For the past three days, I have been privileged to participate in an intensive weekend workshop with pole superstar Marlo Fisken. Eight hours of flowing floor work, static aerial spins, flexibility, and signature moves (plus a couple delicious meals, and hours of games and conversation,) have left me sore, happy, and, most of all, inspired! I learned a bunch of new moves and combos, but the real takeaway for me was the discovery that my body can move in so many different ways that I’ve never experienced before.
The movements we explored this weekend were largely guided – we did what we were shown. But we did spend the end of our final class playing improv games. We split into groups of three for the first one, and had to create short routines using a limited number of hands and feet on the floor. The second game involved working out transitions between randomly selected pole moves. After we were done, Marlo spoke briefly about the importance of surprise in pole routines. So often, we learn to move from trick to trick in just one or two ways, and we never think about how else we could approach those moves. But anyone who’s spent a decent amount of time watching pole routines has expectations of what will happen next based on what they’ve seen before. If a transition is predictable, it’s boring to watch. To make a pole routine interesting and engaging for judges and seasoned audiences, it’s necessary to break away from what’s conventional, and do what no one expects to happen next.
Incorporating interesting transitions and new moves in a routine, however, requires creativity. New movements must be discovered, and new combos must be crafted. Creativity is a hot concept these days. Everybody wants it, and everyone’s talking about it. (Sorry to choose such a mainstream topic, guys. I’m unworthy of my imaginary hipster glasses.) Along with the focus on creativity has come the advice, “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.” If you’re afraid of making mistakes, you won’t be willing to fully engage in whatever creative process you’re pursuing. People who constantly feel pressured to get things “right” the first time will only do what they’re familiar with, what they’ve seen before and already know works. Fear of making mistakes smothers creativity – nothing new can come from doing the same things you’ve always done. Evolution requires mistakes – not only are they inevitable, but they are necessary to making anything new. So, don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
I’d like to take this concept a little further. I don’t think the “Don’t be afraid to make mistakes” attitude accomplishes all it sets out to do. The word “mistake” is a negative one – it means “error.” It means that something has gone WRONG and it would be made better through correction. I think that the words “right” and “wrong” are completely out of place in the creative process, however. I think that creativity conceptually excludes this spectrum.
This is to say that the essence of creativity is that there is NO SUCH THING as a mistake. There is only the familiar and the unfamiliar.
To be creative, you have to be able, and willing, to turn off the part of your brain that judges what you’re doing as “right” or “wrong.” You have to be willing to try new things, and you WON’T always like what you do. Liking it isn’t the point. Liking it comes later, after the majority of the creative work is done.
I have only a small amount of experience choreographing pole routines. But one thing I’ve learned is that it can take many hours to choreograph a four-minute song. That doesn’t include practicing it – that’s just creating the choreography. Why does it take so long? Because not everything you try works! And even if it does, it may not accomplish everything you want it to. So you try something else. And something else, and something else, and something else…. If you want to make your routine not only fit the song, but present the audience with something new to watch, choreographing will take even longer as you learn to move in ways you’ve never moved before. Some movements will work better with your piece than others, but no movements are right or wrong. No movements are mistakes.
Creativity requires a shift in priorities from making something GOOD, to making something DIFFERENT. Certainly, “good” is your end goal – good AND different. But creativity does not play its role at the end – the perfecting process comes at the end. The creative process is the beginning, and your job at the beginning is not to please, but to DISCOVER. You won’t want to use every single thing that you come up with, but you have to face the reality that you can’t discover beautiful things if you’re unwilling to discover ugly things, silly things, stupid things, completely useless things!
When you begin creating a work of art, pride is your worst enemy. Pride gets in the way of discovery by insisting that everything you do ought to make you look good. If you’ve never done something before, it’s a risk to your pride to try it. But without discovery, anything you create will be predictable and boring. So tell that voice that says, “What if I look stupid?” to shut up, and just try it! Because there is no right and wrong in creating. There is only what has been done, and what hasn’t been.
So move your body! Watch yourself in a mirror as you bend and twist and sway in whatever directions you can. Tangle yourself up. Continue momentum you normally stop. Touch the floor and pole with different parts of your body than you’re used to. Touch your own body with different parts of your body that you’re used to! Do a familiar move, and see what parts of your body are free to do something different. Do a move faster than usual, slower than usual. Do it multiple times in a row. Watch what other people do, and mimic them. Watch animals as they prowl around, watch plants sway in the wind, watch objects in motion, and try to recreate it. Movement is all around you! Let it inspire you. Try things you’ve never done. Surprise yourself!