Program Like a Dancer

How you can learn from a dancer's reaction to feedback

Ballet Teacher Corrections by Gabriel Saldana is licensed under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0

I started dancing long before I started programming. In fact, dance is kind of what led me into computer science. Because of that, I find it interesting to compare those two areas. The other day after a ballet class I started thinking about the way dancers and programmers respond to corrections.

All dancers and programmers have room for improvement and learning. Because of this, they will always be in the position to receive instruction, correction, and critique. What I think sets the two apart is the way they respond to feedback.

Especially at higher levels, a dancer can be proud when they receive a correction. I started getting more corrections in my ballet class recently, and I’m happy about it. That might seem backward from what you would expect, but it’s not without reason. In fact, it’s for reasons I think we all could use to make ourselves better programmers.

Prove you can take it

Getting a correction means you’ve proved yourself, and shown potential. It means you’ve shown that you’re able to take the critique and learn from it. Why would someone want to help you if you’re not going to listen? That would be a waste of energy. It’s much more enjoyable to work with someone who is willing to take feedback. None of us know everything, so don’t pretend to. Instead, you can be eager to accept the instruction, and be proud that you’ve presented yourself as someone who can learn. If you’re not getting any corrections, maybe it’s because you haven’t shown you’re willing to learn.

Make it a habit

When I get a correction in dance class, I try to apply it everywhere I can from there on out. By doing so, I’m further proving that I can learn from the feedback. It also helps my personal growth. Through that repetition, I am working on making it a habit. Try to do the same thing when you get feedback on your code. By applying it wherever you can, you are making it an opportunity for growth. It gives you that mental muscle memory to avoid making the same mistake in the future.

Don’t make the same mistake twice

If you’re given the same correction three times in a row, it’s not a good thing. It makes it look like you ignored the feedback, and aren’t willing to learn. That will make you that much more unpleasant to work with. Instead, be conscious of not repeating your mistake. Whatever works best for you, be it repetition, taking physical notes, or something else, do what you can so no one has to repeat themselves.

When you receive feedback on your work, can you be excited to learn from it? Strive to apply it where you can until it becomes a habit? Be determined not to make the same mistake again? Some things to be aware of next time you receive feedback.

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Victoria is a software developer working on mobile and full stack web applications. She enjoys exchanging knowledge through conference talks and writing.