On the outside, I am positive, happy, easy to get connect with, and friendly. None of that is fake. It’s all part of who I am. But what you don’t see on the outside is how self-conscious I am. 


As part of my academic work, I have become somewhat of an expert in personality psychology, and there’s one big lesson from that work and my own experience as a highly self-conscious dancer that I want to talk about… There is 1 personality trait above all others that you should be aware of as a coach. Sure, there are lots of things that play into the dynamics of coaching different people. Extraversion, levels of motivation, being personable or driven etc. But I argue that an understanding of ONE trait above others will allow you to truly reach those dancers you may otherwise never connect with.


One theory of personality is called The Big 5, and it holds that there are five categories of personality traits and everything falls into those 5 categories. One of those is Neuroticism. Many people have heard of this before, and you may think of being anxious or worried all the time. 

That’s true, people who are naturally highly neurotic are likely nervous a lot or worry about every little thing all the time. This personality factor has to do with how much you experience negative emotions like worry, anxiety, and yes, self-consciousness.

Self-consciousness is different

However, self-consciousness is a distinct aspect of neuroticism, and it is separate from being anxious or worried. Just because you don’t worry a lot so you don’t “look” neurotic, you can still be highly self-conscious. They are separate aspects of your personality.

This was my big epiphany about myself, and it’s what I want to help others understand. I am very low in most traits of neuroticism. I handle stress well, I don’t overly worry about things, and I’m rarely anxious. My fellow coaches (and former dance directors) would say I’m easy going. Yes, that’s true, but what they don’t see is that I’m VERY high in self-consciousness. So, I worry about what other people think and I stress over making a bad impression. It’s very specific anxiety. If I think I’m being evaluated by others (like performing in front of others or trying something new) I find it very hard to put myself out there.

If you have a dancer with high self-consciousness (and likely you have more than one on your team), they may not be very anxietyridden on the outside, but they could still have a lot of self-consciousness. The two aspects of personality don’t always go together! Self-consciousness is a very hidden anxiety that can be triggered when asked to perform in front of a lot of people. You self-conscious dancer may do well in a group, but struggle when asked to perform alone, or maybe even in front of others.

Coaching Advice:

Usually, if a person experiences high levels of self-consciousness, those thoughts are hidden from other people. We rarely realize that self-consciousness is so strong, but if it is and you aren’t aware of it, you could be harming your dancers.

Offering corrections to a self-conscious dancer 

Dancers with high self-consciousness may struggle to receive corrections, especially in front of other people. So if you have a dancer who struggles with this, try to minimize corrections in front of the team. Instead pull them aside during a break. If you are always correcting them in front of the team, it’s likely they will start to worry about what other people think rather than focusing on the correction. Which of course makes it hard to actually correct what you’ve said. Then they get corrected again and a downward spiral ensues. Instead, offer one simple correction in front of others and if you don’t see it getting better and you know that dancer is a hard worker, let it go. Talk to them separately. Chances are they are much more willing to work on it (and able to focus) when they are not under the team’s watchful eye.

Normalize supportive corrections

Make it a normal practice that you offer corrections in front of everyone. Everyone gets them, no one feels called out, and everyone supports the hard work. If you have a culture where dancers support each other and encourage one another, then when you do give a self-conscious dancer a public correction and the team offers encouragement, the worries will subside. 

Be careful what you ask for

Know your dancer before you ask them to try something for the first time in front of others. If you have a self-conscious dancer, then his or her internal dialogue will be something like, “what if I look silly?” Or “they’ll laugh if I try this and fall.” So rather than asking them to show a part of the routine they are struggling with in front of others, ask them to work on it during a break where no one else is watching. Dancers who don’t struggle with self-consciousness aren’t afraid to go for it in front of the team. Or will easily laugh it off if they feel silly or embarrassed. A self-conscious dancer will pretend to laugh it off because it’s what you’re supposed to do. But inwardly they likely struggle and beat themselves up over it. 

If they say they struggle with a move, don’t have them do it in front of others. Doing it with the whole group is likely ok, but don’t highlight them if they can’t do it. If they know they can’t do that skill, calling them out to try it, even to offer help, will be very anxiety-provoking. Instead, pull them aside and help them one-on-one. Or ask them to stay and take a look later with you or another trusted member of the team. If they have high self-consciousness, this kind of public correction make cause it to spike and the dancer will have a flood of negative emotions.

They’ll still put in the work

Now this doesn’t mean you have to coddle your dancers. A highly self-conscious dancer may also be an extremely hard worker. I was definitely one of those people. I inwardly fell apart if I thought my director was disappointed. Even though on the outside I just kept working hard. But that self-consciousness meant I would also spend hours at home working to be better to avoid that embarrassment in the future. So if you have a highly self-conscious dancer you can still correct and encourage them. You can still and hold them to high standards, just like you would anyone else. But remember that they embarrass easily and try to keep negative pubic corrections to a minimum.

Not sure if you have a self-conscious dancer?

As I said above, this is usually well hidden in our thoughts, and you may have a dancer who struggles with this and you wouldn’t know. Here are a few questions you can ask your team to find out who may be struggling with this. Of course, they will only answer honestly if it’s a private conversation or a journal entry, and they already trust you. Otherwise, this won’t work.

Ask you dancers to rate themselves on a scale of 1-5. 1 is not true at all, 5 being true about me all the time. If they score highly (4 or 5) on these questions, they are likely a self-conscious dancer.

Questions to ask your dancers about feeling self-conscious

  • I get embarrassed easily
  • I usually worry about making a good impression
  • I’m concerned about what other people think of me

Understanding this aspect of your dancer’s personality can change how you coach them. Which in turn, changes the type of dancer they become. They may be incredibly hard workers, but under the public pressure, they crumble. It looks like they don’t care, or can’t improve. When in reality, they desperately want to make you proud but are so worried about a negative evaluation that they can’t perform well.

It’s about understanding

Especially if you are not self-conscious as a coach, it can be hard to recognize and understand in others. No matter the personality trait we’re talking about, good coaches work to understand each person. Our goal is to adjust out coaching style (within reason) to best fit and motivate each dancer. I encourage you to consider your own levels of self-consciousness, your team, and how that personality factor could be holding you back.

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