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8 Red Flags

8 Red Flags


How to tell judgmental comments from helpful feedback.

This is Part 2 of a multi-part series on judgmental comments in the belly dance world. It can stand on its own, but if you want to start from the beginning, check out Walking on Eggshells first.

Last week, we talked about how judgmental comments undermine your development, your self-confidence, and even your artistic integrity.

But sometimes it can be hard to distinguish judgmental comments from blunt but helpful feedback.

How can you tell the difference?
Watch for these 8 red flags…

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

Last week we talked about how judgmental comments can undermine your development, your self-confidence, and even your integrity as an artist. This is just as true for feedback you receive directly as it is for comments that you hear made about other people.

Sometimes it’s obvious when people are just being catty, but sometimes it’s not as clear. Let’s say you hear a comment that sounds reasonable, but it feels like a punch in the stomach. Or it seems kind and helpful on the surface, but it gnaws at you for days and you just can’t stop thinking about it. Or maybe you’re feeling so self-conscious that you’re desperate to fix your dance, and this comment sounds exactly like the kind of tough love you’ve been looking for, but even after you apply it, you don’t feel any better.

How can you tell the difference between catty judgements and helpful, but blunt, feedback? I think there are eight red flags to watch out for. None of these things is a major problem in itself, but considered together, they can point to a more harmful pattern.

The first thing to watch out for is a judgmental tone. Sometimes this is obvious. There’s a disdainful, dismissive, or supercilious quality to the comments. But sometimes, it’s more hidden. It can sounds like a sickly, sweet attempt to be helpful. This can be a sign that speaker is tearing other people down to build themselves up, or presenting others as bad and wrong in order to seem like more of an expert themselves. Healthy comments generally have a calm and neutral assessing tone to them.

The second red flag is if the comment is unsolicited. You should always be suspicious of unsolicited feedback, because it’s almost always about the speaker’s own issues. Really, the only exceptions that I can say are 100% is if the dancer’s underwear is showing or she has lipstick on her teeth, and another dancer lets her know before she goes on stage while there’s still a chance to fix it.

The third red flag is if the comment is coming from an inappropriate source. Unsolicited feedback from a teacher, a mentor, or a close friend is one thing. Because of the relationships you have with those people, they already have permission to offer you help. But coming from anyone else, you should always take with a grain of salt. This is true even if the comment is coming from a high-status person in the dance community. If you or the subject of the comment has not asked for their feedback, then it’s suspect.

The fourth red flag is an inappropriate audience for the comment. In general, feedback should be given directly to the dancer in question. Talking about somebody behind their back is always a red flag. Now, there is an exception. Sometimes, it’s appropriate if you’ve brought something up with your teacher. One of the roles of a teacher is to help their students contextualize what they’re seeing.

A fifth red flag is when someone’s opinion is being presented as dogma. Facts can be right or wrong, and there are certainly some aesthetics and values that apply to the traditional forms of this dance, but there is no one right way. As a dancer named Shakira in Ohio said, anyone who tells you there is only one right has something to gain by having you adopt that way. It’s about them, and not about you.

A sixth red flag is that the speaker seems invested in your agreement. If they press you to agree with their comments or you feel like they’re trying to get you on their team, that’s a bad sign. Feedback should always be offered with no strings.

A seventh red flag is if the comment is not constructive. A helpful comment offers specific details about what’s not working, and suggests actionable ways to make it better. It also needs to be about something that you can actually improve. If you don’t have control over the thing that they’re commenting on, then that comment just isn’t helpful.

The eighth red flag is using praise for one dancer to tear another dancer down. This is especially big of a red flag if they are praising YOU. Now, this is something that I’ve been running into more often lately. I have a very old-school style, and so naturally my dancing appeals to a lot of the old timers in the community, and that’s awesome. They like the same kinds of things that I like. But every once in a while, I’ve been getting these compliments that start off as, you know, really sweet comments about how much they enjoyed my dancing, but then morph into this way of complaining about how the dance has changed in their time and isn’t it awful. It makes me really uncomfortable, because on the surface, it’s a nice compliment, but in reality, those dancers are using me as a way to validate themselves and set our style as higher and better than the new stuff, rather than just one awesome option among many.

Once you learn how to see those red flags, what can you do with that information? Well, that’s what we’re going to talk about in our next episode.

But in the meantime, if negativity is an issue for you, whether that’s on an interpersonal level, or a more widespread issue in your dance community, there are two episodes of my interview podcast, The Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse, that you might want to check out.

One is called The Power of the Positive Dancer with Zahra Zuhair, which we recorded in November of 2016, and Dealing with Difficult People with Lisa Allred. We recorded that one in October of 2016.

You can find them both at


Your Turn

Which of these red flags have you run into?

Which are the hardest for you to identify?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


Want More?

Here are the Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse episodes I mentioned:

The Power of the Positive Dancer with Zahra Zuhair
Dealing with Difficult People with Lisa Allred

And if you don’t want to miss the rest of this series, subscribe to the Belly Dance Geek News. I’ll send you a monthly digest of these mini podcasts, plus invitations to our monthly online radio show, The Belly Dance Geek Clubhouse, and other geek-tacular resources.


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