Friday, February 05, 2010
When you raise tomatoes, you have to constantly prune away the “suckers”, the new shoots the plant tries to grow. If they remain, they’ll suck the plant’s resources into growing new stems and leaves. But when you find them and get rid of them, the plant can focus on its job: making tasty tomatoes for you.
Mistakes are like Suckers
It’s human nature to fear mistakes, but they’re especially terrifying for dancers. After all, the audience’s eyes are always on us. So we become perfectionists, and fret about tiny mistakes that our audience would never notice.
Fear of mistakes sucks away our attention and our creative energy. And since those tools are critical to improv, it can be devastating. So we get even more afraid.
But what most dancers don’t realize is that making mistakes will actually improve your improvisation skills. We need to welcome mistakes, and deal with them appropriately, if we want to improvise successfully.
Why Are Mistakes So Important to Improv?
Mistakes are important in improv because they teach you what does and doesn’t work for you.
When you dance, you have a huge pool of movements and combinations to choose from. However, not all of them fit the music and flatter your body.
If you choreograph your performance, you can take days or weeks to sift through these options, and decide which you like best.
When you improvise, you have to make those decisions in a split-second. But that split second is all you need if you have already sifted out many of the bad ideas. And you do that by making mistakes.
The trick is to make them in a safe place.
How Do I Make Mistakes in a Safe Place?
The safest place to make mistakes is in the privacy of the studio, so get in there and practice some improvisational dancing. Your goal for this practice session is to make mistakes. Be sure to do it mindfully: acknowledge the bad ideas, welcome them, and then let them go.
You’ll resist making mistakes at first, but remember that our goal is to prune away the bad ideas during practice, when nobody is looking. That way, you’ll have mostly good ideas left to choose from when you improvise.
So go make some mistakes. Welcome each snafu. Greet each bad idea with open arms. After all, this may be the last time you ever see it!
But Won’t I Make Faster Progress if I Focus on Usable Material?
Nope. Focusing on good ideas will help you generate a list of usable material more quickly, but that list doesn’t help you improvise.
The ideas that are inside you – good and bad – are going to come out sometime. You can’t stop them. If they don’t get their moment of freedom in the studio, they will break out on stage.
So give the bad ones their time to shine in the studio, where they can’t embarrass you.
Fear of making mistakes is natural, but it is a liability when it comes to improvisation.
Improvisational dance requires that we make decisions in a split second. We can inform that decision by making as many mistakes as possible before we step on stage.
The best way to do this is by mindfully making mistakes when we practice, so we can learn what does and doesn’t work with our bodies.
It may be tempting to focus on good ideas, but this won’t help you prevent mistakes when you improvise. The bad ideas are going to come out sometime. By welcoming mistakes when we practice, we can improve the odds for when we perform.
Go to your practice space, and make some mistakes. When an idea isn’t working for you, acknowledge it, and then say goodbye to it. Because now that you’ve pruned it from your mind, it can’t suck away any more of your attention.