Making it up as we go Along: Improvisation in Dance

In dance, improvisation usually refers to some spontaneous or semi-structured movements. Rather than learning choreography as a specific sequence of known steps to match critical points in the music, the moves are entirely random or prompted by a simple word or phrase.

One of my dance mentors shared an excellent concept that I will share with you now, that with improvisation in dance, the goal is not so much to be interesting but to be interested.

…with improvisation in dance, the goal is not so much to be interesting, but to be interested.

In theory, improvisation is simple. Make up the movement as you go along. However, many dancers find it hard to make things up on the spot in practice. The number of steps a dancer knows has no relation to their ability to create movement and dance on the spot for improvisation. Dancers can learn new steps, but improvisation is an experience in presence. 

Playing prompt games is a great way to incorporate more improvisation into your dance practice. Working in groups can do something like Simon says, where one person calls out a movement dynamic, color, phrase, and dancers use that to inspire their movement.

If you are working alone, you can still provide yourself with a sense of spontaneity, but it might take more planning. For example, you could create a list of prompts to pull from, or even write out prompts on slips of paper and pull them out of a hat.

To help you out in the prompting, I’ve created a collection of 30 words you can use to inspire your dance improvisation sessions. You can download it for free in my ko-fi shop.

I’m curious to learn more about your experience with improvisation in your dance practice. How do you approach the experience? Do you see it as more of a tool for choreography building or as an exercise in mindfulness? Please feel free yes to share your thoughts in the comments.

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