the perfect mistake

There have been a fair few new faces around FBP lately, and one that I have particularly enjoyed meeting is Christopher Anderson. His classes are fun but challenging, with an emphasis on placement, mind-to-muscle connection, and fluidity of movement. You know that refreshing feeling when you hear someone explain something you’ve been working on for 20 years in a way you’ve somehow never considered before? “Put your collarbones into your first position circle.” Lightbulb.

Christopher tends to call upon memories of his own training, sharing nuggets of wisdom he received from his teachers around the world. They are always golden tidbits, but one in particular stood out last week…

It was a story about a former teacher of his who used to skip around class exuberantly, cheering students on and giving corrections from all angles of the studio. The interesting bit was this: When a student would fumble slightly, but maintain placement or correct mechanics, his teacher would shout excitedly,

“You made the perfect mistake!”

The perfect mistake. This little oxymoron instantly clicked for me. It rooted itself even deeper when, that evening while coaching students for YAGP, one of my girls asked what she should do if her attitude turns don’t go well on stage. We spend a lot of time talking about performance quality and the point of competitions, which in my opinion, is not being judged, rather painting the stage for the audience. It’s about learning to set the scene and fill the space with dancers so convincingly that the audience can see them, too. It’s about finding your voice. If you can do this during a competition when you’re alone onstage, storytelling through dance becomes second nature as a professional. But I digress…

I try to impress upon my students the importance of “rehearsing options”. In other words, practice what you will do on stage if you fall out of that pirouette, or come down early during your hops en pointe. Don’t just stomp it off. Gracefully transition to the next step. Smooth things over. Make the perfect mistake. The mistake that shows your technique and mindfulness. I can’t help but think about how well this idea can be applied to every day life…

When you are over tired and accidentally order 5 too many jars of peanut butter during quarantine. But then you have a shelf-stable option that gets you through that stretch of sheltering-in-place where cooking an elaborate meal every night became an uninspired chore…for example. Or when you accidentally board the wrong train, end up somewhere in New Jersey with no cash, cry, find your way back to Manhattan, but then get to spend a surprise extra night with your best friend. The perfect mistake.

So I’ll repeat what we’ve all heard and know, but perhaps need to hear again: it’s not what happens, but how we deal with it. What’s more empowering than that? This truth brings the control back into our own hands, makes mistakes into opportunities. Accidents become lessons, chances to show our worth, our training, our humanity. Those little moments of impurity become the slivers of ourselves, little flashes of individuality, because how I deal with a mistake will be different from everyone else in the room. And that is where our voice hides. In the perfection. Only in those teeny cracks in our facade can we show the world who we really are.

2 thoughts on “the perfect mistake

  1. HI Kirsten, I so love reading your thoughts and looking into your life through photos and drawings. I recently started taking a watercolor class and my early frustration with “mistakes” sometimes left me feeling that I should just try something else. But Katherine reminded me of Bob Ross the PBS painter with the afro and beard who had a joyous attitude toward painting landscapes and always described his “happy trees” on the mountainsides. The one thing he always said when a brush stroke was misplaced or a color not quite as expected, “there are no mistakes only happy accidents”. I love this and I believe it’s true!

    Looking very much forward to seeing you again on stage and living for a moment in the magic! Be safe and healthy, Love, Aunt Sue

    On Wed, Oct 28, 2020 at 12:39 PM Setting The Barre wrote:

    > Kirsten posted: ” Processed with VSCO with a6 preset There have been a > fair few new faces around FBP lately, and one that I have particularly > enjoyed meeting is Christopher Anderson. His classes are fun but > challenging, with an emphasis on placement, mind-to-muscle con” >

    • Hi Aunt Sue,
      Thank you so much for sharing this, and for reading! I love your story. I remember watching Bob Ross when I was a kid, and actually think of him often when I need a hit of joy. It’s helpful to channel his optimism, and when you think about it- he’s right! Happy accidents often turn out to be the best part of creativity.
      So glad you are taking a watercolor class. Keep going!
      Love, Kirsten

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