Making Active Mistakes

Making active mistakes on the dancefloor

How comfortable are you with your dancing?

I’m not speaking in terms of reviewing your competition footage and feeling good about yourself; I’m asking about your experience within your own body as you dance. Are you complacent?

In ballroom, and in life more generally, there are two types of mistakes: passive and active. We want to make the latter. Passive mistakes are those you make without thinking about them. They require no active thought because they are so well ingrained. These are muscle memory. These are your ruts. It’s the way you always put your foot down slightly sickled in a crossover break, or how my right shoulder settles forward in my standard frame. This is the point that your dancing returns to each time, the lowest common denominator.

Active mistakes are those that we undertake via experimentation. It is trying out an action to see what its effect is. This is thinking about that wayward foot as you place it in your break, or having my partner put her hand on my shoulder to draw attention to it. Active mistakes are made consciously, with a goal in mind.

I do not mean to imply you should actively choose to dance badly; I will never advocate for that. Rather, I suggest that you consciously decide to experiment with something that already works in order to progress. Active mistakes are difficult because they require us to admit that we are wrong and step out of our comfort zone. Passive mistakes are insidious because they allow us to think that something that simply works is, in fact, correct. It takes a strong will and a clear goal to make repeated, active mistakes. However, the benefits of such focused work on your dancing can be tremendous.

The other key is that you must give yourself (and your partner) permission to fail. Have fun with this! Get silly! This can be difficult, especially if you’ve wrapped up your identity in dancing. As always, it pays to take a step back and remember why you dance.

When I can apply this, it helps me in my dancing. Hopefully it’ll help you, too.

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