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Advertising Your Mistakes

Advertising Your Mistakes


What my first grade teacher taught me about performing.

My 1st grade teacher Sheila was a model. She once told us a story about when one of her hight heels fell off during a runway show. She just kicked off the other shoe and kept walking.

Why would she tell a story like this to six year olds?

She was teaching us a lesson: mistakes happen. And when they do, instead of having a meltdown, it’s okay to take care of the problem and calmly move on.

The same applies on stage.

But dancers often “advertise” our mistakes instead.

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This was professionally transcribed, but it probably still has some errors. If you catch any, drop me a line at I’d love to hear from you!

My first grade teacher Sheila was a model, and I remember her telling us a story about when she was walking in a runway show and one of her high heels fell off. She just kicked off the other shoe and kept walking. Why would she tell a story like this to six year olds? The lesson that she wanted us to take away is that mistakes happen, and when they do, instead of having a meltdown, the trick is to just take care of the problem and calmly move on.

That’s something that’s stuck with me, and it’s also served me well on stage, because that also applies to stage mistakes, and these happen all the time. Costume malfunctions, maybe you trip, or you turn the wrong way in a trip choreography. The thing is, is a mistake isn’t a catastrophe unless we advertise it. So, what does advertising your mistakes mean? This is when your expression or your body language inform the audience that you messed up. This can be anything from a quick oops face to maintaining this cringing posture through the rest of your performance like you’re begging for forgiveness.

Why is advertising your mistake such a problem? Well, the first thing to keep in mind is that your mistakes aren’t as obvious as you think. Most people won’t notice most mistakes as long as you don’t actually advertise them. Even if people do notice, they usually don’t care unless you signal to them in some way that they should feel bad. Now this feeling bad isn’t usually a judgey quality, usually they’re feeling bad for you and sympathizing with you. But the problem is that that bad feeling takes them out of the moment and makes it memorable. The thing is, negative feelings make memories stronger. Really. Neuroscience has actually shown that any strong emotion can make memories stick, but especially negative ones.

So, even if the audience member notices in the moment that you’ve made a mistake, it will probably slip their mind by the end of the show as long as you don’t trigger negative emotions. Advertising your mistakes does do exactly that. So, how do you stop advertising your mistakes? Well, step one is to notice. Start paying attention. When does that advertising happen? How do you feel in your body when it does? How do you feel emotionally? What action do you take or what face do you make? If you’re not sure, you can watch yourself on video or ask your teacher or a friend to give you input. Now the ideal response is to just not let your face respond to mistakes at all, but that’s not always realistic especially at first.

So, an easier place to start is by replacing oops faces with something else. One good choice is to smile, just make sure it’s not an apologetic smile. This should be a relaxed, pleasant, “Oh wasn’t that a trivial little thing” kind of smile because in that case the folks that didn’t notice your mistake will think that you’re smiling because you’re happy or because you’re engaging with them. You can also take a nice relaxed sigh. Just make sure that it doesn’t sound like a sigh of frustration or disappointment. It should be like slipping into a hot bath. “Aaaaaahhhhhh.”

Whatever you choose for your replacement action, just make sure that it’s something that puts the audience at ease. Once you’ve selected that, practice it in class and even everyday life so it will be a habit that occurs on stage as well as everywhere else. For example, I have my own students practice that in class when we’re preparing for our annual recital and it really comes in handy. In fact, this past year, two dancers got their costumes tangled and they were right in the front row. But they handled it like champs. They calmly untangled the costume pieces and then jumped right back into the choreography on the beat.

I was so proud and one of the dancers’ daughters who was sitting right up front didn’t even remember that it happened. Those beginners handled the issue like champs and you can too. So start paying attention to how you advertise your mistakes and work to replace them with something that will put the audience at ease.


Your Turn

Do you struggle with advertising your mistakes?

What has helped you?

Got a question or topic that you’d like me to talk about on the show?

I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or better yet, leave me a short voice message. Maybe I’ll even play it on the air!


Want More?

If you’re interested in stage presence, check out my video, Expression In Improv, which is available on its own, or as a bonus for my Improvisation Toolkit Volume 1 when you choose the premium package. Both are available in hardcopy DVD or as downloads.

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