Overcorrecting

Allison Johnson
7 min readApr 7, 2021

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What it costs our relationships and society.

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

I’ve seen it countless times. I tell a dance student to relax the tension in his/her arms and they turn into a limp noodle. Or I say, “A little more tone here” and they go all sentinel on me. We all do it, and not just on the dance floor: we overcorrect. I’m as guilty as the next human. But what I’ve realized is: it never gets me what I want.

A few months ago, I was inadvertently insulted. Instead of calmly telling the guy how I felt, I bashed him (namelessly) on social media. A few hours later, realizing I had overcorrected, I took it down and sent an apology email. (After all, you can’t write an article about apologizing and not get better at it yourself;)

More recently, I yelled at a man (while in his house) telling him what he can and can’t say anymore. Needless to say, my message wasn’t received with an open heart— in fact, it wasn’t received at all.

As a society, we’re canceling Dr. Seuss and Mark Twain for the use of offensive drawings and/or words. It’s tragic! There is such joy, wonder, and love in those pages. We’re throwing out the entire work of art for the accidental splotch. Why not redraw and substitute the offensive pictures and words?

I/we have to find a better way — overcorrecting doesn’t get us to a beneficial place — it just gets us to the other end of the spectrum…often the angry end.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  1. Our anger is our responsibility. No one else’s.
  2. There are a lot of angry/scared people right now.
  3. Yelling at someone not only fails to make you feel better in the long run, it fails in swaying the opposition. Basically it just makes a bigger mess.

I tell my students “partner dance is a conversation you have with your bodies. Everything you do communicates something.” When you hold someone too tightly, you’re communicating fear. Too gently: it shows you’re not committed or you’re bored or you don’t trust/believe in yourself enough to fully show up. I use a scale of 1–10. We all start out way too close to either end of the spectrum. Then we spend (usually) years swinging wildly back and forth like a pendulum. Where we want to dance/live is in that warm 4–6 range. Not a wet noodle. Not a tin soldier. But an open, warm hug.

We want it to feel easy for someone to dance with us. We want to be present and flexible. We want to be interesting. We want to feel 100% accepted even when we make the inevitable mistake (as lead or follow) which we will because we’re Human. See why they say life’s a dance? The same rules apply:)

The moment you achieve all of these: pure bliss.

When was the last time you felt that way in a conversation? Now a step further: when was the last time you felt that way in a conversation with someone who doesn’t think the same way you do? I’ll wager it’s been a while for many of us.

So what can we do about it?

We want the warm fuzzy feeling. We want honest, supportive communication. We want to be heard. But it seems like some people can’t be reasoned with. I know…I’m one of ’em when I’m fired up.

Maybe we can try:

  1. Admitting there’s a problem.

I know it’s uncomfortable. No one wants to be “the complainer”. (Actually, it seems like lots of people want to complain about lots of things these days — which is that other end of the spectrum I was talking about.) But if the masses are for, or against, something — it’s very hard to step up and say out loud, “Wait a minute. That doesn’t feel right to me.”

This takes being honest about our feelings — which is super scary! Practice it anyway. Gently. With yourself first, then with others.

Lately, my most problematic situations have surrounded the oppression of women. Tasteless jokes, double standards, telling women what they should and shouldn’t do (which is what I not-so-delicately screamed at my aforementioned guy friend he couldn’t do anymore. No, the irony is not lost on me.) But I find I’m fed up.

I am completely done living my life the way a man, any man, thinks I should live it.

Damn! That feels good to say! Try it with me ladies. Or men. Anyone who’s been oppressed: embrace the freedom of your voice!

This doesn’t mean I won’t continue to seek counsel from those wiser than myself. I just won’t quiet my own voice if it’s telling me something different.

Now that we’ve admitted there’s a problem, we can admit the choices we’ve made thus far in certain situations have pissed us off. Whether we felt we had to make those choices or not. You’re angry. But learn from my mistakes: if we don’t handle that anger before we step into the world — we’re not going to get what we want, we’re just going to make a bigger mess.

To get what we want: an open, loving society/partner/workplace where everyone has equal rights maybe we can try:

2. Channeling our anger in a healthy way.

Because yelling or publicly shaming someone (as is happening in today’s cancel culture) just makes them dig their heels in deeper. And believe me, you can’t dance with someone who’s dug in their heels.

Author Regina Thomashaeur recommends a process called swamping. (I and my nine year old daughter, who has a flair for the dramatic, have found this extremely helpful.) You put on a song that matches your emotion and dance to it. No fixed steps. Just recognize the emotion and allow it to move through you in any way it wants. In that way, you can release it. Many scholars and authors today discuss how unhealthy it is for an emotion to get stuck in our bodies. This is one safe way to let it out.

If this is too much of a stretch for you: try yoga. (See what I did there;) Or breathing. As few as six deep breaths can really calm me down when I’m about to blow up at my kids for having to ask (OK, tell) them to chew with their mouths closed for the thousandth time. Maybe four deep breaths is enough for you. Try it and let me know.

Work out. Just be careful not to sling those kettle bells too hard: no one has time to get injured.

Meditate. This is a game changer. I prefer TM (you can check it out at TM.org) because I couldn’t quiet my mind any other way. But there are lots of ways to meditate. Start with guided meditations if you’re like me and your mind runs the Kentucky Derby every chance it gets.

After we’ve admitted there’s a problem, and we’re angry about it, but taking steps to handle our own anger — it’s time to move on to:

3. Being open to the unexpected.

In partner dance, we never know what’s going to happen. I could lead a move my follow has never seen before and she could react in a way I never anticipated. (For the record, I know follows and leads can be any gender, I’m just using the typical gender to make this an easier read. If you’re offended, we can have a calm conversation about it. But remember, I am a woman talking about leading, so…) Am I going to blame my follow for going a different direction? I hope not. She’d never dance with me again. And she’d tell all her friends not to dance with me.

Remember, the goal is to have a transcendent dance/conversation/life. Not “Be Right”. I think we all forget that from time to time — myself included — especially when trying to swing the pendulum our way.

One of the Four Agreements is Don’t Make Assumptions. (I find it oh so challenging!) But how much would it behoove us to start a debate without assuming they should see our side? Maybe we should all go back to high school debate team and learn to defend both sides of an issue just to remind ourselves our minds are like parachutes: they work better when open.

When my students hear dance technique that directly opposes what I advise, I say “Ask the other teacher why? Then try it both ways. See what feels good in your body and do that.”

Why is it so challenging to be this diplomatic in real life? It’s what I’ve realized I have to do with men who are trying to navigate this new reality where power isn’t automatically handed to them anymore. I do think most men want to please/support the women in their lives — I just think they don’t know how.

I’m a teacher. I can help. I can recognize the problem. Handle my emotions on my own. And be open to unexpected solutions.

We’re neck deep in vaccine season. You may want the vaccine. You may know people who don’t. Either way, try not to let that pendulum swing to the angry side — even if you feel your anger is righteous. Remember: it doesn’t get us what we want.

As Marianne Williamson says in her book “A Return To Love”:

“You’re either moving toward (Love) or away from it.”

If those are my choices — I want to move toward Love. One reasonable, sustainable notch at a time. Thanks for reading. Good luck out there!

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Allison Johnson

Dancer, writer, mother, watcher of too many movies:)