Why is improvisation important for advanced dancers?
It is increasingly important for dancers of all levels and dance styles to be skilled in dance improvisation, as it has exploded in popularity throughout the dance industry in recent years. Dancers – especially advanced students who want to have a professional career – need to be comfortable with improvisation. Dancers may be asked to improv at auditions, during convention classes and workshops, in rehearsal with guest choreographers, or even on stage as part of choreography. It is our job as dance teachers to help our students build their improvisations skills as they will encounter it throughout their careers.
Improvisation is also important because it can help advanced dancers further develop their technique and artistry. Through improvisation activities, students can truly embody technical concepts through improvisation, such as alignment, coordination, and use of weight. This allows them to discover how technique works in their own bodies, beyond just replicating steps. Improvisation can be used to help students develop artistry through exercises focused on self-expression, embodying a feeling or mood, character development, and musicality. Students can also learn and use elements of choreography and choreographic tools through improvisation.
Perhaps most importantly, students learn social-emotional skills through dance improvisation, including adaptability, decision making, confidence, accountability, and communication skills. Improvisation can empower students, as they have the freedom to make choices and assert their own movement preferences. Advanced dancers can learn to work together as an ensemble and develop their unique artistry – all through improvisation.
What are some challenges that advanced improvisers face?
Many advanced dancers are comfortable with improvisation, as its become a pretty integral part of most dance training. If you have experienced dancers who don’t have much experience with improvisation, you may want to try the tips and activities in this blog post. But no matter how long they have been practicing, advanced improvisers may face challenges such as:
- Getting stuck in their own movement habits
- Feeling as though they need to emulate the teacher’s style instead of doing what’s authentic for them
- Wanting to constantly copy “cool” tricks or movement styles they have seen on TV or social media
- Feeling vulnerable when doing their own movement, especially if it has an emotional connection for them
- Being uncomfortable when watched by a teacher or other students while improvising
- Comparing themselves to other dancers, whether they are their peers or figures in the industry that they admire
- Feeling bored or uninspired because they are no longer challenged improvisation
As educators, it is our job to help our advanced students overcome these challenges, so they can fully embrace their own authentic style in improvisation. We can do this by purposefully planning dance improvisation experiences with clear learning objectives, and exposing them to a range of dance improvisation tactics and techniques that can help them find their own improvisational style. By following some best practices for teaching improvisation to advanced, we can provide the support and encouragement our students need take their improvisational skills to the next level.
What are some tips for teaching dance improvisation to advanced students?
Advanced dance students are more likely to fall into a rut when improvising, relying on their favorite tricks or movement style. For this reason, it can be helpful to give them concrete, specific, and unique dance improvisation prompts. These kind of prompts can challenge students and help them to make new and more authentic movement choices. Often, with experienced improvisers, we have a tendency to keep our improv prompts open-ended: “Just improvise,” “Listen to the music and dance,” “Do what you are feeling.” We can have a tendency to think that being open-ended with our improv directions is the way to help dancers to express themselves through movement. It’s true that some advanced students might thrive with this freedom. However, to keep our advanced improvisation students “on their toes”, it can be helpful to present them with concert and challenging movement prompts.
Here are my best tips for teaching dance improvisation to advanced students:
- Be specific. As mentioned above, advanced students often need to discover unique ways of moving and break out of their typical dance habits. Giving them clear and specific prompts can help them take risks in their improvisation and discover new movement choices.
- Be challenging. Devise prompts that get students out of their comfort zone. For example, you can mix up the body parts that students focus on: “Lead with your trochanters.” You can challenge their movement quality: “Use momentum to travel across the floor.” Or you can combine concepts like level and musicality: “Change levels every 4 counts.” If students are mature enough, consider drawing inspiration from contact improvisation, to help build collaboration skills.
- Have a learning objective or goal in mind. When you are designing or planning dance improvisation activites for your classes, consider what you want your students to learn or accomplish. How can this exercise deep their understanding of dance improvisation? How can it help them develop new improv skills? What can they learn about dance technique, artistry, and social-emotional skills through their improvisational experience? (Do your improv class lesson plans need a reboot? Check out The Holistic Guide to Dance Lesson Planning!)
- Provide directions, but leave some room for interpretation. Advanced dance improvisation students can benefit from clear, concise directions that help focus their movement choices. However, it can also be helpful to provide some room for interpretation. Allow the students to put their own unique twists on the prompt so that they can further develop their artistry.
- Allow students to take the lead. You can help your advanced students build creative skills by letting them make up their own dance improvisation exercises. Bonus: As they explain their prompts to the students, they will learn communication and leadership skills as well!
- Encourage students to be creative, and even a little silly! Advanced dancers can take their training – and themselves – tooo seriously. Incorporating play into your improvisation lesson plans can be a great way to help your students relax and ease some of the stress associated with their training.. Moreover, students of all ages – even older and more advanced dancers – learn through play. You’ll find strategies for creating a playful dance experiences in my blog post Your Ultimate Guide to Incorporating Play in the Dance Studio. You’ll also want to try out the Dance Games Bundle, featuring 75 educational dance games that are based on improvisation and creative movement.
What are some good dance improvisation exercises to use in class with advanced students?
When designing dance improvisation prompts and activities to use with advanced dancers, it is important to focus the unique challenges that they face. Consider a unique learning objective, combining multiple movement tasks into a single improvisation exercise, and leave some room for interpretation in with your directions. Below you will find two of my favorite dance improvisation exercises to use in classes with advanced improvisers. You can find 23 more in The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts & Activities.
The primary objective of this activity is to help students unlock new movement potential by imposing a set of limitations or “rules” on their movement choices, enabling them to break out of their typical habits and choices. Students must follow this rule and use it to guide their movement choices.
Here are just a few of my favorite rules:
- Keep 3 appendages attached to the floor at all times.
- Only one leg can be on the floor at any time.
- Keep 2 body parts connected the entire time.
- Change level every 3 counts.
- Knees must remain bent throughout the entire improv.
- No locomotor movement; must stay in one place.
- Only 2 body parts can move at any time.
- Keep your arms on your head the entire time.
The primary objective of this exercise is to help students develop more awareness of their dance environment, and to use their physical senses as inspiration for improvisation.
- Invite the dancers to begin by closing their eyes and getting comfortable in the space. They can be seated or standing.
- Have them take several deep, calming breaths.
- When they open their eyes, invite them to focus on their sense of sight: what do they see? Direct them to take in the space visually, from the “big picture” to the minute details.
- After a few moments of observation, ask the dancers to use what they see as the inspiration for their movement. I encourage students to: “Internalize what you see and invite it into your dance. Then, externalize what you see and are feeling, and give it to the audience through your movement.” Give the dancers ample time to improvise in this manner.
- Repeat the activity using inspiration from their senses of hearing, taste, smell, and touch. For touch, direct the students to consider the feel of the air on their skin, the sensation of their clothing or hair, the pressure of body parts as they connect, and feel of the floor or other surfaces they may come into contact with.
More dance improvisation resources
- Your Ultimate Guide to Improvisation in the Dance Studio
- Dance Improvisation Tips and Activities for Beginning Dancers
- Dance Improvisation Tips and Activities for Advanced Dancers
- 4 Creative Ways to Use Dance Improvisation in Technique Class
- Simple Ways to Improve Your Dance Improvisation Skills
- The Holistic Collection of Dance Improvisation Prompts & Activities
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