This is an excerpt from Essentials of Dance Psychology With HKPropel Access by Sanna Nordin-Bates.
Keegan (2018) and Lochbaum et al. (2016) further summarized the following findings relating to performance as having consistently emerged in the literature:
› A strong task orientation is associated with a variety of attitudes and strategies related to better learning and performance (e.g., believing that effort leads to success, choosing challenging tasks, persistence) and lesser use of maladaptive strategies (e.g., avoidance and cheating). Persons with strong task orientations are also more likely to engage in prosocial moral behaviors.
› A strong ego orientation is associated with a mix of more and less adaptive attitudes and strategies related to learning and performance. For instance, ego-oriented persons engage in both adaptive and maladaptive behaviors (e.g., effort and avoidance). They are more likely to believe that talent is the cause of success and to engage in antisocial moral behaviors.
The reason why ego-oriented performers engage in this mixed set of behaviors is probably because they adapt their behaviors to their present situation. For instance, they are likely to put in effort when they are relatively sure that doing so will help them be superior. But if they feel threatened by other seemingly more skilled dancers, they may instead withdraw their efforts. By not even entering comparison, they can avoid the risk of appearing inferior and preserve their volatile sense of competence. As such, teachers (and dancers themselves) would do well to watch for signs of avoidance or for dancers making unexplained excuses (e.g., stating that “My foot is bothering me, so I had better sit this class out” but being seen doing similarly challenging tasks an hour later).
A functional analysis helps to illustrate this phenomenon (figure 5.3). In this set of two examples, a dancer is taking class with several people whom he does not know but who seem to do better than he. In the first analysis, he is also strongly ego oriented, with his sense of competence being hinged upon being superior and looking good. When this does not seem possible, he avoids being seen by standing far from the front and by stepping out altogether when the teacher sets a very challenging variation. By avoiding the situation, the dancer reduces his sense of unease over being inferior, saves face, and preserves (to a degree) a sense of competence. However, this comes with the long-term cost of lesser learning, and his fear of interpersonal comparison will not improve.
If, per the second analysis, our dancer is instead strongly task oriented, then his sense of competence is largely undisturbed by others being superior and he may feel inspired to learn from those who are better. To maximize his learning, he stands near the front and when a variation becomes too difficult, he adapts it by focusing on the legs and simplifying the arms. He may not look the best to the teacher or to others in the class, but he is maximizing his learning.
Another example is when dancers prefer to enter situations (e.g., competitions, classes) where they are guaranteed to win or look superior rather than choose difficult situations where they may learn more. Indeed, we may ask ourselves whether we are trying to improve something, or just prove something.
Strongly ego-oriented performers are also somewhat more likely to do anything it takes to get ahead, including cheating (table 5.1). Such behaviors are more likely than avoidance if the outcome is perceived as so important to the individual that avoiding the situation is not an option. One of the founders of AGT, John Nicholls, summed up the risks of being strongly ego oriented in his famous saying that “when winning is everything, it is worth doing anything to win” (Nicholls, 1989, p. 133). This statement is relevant even to dance contexts that do not comprise actual competitions: For instance, those who want to outperform their peers at any cost may be unhelpful when a classmate is struggling to learn a skill. They may not share advice and information that has the potential to help others; they may continue training and competing while injured; and they may even deliberately stand in front of someone in the studio so that they get the better view of the teacher at others’ expense. However, the associations between task orientations and positive outcomes are stronger than those between ego orientations and negative outcomes. Thus, holding a moderate ego orientation may not be problematic as long as it is backed up by a concurrent moderate-to-strong task orientation.