Why is it so hard for people to say “I made a mistake”? Instead they lash out, defend, get angry. It’s as though making a mistake is a mortal sin, a terrible indictment against their entire existence. The only terrible mistake, I think, is to make one and then fight the “oops” as though your very life depends on it.
I do Nia dancing and my wonderful Nia teacher Kathy Wolstenholme recently wrote a book about Nia called Juice! (That’s where I found the quote below). Until recently, this was the only dance book I owned, because I’ve always felt that reading about dance could never quite capture feeling the dance.
Then I read a memoir by a Cape Town doctor and writer, who is also a dancer.
Here’s an excerpt from the book Dance With Suitcase: A Memoir Resting on Movement by Dawn Garisch which – refreshingly – encourages mistakes.
I could not hand creative life over to the professionals. Movement, drawing, pottery, singing and writing have all helped me in so many ways: how to find out what I am feeling, how to express something difficult without hurting others, how to understand myself and value my body and myself as a woman, how to trust my impulses, how to befriend my inner critic, how to regain my centre in the midst of turbulence, how to express my whole self – not only the socially acceptable aspects – how to overcome the terror of the blank page, the white canvas, the empty dance floor. How to trust my mistakes, for often enough the slip of the drawing hand or the ‘wrong’ move in dance has opened the door to something utterly lovely or insightful that I could not have anticipated.
The lesson of the ‘wrong move’ applies to the ordinary poetry of life. We do not seem to be able to avoid the things we want to avoid most. In my experience, I have had a whole list of nevers I have reneged on: I was never going to own property, never going to shave my legs, never going to have a mid-life crisis, never going to get divorced, I was certainly never going to rock climb.
How is it that the ‘wrong move’, like the ‘wrong mark’ and the ‘wrong note’ can reset intention, changing direction to one that, after the initial discomfort, can feel exactly right? It is a superb paradox that illustrates how layered we are, and how much we do not know. From early childhood we are trained to avoid error. The fear and shame associated with making mistakes can paralyse us […]
Losing my balance while I attempt an exact step tears open the careful construct of the known dance […]
Trusting error in the creative act frees up my life, and makes me less anxious, more curious and increasingly forgiving of myself and others. It allows me to live more deeply and humanely, rather than focusing on the surface gloss of perfection, and the attendant judgement that says I am not good enough, never was, and never will be.