Positive Comebacks for Every Dancer's Inner Critic

May 29, 2017

I’m often my own worst critic, yelling and calling myself names just like my old Russian ballet teacher did to me. I left her years ago, so why do I keep behaving this way?

—Les, Brooklyn, NY

Teachers have a profound influence on dancers—for better or for worse. Apart from shaping your technique, it’s common to hear their words echoing in your thoughts years later. A good teacher does not yell or resort to public humiliation to make you a better dancer. Instead, they should provide constructive criticism about what’s working and what isn’t without attacking your self-esteem.

To counteract the negative critic in your head today, try this three-column technique used in mental-skills training: Note the trigger (such as making a mistake) in one column, the automatic thought or image (“My dancing stinks”) in another, and add an objective response for column three based on facts, logic and reason (“Everyone makes mistakes. It’s okay.”). To come up with a response that you believe, imagine the kind of encouragement you would offer your best friend. The trick is to get distance from your negative self-talk. Remember: Thinking something critical about yourself doesn’t mean it’s true.

Send your questions to Dr. Linda Hamilton at [email protected].