Can deliberate failure- setting impossible tasks, allowing yourself to look stupid and un-beautiful- help dancers feel less frightened of failure, more comfortable with being vulnerable?
A couple of weeks after my failed introductory workshop (see my last blog post) I attended a researcher training seminar on documentation in practice as research (Lerpiniere, 2022). The final practical task Dr Claire Lerpiniere set was to create a mind-map of a practical research activity as if it were a person; out of mine emerged the figure of Mama Clown, a persona I have already started to explore in my analysis of my work on Mark and the Marked (See Bonding and Boss Clowns blog). A researcher colleague pushed me to expand a little on this, and I made a few brief notes in my journal summing up our discussion:
Nurturing, adopting the misfits, the weird kids
Failure and perfectionism
(Journal- 19th May 2022)
Somehow the research-as-a-person exercise had allowed me to find a link between the emerging, nurturing clown persona that I have started to recognise as how I direct and teach, my experience of playing with failure at my ill-fated workshop, and the phenomenon of perfectionism in dance.
Dancers' mental health and wellbeing has been of increasing interest among the students I work with at Rambert School, and there have been several thoughtful third year dissertations in recent years touching on destructive perfectionism and negative self-image in dancers. There has also been an increase in formal research on the subject, mostly coming from a sports and dance psychology perspective (Atienza et al., 2020) with one study highlighting that 'shame may be a strong characteristic of perfectionism in dancers... (that) both shame and fear of failure are inherently focused on self-evaluation, and both connect failure to a loss of love and abandonment.' (Eusanio, Thomson and Jaque, 2014, p112).
So if dancers fear failure, and clowns embrace it, perhaps there is something here that clown can offer dancers? Here follows a longer train of thought on the subject from my journal:
If we’re frightened of failure we either can’t be vulnerable, or we’re so vulnerable that it’s painful to watch. When a performer shows us vulnerability it makes them human, relatable and sympathetic. If we like them, we are more likely to laugh. So failure leads to laughter via two routes:
So: Can failure- setting impossible tasks, allowing yourself to look stupid and un-beautiful- help dancers feel less frightened of failure, more comfortable with being vulnerable? Does that communicate to an audience, even if what they’re performing isn’t failure-based?
Is failure the only route to being comfortable with being vulnerable?
Can we encourage the same feeling by nurturing?
(Journal- 19th May 2022)
Eusanio et al conclude with the recommendation that ‘dancers, a population that frequently receives intense negative social evaluation, have much to gain from programs that enhance self-compassion and self-esteem.’ (2014, p. 112). As I observed in my analysis of Mark and the Marked, (see blog post) I use humour in a rehearsal process as a fast-track to complicite, bonding and a sense of belonging and esteem among my company, so perhaps there is a broader principle to build on here when working with dancers. Perhaps laughter; in particular laughing at failure, and with other people; could function as such a tool for building self-compassion and self-esteem.
Atienza, F.L. et al. (2020) ‘Examining the Mediating Role of Motivation in the Relationship between Multidimensional Perfectionism and Well- and Ill-Being in Vocational Dancers’, International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(14), p. 4945. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17144945.
Eusanio, J., Thomson, P. and Jaque, S.V. (2014) ‘Perfectionism, Shame, and Self-concept in Dancers: A Mediation Analysis’, Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 18(3), pp. 106–114. Available at: https://doi.org/10.12678/1089-313X.18.3.106.
Lerpiniere, C. (2022) ‘The Role of Documentation in Practice-Based Research’. De Montfort University, 19 May.