Our last entry on Modern seemed like the perfect introduction to Improvisation. Improvisation is defined in my dance teacher text books as spontaneous movement or composition without preplanned use of form. Improvisation lets dancers feel free in their movement and stimulates their creative energies.
At Symphony Dance we try to incorporate improvisation in our daily classes and we also offer a separate class just for improvisation. In classes we often offer times in the dances for freestyling, we let dancers show off their moves, and we do activities where the students get to create a dance and lead the rest of the class (including the teacher) in movement that fits their style.
Dancers may be shy in the beginning of improvisational work, but we work to help them get into the spirit of improvisation. I try to remind my students that improvisational movements should be from within and should focus on how the movement feels rather than how it looks. Many times it’s hard for dancers to create spontaneous movement that isn’t imitation or that doesn’t end up looking forced, but many times the dancers who are the most shy in the beginning end up being the dancers who enjoy improvisation the most.
Some examples of improvisation that may occur in our daily classes include:
-Dancers may be given 12 counts of a Jazz combination and then asked to complete the last 4 beats (2 make two steps worth) of their own movement that fits the music.
-In ballet we use improvisation in all levels, but specifically in more advanced classes it is fun to have dancers create their own combinations for the barre portion of class at the beginning or lead the class in a reverence, that they create on the spot, to end the class.
-Improvisation is incorporated into tap class in different ways, but I like to have dancers stand in a circle and start with one person adding one beat/step/count/element and then the next person starts with that piece and adds their own piece and you build the step around the circle.
-Our hula hoop instructor often gives opportunities for solos, gives options on arms and positioning for independent style choices, and ends every class with a song of “free-hoop” where participants can do anything they want to with their hoop. I often use this as a cardio section of waist hooping, or may take the time to practice my chest hooping, other hoopers work on specific arm tricks, hoop jumping, traveling the hoop from waist up to a lasso or from lasso down to knee hooping.
-Acro (short for acrobatics) seems like a strange place to work on improvisation, but improvisation makes a well-rounded dancer and we want to contribute to that in every class. In this class improvisation can be incorporated by allowing dancers to do a combination of their favorite skills (tumbling or dance) down the mat.
-In toddler and preschool dance classes we start with simple freeze game style music that tells you what to do (maybe walk or jump or tip toe and then freeze) and then we sneak “dance” in there too. It’s amazing how uninhibited 2 year olds are, they sometimes start by following me and copying exactly but it’s not long before they’re adding style to everything, including their walks!
Our improvisation class builds dancer skills so they have a selection to choose from when performing their improvisations. We also work on different challenges to the improvisation, on different music timing, on different styles of dance, and on testing the limits of the dancers’ emotions, abilities, athleticism, and creativity. I may ask dancers to do a call and response to each other, to do the same combination of moves and find ways to personally stylize them or to make them portray different emotions, or we may simply play the music and dance and enjoy the work of all the dancers in the room.
Teachers who are creative with improvisation will develop a strong, well rounded performer. Dancers who can improvise are not the dancers who “blank out” on stage, who stare at the floor, or look like they are thinking about something else or would rather be anywhere else. I have seen this to be true in other studios I’ve worked for, in students I’ve taught solos to, and in our Symphony Dance students. I hope to continue to build amazing dancers through various techniques including improvisation.