Your heart is beating faster from all the adrenaline. Your hands dangle at your sides, heavy. Palms starting to produce moisture. Taking a deep breath, you exhale slowly and close your eyes. You let the darkness linger for just a moment before you raise your eyelids. And then the music swirls around you, filling your ears. You start to feel the vibrations through your chest. What do you do next?
I used to cringe at the part of class where you get to improv dance. The more we did it, the more intrigued I became. I wanted to explore what you could do with movement and musicality when you didn’t really know what was coming next. I was fascinated by the freedom but also by the limitations that comes with the music selected. Will it be fast? Will the music pick up? Will there be lyrics? What’s the story there? What the hell am I going to do while everyone is watching me?
Here are some extra notes: Use your technique to your advantage. You can play around with what you can do. Go beyond what you think is enough. Reach further than you think you can. Utilize the quality that opposition brings to movement. Shade your movement. Add contrast. Repetition is nice but if everything looks the same most of the time, it gets boring to watch. Add levels to your movement. Use the floor. Use everything and anything. Use the music. Find a way to lose yourself in the music. You’ll find yourself wanting to be on top of it, but you really want to find that place where you’re in it so you can make decisions with accents.
In my experience, I have found it best to find that groove with the music. Once you find that place where you breathe with it, you can start to experiment with your movement. I let my body test the waters on its own. If my arm wants to try something, I let it. If my body doesn’t know what to do yet, I stop, inhale, then I relax into a position as I exhale. I usually find myself getting wrapped up in the music by this point so then I rely on shading my movement to take me forward. And then I just go with it. That’s mostly what it’s about-just going with it. It’s about risk and trust and musicality. If you are open to creating something in that moment and you breathe through it, you’ll have fun with it.
There is something to be said about being able to captivate in stillness. The same can be said about how you approach movement and what you do in that moment. It is another thing entirely to do so while improvising. But it’s a really great feeling being able to live in that moment, to be creative with reckless abandon. In all honesty, it’s actually really very addicting.
When I see a dancer move, yes I want there to be amazing musicality. At the same time, I don’t want my mind to drift into unconsciously counting out every move. I’ve said it before: When you see the dance become the music, see the music push the mover and the mover make it seem like the music is coming from within them, that is something special in itself. You want that quality to come through in your movement.
I want to see the musicality but have the “dead air” be filled as well. Does that make sense? There shouldn’t be a moment where I feel like there isn’t something there. Yes, there should be moments where you take advantage of being completely still, but don’t forget to shade things. Add contrast. Change up the pace if you can.
You want to use everything that’s there, yes? Take advantage of that split second where nothing was choreographed. Fill that blank! Because that is your window of opportunity. That is where you add yourself into the movement. What do you do with those extra moments you are left to breathe? What you choose to do with these moments makes your movement unique. It makes it interesting. What will the dancer do with those moments? This is something I’ve found that pulls people into watching you in a crowd. I’ve seen it happen countless times.
These are the dancers that get picked out to do the combo. It’s so you can see the different choices that they’ve made, what they’ve added of themselves. It’s not just about getting the counts right, or having the technique, or whatever.
It’s proof that it’s okay to be bold and make different choices than other people. That’s what they want. Of course, they want you to be similar to everyone else, but it’s okay to push those boundaries with your movement. That’s what the classroom is for.
When I shoot video for dance and I’m doing close ups, I sometimes feel like I’m in it as well. Like, I’m improvising where I can fit in, finding that balance between being involved but still giving the dancers space to move and do their thing.
I guess that’s the point, though. To connect with them, to jump right in there and become part of whatever they’re doing. To get the story across you have to immerse yourself in that world that’s been created, be in that moment with them.
It’s quite interesting, actually. I find myself knowing certain routines in the sense that I’m spatially aware of where I can and cannot be or where I need to be to catch the best angle for a particular shot.
I just love this so much.
Totally forgot I wanted to write this up.
I woke up from a dream this morning… I dreamt that I was back in the studio taking a dance class. We were just finishing warming up on our own. Lights dim to make it more relaxing and set the mood for some improvisational exercises. Just as we start to move, a male figure walks in with a guitar. He’s crouched down a bit and weaving between people to find a spot to sit in the front corner of the room. It’s Ben Howard. Cool. Then I also notice someone else in the back of the room. Also seated. Also has a guitar. It’s Ed Sheeran.
Live music for an improv session. And I danced. I did pretty well I think. Interesting dream.
Saw this gif under a tag I was scrolling on a search:
Immediately remembered this dance improvisational exercise where you line up, single file, and one person goes at a time. The person behind you prompts you with a body part you are to leave connected to the floor. While waiting, my friend and I started joking about someone giving you “pelvis” as the body part…
I suppose it’s not that funny but I really enjoyed imagining that thought. And here it is, coming to life in gif form. Thank you, Tumblr.
Other funny ones would have been solar plexus, neck, between the shoulder blades, nose, eyebrow…
You know that moment when you breathe in and hold it while you listen to the music? While you’re gathering yourself before you let loose? That’s the last thing I can usually remember. Other than the breaths and still moments, everything else is a blur.
It’s very difficult for me to remember what happened while I was improv dancing with someone, and other people at the same time one after the other after the other… So it’s the random little things that I do remember that are really interesting.
Interesting? Okay, how about kind of hilarious? Like, did I really do a cartwheel in that improv? I was falling out of something and I guess I already had a leg up or something so, what happened? “When in doubt, cartwheel out!” NO, I’m just kidding. Must be inspired by the Olympics and gymnastics or something… Yeah, that sounds like a safe bet. But, the ast time I did a cartwheel was like early 2000s. No joke.
How about dancing with boys that are 5(ish?) years younger than me? Boys that I remember being like 5 or 6 years old? Improv dancing, contact improv. The age gap isn’t that crazy, but then again it is weird. But good, but strange. Then again, I’ve only really danced with boys younger than me since the older ones were gone by the time I got good. (A fact that is pretty amusing in my opinion.) Moving on…
When it comes to movement, I don’t like the familiar. I want to experience something new with variations on all those old tricks. I want to transform my movement into something that’s completely new to my body. I want to start differently and travel so far I can’t remember where I started to begin with. That’s exactly what happened for every single improv exercise I did today. I danced with these kids that I’ve seen grow up and now they’re taller than me…
Sometimes you end up in the thick of it, everyone clustered around you while improv dancing and you have no choice but to join them. Other times, you’ll be mid step and you have a choice. But what choice do you make? It’s a risk you have to take. You don’t know who will respond well to your advances until you just do something. Sometimes you’ll start off cautious and ease into it, see where things will go. Sometimes things fade out quickly. And sometimes you get lucky and your unsuspecting partner suddenly takes the lead. That moment… It’s not one I’ve experienced many times. But today, that happened and it really makes me wonder what that little duo moment looked like.
Sometimes I feel like a camera should always be rolling when improv is involved so we can all watch what happened…
And it was a dance class. Jazz/contemporary. And it was a tough decision, debating whether or not to go. I’m glad I did.
Because I got to move and connect with dancers I’ve never connected with before and it was the most inspiring hour and a half. Best way to start the day. None of them may see this, but here it is: Thank you, all of you, for whatever it was that happened on that floor. I can never really remember but it was really great.
I started my day on an empty stomach. With a hunger to just move and I was fed with passion. And it was beautiful. But now I want more more more.
Sometimes what you want to express can’t be done vocally. Words are too simple and do not carry the emotional weight that you wish to shrug off your back.
Sometimes you can only speak through your dance.
Sometimes, I am lucky enough to be in a studio room in a dance class when that happens. Sometimes, I’m tapped to come forward to improvise with spontaneous movement. And sometimes I find that my breath becomes one with the motions and the music.
I am completely lost and absolutely free at the same exact time. My head is clear, I am not thinking about anything. Yet everything that has been on my mind is finding it’s way out there. I am in the moment but completely outside of it and not sure where I am.
I know it’s a good improv session when I can’t remember what it is I did, what I was thinking or what really happened while I was out on that floor. Because I gave everything I had. All of it. I let everything go in that moment.