This is the story of that time I fell on my butt in the middle of a dance.

In the nine months of dancing up to that point, I had managed to stay on my feet (except for that one time in a class that totally doesn’t count because I say so). Then one wardrobe malfunction, and I was going down. My heel caught on my hem. I lost my balance, I stomped down hard, still stuck in my dress, and had no choice but to go down with it.

I should point out that no one saw but my partner. I know because at the end of the night I was asking people “Did you see me take that spill?” (In my experience, the fastest way to get over embarrassment is to get it in the open. The sooner I can see it’s no big deal, the sooner I can get over it. If I keep it a secret, I start to feel like it was something to be ashamed of) I should also point out that my partner was an amazing gentleman about it. He picked me right back up, repeating assurances over and over while I muttered a half-hearted “I’m fine.” He finished the dance with me and throughout the night continued to check up on me and ask me to dance.

I will lastly point out that none of this mattered. I was so mortified it psyched me out for the rest of the night. I was making all sorts of mistakes, getting flustered over the simplest things. I elbowed the same partner in the eye (and he still finished the dance). Short and simple, I snowballed.

What’s snowballing? It’s when one mistake leads into another, then another, and then another until it seems you physically cannot do anything right. Like rolling a snowball down a hill, it just builds and builds until it’s huge and out of control.

How do you stop it? Don’t make mistakes.

I’m kidding. We’re all going to make them and to some degree they’re going to get to us. Clearly the fall shook me bad, but if I think back, my snowball didn’t form there. That afternoon, I had had a private lesson. We were working on a new dance I love, but was proving extremely hard in practice. We spent the entire lesson on a single combination, and when my time was up I could barely stumble through it. Despite my teacher’s assurances that this was amongst the most advanced moves he’s shown me, and that there was no reason to be so hard on myself, I concluded lesson frustrated and disappointed. I went to that night’s social determined to forget my frustrations and redeem myself as a dancer. Even if just to me.

Looking back, that’s likely where I got that snowball rolling. Were I not so hung up on that lesson, could I have handled that fall differently? Would I have been less hard on myself if I weren’t already desperate to “prove” myself? Could I have prevented it altogether? Would I have panicked less when I felt my heel catch, and had some presence of mind to stop and detangle before it turned into a debacle? Or was it just an unfortunate, unrelated accident? Did I really have no cause to place blame? Was I doomed regardless of my headspace?

Headspace, your state of mind, is the biggest cause of snowballing, and probably the phrase I hear most out of my teacher: “You need to get out of your headspace.” It comes from undue pressure and excessive blame on the heels of a mistake, accident, or shortcoming. You become so focused on the mistakes that mistakes are all you see. Then it seems like mistakes are all you make. You get flustered and frustrated, and even shut down, and then it really is only mistakes.

But really, how do you stop it?

It’s different for everyone, and every situation. After the fall, I finished the dance. I continued dancing with others. I was determined to power through and prove it hadn’t gotten to me (see those words again? Undue pressure). But it had gotten to me. What I probably should have done is hidden out in the back for a few songs: given myself a chance to breathe and calm my mind. On another night, powering through another song might have worked. It might have been a great dance, gone through without a hitch, and I could have forgotten and shrugged off that fall for the hiccup it was. But that’s all supposition now. Truth is I’m notoriously hung up on mistakes. I get flustered easily and my teacher is constantly reminding me to breathe, to stop thinking about the last step and focus on the next. And that’s the best advice I can give you. Breathe.