Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A case for improv

I am always reading discussion board threads on improv versus choreography. 

In my earlier dance days I preferred choreography and only choreography. Improv was a scary thing in which you were forced to think and dance at the same time and I was so sure that I was being judged as well. My fear came from thinking that I would do the same thing over and over or not be able to come up with a move that fit the music.

Now things are quite reversed. Choreography is still good. It is great for group performances and I have also learned some incredible choregraphies from master instructors that far surpass my own improvisational and choreographing abilities. It is very inspirational and challenging to dance these pieces and I do enjoy it. 

But when it comes to what I want to dance, the answer is improv. I don't mind improvising to live musicians, and I think that musicians and a dancer all improving is a particularly organic piece of composition. I prefer to improvise to music I am intimately familiar with because that is generally the music that moves me in an emotional way that I wish to translate into dance. I like to be moved and then do what moves me.

So, how did I develop this love of improv and how can you?

I had an instructor that really encouraged improv and would give us time at the end of class to just dance. She even turned the lights down so we wouldn't feel self conscious about seeing each other. I encourage my students to improv and do this same thing. I also use games to help build on their improvisational skills. Taaj's book 

Beyond Moves is a great resource for games and ideas to help introduce improv to your students (and yourself, even if you don't teach I recommend getting this book and working through it).

The other thing that helps you get comfortable with improv - Just do it! Below are a few ideas for when and where to improv, please feel free to add more in the comments.

1. If you perform at a community event, take the time to get the crowd to dance with you. You are still doing improv but there is less pressure when a 5 year old is shaking it with you.
2. Put on your music and dance around the house while you clean.
3. Set a time limit. Put music on and dance. For a surprise improv set, I like to set a kitchen timer then put my iPod on shuffle.
4. Dance for your friends and family.
5. Host a hafla with your dance friends. Just do a casual get together, no frills, no costumes, just fun and dancing.
6. Go to a venue with music and dancing and joining the crowd on the dance floor. I used to frequent a Hookah Bar where everyone danced between the performer's sets. Getting up with the crowd or a couple friends and dancing is really what made me comfortable with improv.


Najla said...

Great ideas, thanks for sharing! I've always loved to improv when I perform a solo but I know how hard it is for others to make that transition. I find that creating an environment in class for students to work on those skills is important.

Sometimes I will put a song on and just make people follow along. I don't know where I'm going, and the students think less about the technique of the movment and focus more on figuring out what the song will tell us what to do. Another tool I use is to have my students do a structured combination but then intersperse improv in the middle...for 4-6 counts of 8. Enough to get them going, but not enough to freak them out!

Naima said...

I've never heard of the "Beyond Moves" book. I learn so much from other blogs. Thanks for posting.