Perfectionism is rife in the Performing Arts. I’m guessing you know may have noticed this but interestingly it doesn’t seem to impact everyone in the same way…. 

For some artists they find their perfectionism deeply rewarding,  their relentless ambition to keep at a performance until it shines enables them to create extraordinary performances. Whilst for others their perfectionism is overwhelming, leading to constant self-flagellation and paralysis as they fail to achieve the performance goals they are pursuing.

As an educator, what is our role in all of this? Can WE make a difference?

Can We Make a Difference to Students’ Perfectionism?

Well that’s what this team of researchers set out to find out. 

They took a group of 244 adolescent dance students from 53 dance schools in the UK, 46 boys and 198 girls with a mean age of 15 years. They then measured them for different types of perfectionism. 

Yes, perfectionism isn’t that simple which is why its effects can be enabling in one person and disabling in another.


Perfectionist Strivings or Personal Standards Perfectionism (PSP) is self-orientated and occurs when an individual sets themselves aspirational objectives and works towards them consistently by setting small, achievable goals. 

These goals are set hourly, daily and on a project basis. They are usually attainable and based on their current skill level whilst pushing themselves to do that little bit better than they did the last time. Working on their weaker sections to make things better. Whilst they will not be 100% successful all the time, these small goals are achieved most of the time and on completion of each goal they feel satisfied with their progress and are are ready to set themselves the next attainable objective. 

Perfectionist Concerns or Evaluative Concerns Perfectionism (ECP) is when an individual’s expectations of themselves is based on expectations they feel others have for them or when they are constantly comparing their achievements to the achievements of others. 

Typically, the expectations they place on themselves far outstrip their current capabilities, experience and skill acquisition leading to discouragement when they are unable to attain their goals in a time frame that often appears unrealistic to others but is perceived by them as being normal.

A cycle of persistent failure ensues which the individual responds to with a litany of verbal and physical self-abuse. Often manifesting as persistent negative self-talk, substance abuse, poor food/sleep hygiene and either over-working or paralysis (an inability to start/complete anything). Consequences of these behaviours can include suppression of mood, anxiety and physical tension that can further impair progress.

In Short: Perfectionist Strivings are enabling. They are self-focused, achievable and facilitative whilst Perfectionist Concerns are inhibitive based on the perceived expectations of others that outstrip current skill acquisition. 




Healthy Striving is self-focused “how can I improve?” Perfectionism is other focused “what will they think?” Brene Brown 

In other studies Perfectionist Strivings have been linked to engagement, higher self-esteem and greater intrinsic motivation whilst Perfectionist Concerns to emotional and physical exhaustion, often leading to burnout. 

Having said all this, people are complicated. Most of us are not one or the other but a mix of the two and it is when the balance becomes too heavily weighted in Perfectionist Concerns that problems occur. 

So the question is: As educators, can we help those with higher levels of Perfectionist Concerns?

Well it turns out we can!


Autonomy Supportive Environments are when teachers nurture volition, interests and values by adopting students’ perspectives, encourage problem-solving and provide choices. 

This study showed that dance teachers who adopted an Autonomy Supportive Environment act as a buffer against perfectionist concerns and students in these environments had lower indicators of burnout.

Instead students in Autonomy Supportive Environments demonstrated higher levels of wellbeing measured by increased engagement, vigour, enthusiasm and dedication levels and lower levels of evaluative concerns. Students who perceived their teachers as empowering their autonomy demonstrated higher self-orientation (PSP) and greater focus on taking the initiative and problem-solving.


So what does this mean for us? How can we value autonomy in a system that often values conformity and synchronicity in it’s artists?

Perhaps you could share your ideas in the chat below of how you’ve managed to cultivate autonomy whilst balancing this with the demands of working as a cohesive artistic team?


Jowett, G.E., Hill, A.P., Curran, T., Hall, H.K., & Clements, L. (2021). “Perfectionism, Burnout, and Engagement in Dance: The Moderating Role of Autonomy Support.” Sport, Exercise and Performance Psychology 10(1):133-148.


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