Improvisation: Another Tool Dancers Use

Davis Dance Project 2016 – Improvisation and Choreography; Two Tools that Dancers Use. What’s the difference and how can you know? We’ll answer your questions when you come to the show! So, when is the show I keep writing about? Friday, February 5, and Saturday, February 6.

PTDT dancers working with an improvisational structure
PTDT dancers working with an improvisational structure

Improvisation is a different tool for a totally different kind of dancing… While the dancers still use their bodies and might even use technical vocabulary from different kinds of dancing, the sequence of specific steps are not memorized at all. And here, it’s important to clarify…There are many different kinds of improvisational dancing, including the very personal improvisational movement work that one might do in a dance therapy session, work that uses movement as a tool for personal growth (think Gabrielle Roth, urban shaman), the improvisation of free styling that might be used in a social or “dance off” setting and improvisation designed for the stage.

Right now, we’re talking about dance improvisation for the stage. While improvisational dancers might be creating on the spot… and this is very important… There is a structure to the improvisations which helps them maintain a kind of logic, kind of like having rules for a game. So, while improv dancers don’t need to learn any specific “steps” per se, they do need to learn how to work with structures and some basic rules, especially when dancing with others.

If we go back to the idea of a poet who uses words for their art (a couple blogs ago)… we have iambic pentameter and haiku, and other structures that have their own unique rules. With dance improvisation, the dancer learns to create upon a specific structure, which could be very simple or fairly intricate.

Some dancers hate improvisation while others love it!

Advantages of improvisation:

  • Not a lot to memorize in terms of steps! Just know the structure and you’re good to go!
  • Dancers learn skills that come to their rescue if they forget choreography.
  • Dancers are able to explore new ways of traveling through space while creatively problem solving.
  • Enhances spatial awareness skills.
  • Dancers learn to see their choices from the audience’s perspective.
  • Dancers can work around any physical limitations or injuries they may have.

Challenges of improvisation:

  • Being able to keep an open mind to a dynamically shifting environment.
  • Learning to accept “offers” made by others.
  • Remembering to make your partners look good, even if they have made what, in your opinion, is a poor choice.
  • Learning to think on your feet, literally!

At this year’s Davis Dance Project, dancers will be performing both set choreography and dance improvisations. Complete with opportunities for audience interactions, this is both a hugely educational and entertaining performance! Funded by generous donations to the PTDT, children 12 and younger come for free, although they must be accompanied by an adult!

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