youth teacher spots and encourages a younger student on the trapeze

Not-So-Tough Love

If you’re hanging about the studio these days, you might notice a group of aerialists who are really upping their game. Many Sky Candy community members are currently preparing for the Capital of Texas Aerial Championships, taking place Labor Day weekend at the brand new Sky Candy space.

We are incredibly proud of the students and faculty who will competing and showcasing their work and want to give them lots of support along the way. Part of preparing for a performance of any kind — from student showcases to national competitions — is seeking feedback on your work. But how do you make sure your feedback is constructive and delivered in a way that is helpful, never hurtful? Here’s some insight on how to offer feedback to a friend — and when to keep your thoughts to yourself!

During Class

Is it ever appropriate to give another student feedback during class? Maybe. If you see a fellow student about to do something you know is unsafe, such as incorrectly wrapping for a drop, definitely speak up. Safety always comes first. On the flip side, when you see a classmate finally conquer a nemesis trick or make progress towards a goal, congratulations are certainly in order. But in general, it’s not cool to give unsolicited feedback to other students during class — that’s what the teacher is for. Have you figured out a key for a trick the rest of the class is struggling with? Bring it up as a general thought or question (i.e., “I’ve found that moving my hand lower on the hoop gives me more control. Is that true for anyone else?) rather than directing it towards another student. Remember, what works for your body may not work for others, or there might be a very good reason why your helpful hint isn’t advisable. Also, let your teacher give corrections like pointing toes and straightening knees — keep your attention on your own work!

During Open Studio

Open studio is often where students practice their choreographed work, and where they may explicitly request your feedback. So, rule #1: if you haven’t been asked to give feedback, please don’t! Allow the aerialist to decide whose feedback they want and when. (If you see something you love, a quick “That was awesome!” is usually quite all right, but keep it short and positive.) Even if the aerialist has gathered a group to watch a practice run, don’t speak up if you weren’t included in that group. There’s a good chance the aerialist has selected people they know and trust and tasked them with looking for specific things. While you might feel you have something important to contribute, remember that you don’t know what the aerialist is working on, where they are in the process, what kind of feedback they’re looking for, etc. If they haven’t asked for your input, don’t offer it.

Rule #2: if you are asked to give feedback, keep it within the scope of what you’ve been asked for. If someone asks you to point out every instance where they make a weird face, this isn’t the time to critique their music choice. Consider your words carefully. There’s a big difference between, “I thought it got way more exciting after the handstand sequence” and, “I was totally uninterested in what you were doing until the handstand sequence.” It takes a lot of guts to ask for feedback; keep in mind how you would like to receive criticism about your own work. And remember that while it’s important to be kind, you are being asked for your critical eye. Telling them everything looks perfect and beautiful when in actuality their toes aren’t pointed and there’s a really awkward transition halfway through isn’t helpful.

More Formal Feedback: How It Works

Formal in this context means that feedback is directly asked for in specific ways, and with a moderator present to keep things on track, such as our Scratch Nights. Let’s break it down for you.

First, you’ll watch the performance. This may be anything from, “a few ideas I’ve been playing around with” to “the first draft of a sequence I’m working on” to “a dress rehearsal of the finished piece I’m performing next week”. Next, the moderator will open up the floor for feedback. The performer will specify what kind of feedback they want, which might be very general or incredibly specific. Some performers may not want feedback at all, in which case the next performance will begin.

Want to say something about the performance you just saw? Here’s what you’ll want to keep in mind:

  • Limit comments to what’s been asked for. This is one of the most important parts of giving feedback in a formal fashion. If the performer has been clear that they don’t want comments on sequencing, don’t tell them you think their drop would look better later in the routine – even if you really, really think it would. There are many reasons they may have chosen to do it that way, and please respect their wishes in regards to your comments. If they’re not open to suggestions on this aspect of their performance, keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Be kind. It takes guts to get up there and show your work. Even seasoned aerialists (including your instructor!) can feel vulnerable when they perform. Choose your words carefully, and be careful about using humor, as it can be taken the wrong way. It’s okay to be critical (often, that’s literally what the performer asked for), but avoid being rude or offensive. Consider how you’d like to hear the same note.
  • Be brief and stay on topic. This is not the time to go into a detailed explanation of your own struggles with cross-back straddle entrances or how this routine reminded you of an elaborate dream you had last week. Keep your notes short and on point. You also don’t have to comment on every act you see. And if someone has already covered the point you want to make, you don’t have to repeat it or expand on it.
  • If you do get off track, expect to be corrected. That’s what the moderator is for. If you start to wander into territory that’s outside the requested feedback range or is otherwise off-topic, you’ll likely be gently redirected. Don’t take it personally – the moderator has the difficult job of keeping the evening flowing smoothly and making sure performers get what they ask for. The moderator might also need to move on to the next performer before you have a chance to speak. Again, they’re trying to keep the evening on schedule and prevent the audience from becoming fatigued.

Attending performances like Scratch Night can be lots of fun – and the critiques we make of others’ work (out loud or internally) can help inform our own choices when we put together a performance. Remember to stay on topic and treat others as you’d like to be treated! Then sit back and enjoy the show.

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