Monday, March 26, 2012

Improv Therapy

I believe that improvisation is an integral part of dance training and expression. It is beneficial for choreographers and dancers alike. Improv is one of the main techniques that was used in my composition classes in college; it helps the choreographer discover their own authentic movement, and that leads to original choreography. Authentic movement is how you move naturally, without thinking of particular steps or technique. But, I believe improv should be practiced in any style of dance, not just in contemporary or modern settings. Just because ballet technique is specific and classical choreography uses steps that you learn in class, does that mean it is not art? What about jazz or tap, where you have a sequence of learned movements or tricks? I think it is important to explore both: authentic movement, and sequencing steps of a different genre as improvisation.
Since there are many different choreographic styles, there should be different styles of improvisation. I'm all about the more natural, organic improv where you discover your authentic movement, but there are times for that and there are times where it's okay to add some technique into your movement. As a teacher or choreographer, make sure you are clear with the guidelines of the improv exercise. Often times, I like to use improv in my ballet technique classes. We'll work on technique for the entire class, then sometimes I'll leave a couple minutes at the end for improv. This is the kind of improv where the dancers are using steps that we learn in class, but they get to sequence their movement together however they like and they get a chance to add their own style to the movement. In techniques like ballet or jazz, you have to stick to strict technique and the class is very structured, so improv in these styles is refreshing for the students.
There are also improv exercises focusing on the emotional aspect of dance. You can choose a specific feeling or scenario and show that through your dancing using different movement qualities. This past Saturday in my lyrical class we did an exercise similar to this. Their recital dance is called "Held Back" and they dance with a rope for half of the piece. This rope represents a person or situation in their lives that holds them back and they can't escape it. There is a feeling of struggle and desperation until they break free from the rope and dance powerfully as a group at the end. So, I had the dancers write down the specific person or event that makes them feel this way and improv while thinking about what they wrote down. The result was beautiful. Everyone was totally committed to their dancing the entire time and I saw the emotion on everyone's faces. This is a great way to practice the emotion or feeling that should be put into choreography.
Improv can be used as an exploration of yourself, a tool for choreography, a fun activity for class, or an emotional exercise. Whatever the purpose is, it is beneficial for dancers to practice moving in their own way. Improv should flow and come naturally. At first you may have to think about it before you get into the swing of things, but the more you do it, the easier it will become. Improv is a way to express yourself, and when you know yourself as a dancer, your dancing in class and on stage is organic and genuine.

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