Let's start with a quote from Miles Davis: “If you’re not making a mistake, it’s a mistake.”
There is no such thing as 'wrong', but we make it look like that with our attitude or our identification with the fear of failure. You would know from your experience, it was not the movement which came out differently than expected that was 'wrong', but the movement you did straight after that made it 'right' or 'wrong'.
In challenging situations, you can either react habitually or respond to them with presence and awareness. Just remember situations which you managed to resolve successfully, because you responded to them with calmness, a moment of pause. The pause allowed you to come back into the present and gave you enough time to feel the freedom of responding and not just reacting by way of habit.
What does the fear of making a mistake do to your dance performance, how does it affect your training or teaching? If you identify with it and the negative thoughts around it, there will be no space for creativity.
So how can you get rid of the fear of making a mistake? Start observing your thoughts, have courage to break some rules, learn to collaborate with others and embrace improvisation as a tool for your liberation.
Be a watcher of your own thoughts
Spontaneous reactions to negative emotions come from a more primitive part of the brain. It is known that an emotion takes less than two minutes to come and go. If it stays, that means your thoughts are fuelling that emotion. You need to question your thoughts, rather than generate them, especially those related to fear and stress. There is no point in denying or ignoring them, quite the opposite, the first step is to accept and acknowledge them.
Those thoughts are real but not necessarily true, therefore you need to watch and observe them carefully. If you detach from your thoughts, or question them, you are kind of watching them from a greater distance and you don't identify with them unnecessarily.
Collaborate with your partner
In collaboration with others we can become aware of our behaviours and ways of responding. If you take a mistake as a part of the game, if you embrace uncertainty, you will start trusting yourself more. And if there is a partner who really listens to you and you listen as well, you two are already an audience to each other.
You can enter every practice open-minded, with a kind of beginner's mind. By staying humble and without expectations that everything has to go according to plan you will be more open to accept changes. There are no wrong movements, just better choices. By keeping the affection for the unknown, you will discover new movement possibilities. Your originality is unexplored territory.
Experimenting with the concepts of shape, space, time, and energy while moving without doubts and over-thinking can create new movement designs, spatial configuration, dynamics, and unpredictable rhythms. Improvisation allows you and your partner to connect to your deepest creative self. Do some brainstorming together, put all options on the table, say yes to any idea. This is how you will open the way for invention.
Improvisation in the teaching and learning process
Why is improvisation an important part of the learning and teaching process? In dance training, teaching or performing improvisation allows for the relaxation of the control filters in the mind.
For example, immediately after the occurrence of the 'wrong move' you can improvise, you can create the environment in which the wrong move will make sense, you can convert it into an essential one. When musicians are doing that with the 'wrong notes', they say that they are converting poison into medicine.
It's particularly important for teachers to master this skill because every student, every classroom is different from one another. Rules represent a trust factor, safety. However, rule books are guidelines, but a good teacher will always encourage the improvisation and critical thinking in students, knowing that the most interesting, exciting moments happen unpredictably.
Instead of saying to your students: "Stop. That was wrong!", you could take a pause, reflect and respond: "That was interesting! Let's see where it leads us."
Improvisation in life or any art form can occur more often if it is practiced as a way of encouraging creative behavior. That practice includes learning to use one's intuition as well as learning a technical understanding of the necessary skills. This can result in the invention of new thought patterns, new practices, new structures and expressions.
Observation of brain activity during dance improvisation showed an increased activity in the brain area which is associated with an increase in self-expression. On the other hand, there was decreased activity in the area associated with self-monitoring. When improvising, the changes in brain activity reduce restrictions that normally prevent you from taking risks.
Deep down we all carry a sense of fragility of life and anticipation of what might go wrong and all that gives fuel to fear. When you are afraid, you shrink, you see the world as smaller, yourself smaller and isolated. But you were born to be connected, to be a part of something bigger, a community where you can share your potential.
And I will conclude with Miles Davis: "Do not fear mistakes. There are none."