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IMPROVISATION - the art of possibility

Life is a combination of pre-planned and spontaneous actions. When you follow your plans and intentions, you live with an expectation that you will fulfil them. And then something unpredictable happens and you have to improvise, come up with a solution on the spot.

Take the floor-craft for example. If another couple blocks your way or takes your space, you can only resolve the situation with your ability to make a change in your pre-planned routine and adapt to it. You have to be creative on demand in that moment.

Most of the times when you perform, you cannot predict at which point in your choreography exactly the music will stop. Rather than just stop dancing, you need to improvise in order to create a sense of conclusion of the choreography.

Improvisation is either applied because there is no other way out of the situation, as life consistently teaches us, or for the sake of discovering new possibilities. But as a dancer or teacher you mostly think about what you 'should do' rather than what you 'could do'. The following two blogs will make you more aware of how much you could improvise in order to be more creative and recognised in your uniqueness.

Improvisation is an awareness-expanding process, during which you have to take a risk, discover improvisation methods and games and step over some myths.

“Only gifted people can improvise”

Children improvise all the time, they struggle when they have to follow the rules and plans that adults impose on them. As they are living 'in the moment', they play with the tools and materials immediately at hand, like building a sand castle on the beach.

Chopin and Mozart improvised playing piano since early childhood, their compositions were just the starting point for further variations and development.

We know that they were geniuses, but reading their biographies tells us that improvisation doesn’t come from a divine place or a particular talent, but from the experience of improvisation as such.

You don’t need to learn all of the theory first, reaching technical perfection before you start improvising. The system could be reversed, experience can come first and the theory alongside. I wish I were more aware of that as a young teacher. Discovering through playfulness, taking a risk and saying yes to many ideas that you carry within yourself will reveal your hidden potential.

Improvisation games

Even games have certain rules, but when you set the boundaries within the rules, you'll play the game your way. You can improvise while practicing, performing or teaching dancing. There will always be a combination of composed, arranged and improvised elements in your game.

However, stick to your decisions and mind that when you say 'yes', you can proceed with 'yes and...'. Only a series of ‘yeses’ will take you somewhere, and the power of 'yes and' will keep the door open for new layers, adding something extra. When you play with the movement or situation, you are engaging with something just because you like it, it happens here and now, for the joy of it. Relax and have fun and stop worrying.

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Let yourself fail, accept different, unexpected feelings. They are not wrong, just different. The fear of failing makes you think and you are back in your head rather than being busy with sensing the movement. Improvisation teaches you how to make decisions quickly, how to keep calm in a fast and emotional or stressful situation as well as how to think, act and feel simultaneously. Try to listen with every part of your being. In listening there is peace and willingness to change something.

When you feel your movements become too clean and slick as you've been doing them for too long, they might be worn out and therefore not so much in your interest. When you become bored, add some extra creativity. Imagine for example that two persons/characters live within you. One is playing with sustained movements, the other with sudden ones, like a lover and a fighter. These two characters within yourself communicate, relate and respond to each other. You can always discover new expressions when exploring oppositions and the way how they relate and merge contextually.

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Improvising with changes in your movement articulation will enrich your bodily knowledge and bodily thinking while you play around with the tools and skills which are already there. Like in verbal language, you can say the same thing in so many ways, with so many different words; speaking is improvising, you speak out of your memory. It comes from within you. Improvisation always involves your imagination and creativity, using your existing knowledge and experience in a newly set situation.

Take a game with space. You can play with size, orientation, spatial relations between dance partners, direct and flexible movements. Here are two examples of the same choreography danced in two different ways regarding the space treatment.

Demonstration by Miha Zerjav and Laura Karcagi

You can improvise with dynamic changes, which will result in different moods, atmospheres and states of being. If you combine the awareness of time and space (here and now), your movement will be felt and seen as alert, if your attention goes to flow and weight (gliding, floating with lightness), your movements will appear dreamy. Try to improvise also with blending styles together, like ballroom (technical, intellectual) in fusion with authentic (organic, spontaneous, playful). 

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Pierre Dulaine and Yvonne Marceau

Improvisation is a lifetime process of building on existing themes and structures for the purpose of discovering new ones. And remember, you can always make something out of anything in the spirit of the moment. The bottom line is that improvisation can make the competitive dance a dance of freedom and an art of possibilities.