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I recently had the imperative urge to make a wreath. I don’t know why. I’ve never made a wreath before. In fact, my lifestyle up to this point has been unconducive to entertaining whatever hidden forces compel people to adorning thresholds with festooned circles. I have owned exactly two wreaths my whole adult life – both were of the Christmas variety. Both were gifts. I have rarely managed to get them on the doors or take them off the doors during the proper seasons. When October swept in along came the need to stick a bunch of stuff in a circle. It was confusing to say the least.

But mine is not to reason why…I am a mere foot soldier in The War of Art.

When the battle horn sounded, the command rang out:

 "Forward the Brigade! 
Charge the Salvation Army!"
Thus, into the Valley of Forsaken Things I blundered,
Running with scissors and waving glue gun, 
While all the world held its breath and wondered, 
'How dare this warrior woman fight so hard to have fun?'

COVID to the right of me!
COVID to the left of me! 
COVID in front of me! 

A cough and splutter
...eyes sealed and breath held tight against the potentially virulent cough cloud...
...and there...there in the distance 
...buried in obscurity, came the small cry of a weak voice: 

And I rescued the scarecrow from his Circle of Doom. May his golden years be spent in the garden watching the peas grow and giving the crows and hawk something to laugh about.

The circle was then restructured as such:

Keep fighting the good fight,
Sweet Brigade of Light.

The Murdering Crows recently dropped a fabulous new video for a fabulous new song written by Rick Moore, Jr. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Just wanted to share my latest labor of love – a tutorial on the art of improvisation. I hope you’ll find something useful or at least entertaining in it.

Transcript

The Art of Improvisation

The topic of this tutorial is the art of improv as it relates to dance.       

Once after a performance that didn’t go quite as planned, one of my dear dance sisters  suggested I teach a workshop on “How to Make Mistakes.” I admit I do have expertise in this area as I make a LOT of mistakes.  I  think (hope!) what she meant is how to cover mistakes when you make them so the audience doesn’t know that a mistake was made.   This video will help address that topic.

Honing your improvisation skills will make your improv look like choreography and your choreography look like improv

My own improvisational skills have been hard-won. They’ve come about as a result of performances where I’ve forgotten choreography, or just not finished choreographing a dance that I’m schedule to perform. They’ve resulted from costume malfunctions and props that were dropped mid-performance, or somehow mysteriously winding up with another person’s prop in my hand mid-dance. They’ve resulted from having to adapt to various surfaces and spaces that were less than ideal. And from having audience members join me in dance mid-performance in unexpected ways.

But improvisation is more than what happens when you make a mistake. So what is improv?

I think of improv as expression rather than imitation. It’s an openness and willingness to embody the music and rhythm and to be responsive to whatever is happening in the moment.

This quote from Alia Thabit’s Midnight at the Crossroads highlights the importance of improv in Eastern dance. She writes that Eastern dance is traditionally:

a dance of improvisation, of on-the fly musical interpretation, of subtle emotional timbres, somatic experience, and intuitive interaction between a dancer and musician–and that musician plays improvised music, created in the moment as an expression of his feeling. For the musicians, dancers, and guests, the goal is tarab, musical ecstasy. Every performance becomes a never-before seen, never-to-be repeated art happening, uniting performers and guests in a state of joy.

Alia Thabit, Midnight at the Crossroads, p. 7.

Of course in this digital age, we tend to dance to recorded music, but we can keep that spirit of tarab alive – that sense of shared joy – by staying open to what arises in the moment and by keeping the connection to our audience and to the rhythm of the music we embody.

So the question becomes: how do we develop and practice a skill that by its nature requires us to respond to the ever-changing moment?

These are a few broad ideas that may help us answer that question.  Through intention, presence, connection, and play we can hone our skills at improv.

Intention

Not all artists begin with intention. Some like writer Paul Gallico choose to metaphorically, “open a vein and bleed.” But for those of us who find that sort of thing too messy, setting a clear intention beforehand about what you want to communicate can be very useful. That intention may be simply creating a tarab state, or maybe there is another feeling or idea you want to communicate to your audience.   If you are doing a character dance, it may be useful before your performance to write out the story of the character or to take some time putting the character’s walk or gestures in your movement vocabulary so you can draw upon them more easily when needed.

Presence

Another aspect of improvisation is presence. Presence is a state of mind. It is being Here and Now and Fully Embodied in a state of Clear, Calm, Alert, Non-judgmental Awareness. It requires turning off the internal critic so that you are able to carefully Look and Listen to whatever appears before you.

Connection

When you are present, it is much easier to establish a connection. And connection is at the heart of improv. The connection can be anything: a person in the audience, some aspect of the environment, an idea, or it can be a connection to your own intuitive response. And that intuitive response is what we rely on in the moment to make decisions on the fly.

Play

And that brings us to play. In Stuart Brown’s  Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, play is defined as, “purposeless, voluntary, improvisational activities that are done because of their inherent attraction.” In other words, play is stuff ya do because it’s just plain fun! Play is all about discovering and cultivating your own joy.

If have limited time or you’re feeling inhibited or shy you can set aside time to play by yourself – exploring props, characters, and movement with or without music. The work you do in classes and workshops, studying choreography and technique, gives you the vocabulary for your style of dance. Play helps you develop new pathways. It gives you a safe space where you can have happy accidents and learn to respond creatively in the moment. Play is where you practice intuitive synthesis of your technique and where you learn to trust your body. 

Another fun way to practice improv is to schedule play dates with others. Improv classes allow you to practice newfound skills in a safe context where you can learn with and from other dancers.   I’ve had the opportunity to take several improv classes and have found each one a unique learning experience. Taking an improv class in a field outside of dance, like theater or comedy, also provides lessons that are transferrable.

Neuroscience has shown us that emotions are contagious through the activity of mirror neurons.  These neurons activate not only when we experience an emotion, but also when we see others experiencing an emotion.  When you are relaxed and having fun it gives others a chance to share in that feeling. So find your joy and invite others along for the ride.

That “Just Finished a Project” feeling

You’ll figure it out.

Love is in the air…

and our task master keeps us busy….

“We show up, burn brightly, live passionately, hold nothing back, and when the moment is over, when our work is done, we step back, and let go.”

–ROLF GATES

So grateful for the brilliant light of my dance sisters.

Namaste.

Have you ever liked a song so much that you listen to it a gazillion times and you think you have the song all figured out, then years pass and you grow out of that song and move on to other songs until one day you hear the same old song again, but suddenly something in that old, tricky song has shifted and a whole new world of meaning opens?

Of course, it’s the listener that’s changed, not the song, right? Hmmmm…or is it?

No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

–Heraclitus

Or perhaps it’s the zeitgeist that changed. On a grand scale, I think this happened in the collective consciousness with the song, “Baby It’s Cold Outside” on the wake of the “Me Too Movement.” What seems like the innocent flirtation of one era turns into nefarious intent in another era.

Recently I experienced a song’s shift (in a good way) when I heard Madonna’s “Vogue.” ‘What just happened here? ‘ I wondered to myself after hearing the song with these 2020 ears. There was a lot more depth there than I remembered there being in 1990 when I first heard it. (Can y’all believe that song is 30 years old now?!) I had to go look up the lyrics and then the etymology of the word “vogue” to discover that in addition to the “fashion forward” meaning of the word, it’s also a boating term indicating the “drift, swaying motion (of a boat).” It’s from Old French voguer, meaning “to row, sway, set sail.” [according to vogue | Search Online Etymology Dictionary (etymonline.com)]

So this week in my classes we are going on a sailing adventure.

All you need is your own imagination

So use it that’s what it’s for

Go inside for your finest inspiration

Your dreams will open the door

-Shep Pettibone & Madonna/Vogue

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