Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Creative Uncertainty

The Words we use play a major role, like take the power of phrasing instructions positively. By using words, we create an image in people's minds. Talking about things not to do, we imagine those things. I've always wondered why so many people don't dance more creatively despite the vast majority of teachers teaching leading and following, which makes creativity and the leading and following of new movements possible.

The piece that makes the picture complete came in a book called "Mindfulness" by Dr. Ellen Langer. She has conducted a series of studies about the influence of words used when teaching about new objects. The results are that when new items were introduced conditionally e.g. "This could be a pencil", people would find a lot more possible alternative usages than people that the item got introduced to unconditionally, as a fact, e.g. "This is a pencil". Introducing new items unconditionally creates a bit of uncertainty because it suggests that it could be used differently. She calls this creative uncertainty, because it allows for creative usage of the items. Creative usage means usage of an item in a, for that person, new way.

Langer's results clearly show why people often have trouble using the material taught in classes creatively. We teach new moves as "This is a swingout", "This is the beginning of a swing out". Saying a swingout could be a swingout feels off to me. Exits and entries to moves on the other hand are quite variable. Saying "This could be an exit to XYZ" sounds actually quite ok. Check out where you introduce facts in class, by stating something is something and try to see if there isn't a way of introducing it conditionally.

The other result that I found interesting about her studies to this piece of puzzle is that when things get introduced as "this is one possibility" - items get used more creatively than unconditional introduction but less good than "real" conditional. Introducing something as "This is one possibility" can be seen from time to time by lindy hop teachers. If you are already at this step, go a step beyond and go try conditional teaching. If you are not at this step yet, feel free to skip it. It's a bit like the fax machine. If you went from telephone to e-mail right away you didn't miss a thing.

By changing your phrasing, and I'm sure you can come up with more conditional phrasing, you will be able to teach creative usage of your material at the same time as your material. How cool is that?

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