall we give each other feedback this time?”
  • “Would you like feedback on what we just did?”
  • “Is there a specific kind of feedback you'd like?”
  • “Can you please give me feedback on …?”
  • “Would you rather not do feedback right now?” (Sometimes, we just want to dance and let the practice go.)

Set clear intentions before any feedback event.

  • “What kind of feedback is most useful to you now?”
  • “Let me know at any time when you don't want feedback, and I will do the same.”
  • “Do we want to do problem-solving together, or only give plain feedback?” (Note, problem-solving is a related but significantly different topic.)

Set level of feedback desired.

  • “How fine a resolution do you want? First time and every time, or only if a situation repeats or feels bad?”
  • “Shall I give feedback only about X, or about anything I feel?”
  • “Please give me non-verbal feedback with a hand squeeze whenever you feel X while we dance.”
  • Choose one (at most two) things to focus on at any time. We get cleaner, clearer results this way. When that works nicely, then we can move on to any new feedback item.

Feel this next thing deeply before giving feedback. The feedback is not about who a person is or about what they can or cannot do, nor is feedback about telling someone what we think they should do. Feedback is a way for us to check things we cannot quickly or objectively see or feel for ourself. [Repeated for emphasis!]

Be aware that not everyone will have considered and practiced giving good feedback. Some people will have an inappropriate emotional charge to giving or receiving feedback. Some people will misinterpret what they are feeling. Some people won't know how to express what they are feeling.

Think of feedback this way, like a reporter who can only give the facts for What, When, and Where. Not Who, Why, or How!

  • “I don't feel that I have enough space to safely step.”
  • “I feel like I might step on you.”
  • “I feel like I am in your way.”
  • “The space opens past where I can still feel connected.”
  • “I feel as if I am about to run over you.”
  • “I lose the feeling of connection in that arm at this point in the figure.”
  • “I feel pulled (or pushed) here.”
  • “I feel off-balance here.”
  • “When we do this, I feel fearful of my support.”
  • “I feel like we are aimed in different directions.”

Save the Who, Why, and How for collaborative problem-solving between equal partners who find the approach helpful.

“Here's what I like to feel.”
We all are so alike and so unique. Asking a person to give us their specific What, When, and Where for a move can bring clarity, not only when dancing with this person, but perhaps also for many partners. Take the “enough space” issue. A collaborative couple could say, “Let's stop when we get to this point, then you can show me what changes might make the space feel more comfortable while still keeping our connection”

We are more willing to accept feedback when it focuses on what we can do in the future, rather than on what we messed up in the past.

Check-in with our partner for two things.

  • “Can I (you) say more about X to give a better understanding?”
  • “Does that make sense for you?”

When it goes well, we give our partner thanks for giving and receiving feedback. When it goes poorly, remember that none of it is about our worth as a human being—even if they said it was!! Think about what went well and what was not so good. Think about how we or they could have done better. Think about what we could say or ask for in the future that might produce a better response or more helpful feedback.

Feedback is like a dance! We give an idea, observe the response, then play with that to get better and better responses for both of us.

At the milonga!

  • We do not give feedback at the milonga unless our partner is hurting, endangering, or mistreating us. If the situation isn't dire, we can often communicate the message nonverbally by squirming in an uncomfortable embrace or situation.
  • Every dancer has the right at any time to decide for themselves whether the current dance situation goes too far beyond our level of emotional or physical comfort. In such a case, we break the embrace and leave our partner with the words, “Thank you.”
  • The words “Thank you” signal the end of dancing with a partner for the current tanda. (As the previous point says, we even have the right to end a dance that is in progress.) If a tanda is working out satisfactorily (or at least bearably), then we save the “Thank you” for the last song of a tanda.

What else

How to give, receive, and request feedback by Myles Munroe and Tessa Cunningham Munroe, Canadian Swing Dance Champions. A super-usable guide with great tables and examples.

Thanks for the feedback: the science and art of receiving feedback well : (even when it is off base, unfair, poorly delivered, and frankly, you're not in the mood)
Living the lessons in this book make for an easier, more productive way through life.