by Mark Van Schuyver

Last November my wife Donna and I entered a dance contest. In our category music was selected by draw. On day one, we pulled a killer song out of the hat, I’m just a baby in the business of love. When we performed, everything felt right. The audience responded well, and I was certain that we had done our best. The next day, in the finals, we drew what I considered to be a terrible song. I can’t recall the name of the piece, only the bad feeling I had when listening to it. To make it worse, I was stiff from hours of dancing from the day before. During the entire time we danced I was uneasy and stressful. We did more footwork and even added some complexity on day two, but my gut told me we were off and I ranked our performance low.

Later in the day, I spoke with one of our judges. She’s a respected dancer and judge from California and I really wanted her feedback about what we did wrong in the finals. I was shocked when she said, "oh, you did so much better today. You danced much cleaner and better than yesterday. In fact, all of the contestants did better today." Yipe! How could I be so wrong about myself?

It dawned on me that my internal, emotional view of my own performance was completely bias. I felt better about the dance we did on day one, but the scores said that we were in better form on day two. I didn’t realize it then, but I was evaluating myself through the narrow perspective of feelings. I was wearing the "hat" of emotion. What I didn’t consider is that, according to Edward De Bono, author of Six Thinking Hats, there are five other hats I should have been wearing if I wanted to truly understand myself and my performance.


According to De Bono, we all have six different thinking states. In his book, Six Thinking Hats, these conditions are represented by six hats of six colors, white, black, red, yellow, green, and blue. The white hat is the objective, unemotional critique and feedback hat. The black hat is for tearing things apart. Black thinking finds flaws and weakness in everything. Our yellow had is the bright and cheery view. Yellow thinking sees the positives. Red hats are for emotional points of view and opinion. Green is the color of creativity and of lateral thinking. The blue hat sits above the others. In this mode we sort out and make sense of the other colors. As dancers, I believe that we can greatly accelerate our progress by using the six hats concept for self coaching and for communicating with our dance partners. Here’s how to do it.


To get a clear and objective view of yourself as a dancer, ask a friend to video tape you and a partner. Then take out a blank sheet of paper and make a T across the top and center. Title the left column "Things I did well." Title the right column "Things that I did not do well." Now play back the video and evaluate it frame by frame. Objectively, and without emotion, write down your honest impressions splitting them between the two headings.


Play your video again. This time make notes in the margin of your paper which spell out the things you did really badly. Illustrate what needs improvement and how you would do it. Criticize the heck out of yourself. Don’t be kind. Show no weakness. Be honest, and unemotional, but be strict and harsh. Flesh out the dark side of your performance. Add extra sheets if you need more space.


Play the video a third time while wearing your sunny yellow hat. Locate your best stuff and put smiley faces next to your notes. Write in the margins explaining what was good about it, or add another sheet of paper to catalogue all the positives. Find pluses even in your areas of weakness.


Now take a look at yourself and let your emotions go free. Use a red pen and jot down how you feel about your performance. Are you happy about how you look on the tape? Sad? Angry? Write notes about how you feel and, very important, do not back those feelings up with facts. Just let the emotion talk. Add extra sheets as needed.


It is time to get creative. Take out a fresh sheet of white paper. At the top of the page draw a big oval. Inside the oval write down a specific dance goal that you wish to achieve. Example, perform perfect push breaks. At the bottom of the page draw another, smaller oval. In it write the word today. Now draw a line from today straight up to the large oval at the top of the page. Imagine that this line represents your development and passage through time to achieve this specific goal. The straight line is the linear path to your goal. It is very unlikely that you will succeed if the only road you have to travel is this narrow linear one. Time for green hat thinking.

With your green hat on your head, let your imagination go to work. Think of all the many different things that you might do to achieve this goal. Examples, go to dance lessons, take private lessons, attend workshops at conventions, view instructional video tapes, work with a partner or a coach, spend more time practicing. With each new idea, draw another line from the circle with today in it to the circle at the top of the page with your goal in it. Leave ½ inch between lines. Write the ideas down along the lines.

At the end of this exercise you will have a lateral path to your stated goal. With this creative map your chances of success are much greater. Now go back to your white, black, red, and yellow notes. Pick out the good stuff and repeat the process for each area you wish to develop.


The last hat. Take all of your hat notes and put them on a table in front of you. On a clean sheet of paper write the word blue at the top. Now, take all that you’ve learned from the previous exercises and draw up a short, mid and long range dance development plan for yourself. Use blue hat thinking to manage and organize the whole process.


Now it is time to put your Six Thinking Hats to work. Major companies all over the United States are using this method to get the most out of their managers to keep their functional teams functioning. You can use it to self evaluate and build a developmental process for dancing. And you can use it with your dance partners to make communicating and working together easier. By agreeing to discuss your work in each thinking mode, you can keep your dance partnership on track and in sync.

So, there you have it, the Six Thinking Hats concept as applied to dancing. Your mission, if you decide to accept it, is simply to put the concept to work for yourself right away. As for me, next time I enter a dance contest you can bet I’ll be wearing six hats!

Mark Van Schuyver lives in Atlanta. He is a writer and a West Coast Swing enthusiast with over thirteen years experience dancing. More than 100 of his articles have been published in national magazines including many on the subject of dance. You can reach Mark at by e-mail at Zarrdd@bigfoot.com.