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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

“By opening the door to the shadow realm a little, and letting out various elements a few at a time, relating to them, finding use for them, negotiating, we can reduce being surprised by shadow sneak attacks and unexpected explosions.”

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype

On a sleepless night earlier this week, I used the gift of extra time and energy to do some reading that has been neglected on my nightstand for far too long. Since then, a particular passage in the book The Subway Chronicles: More Scenes from Life in New York, has been tapping at my mental chamber door all week. Author Jacquelin Cangro, recounted a scene that unfolded during her subway commute: a little girl got onboard the train with her father and soon after erupted into a spontaneous twirling dance accompanied only by the music inside her own mind. The author watched with amusement tinged by a wistful yearning for the sort freedom of expression that comes with being four years old.

I sympathize with the author — oh to be free from the trappings of adulthood — from the notions of decency and decorum, from responsibility and respectability, from the ‘shoulds’ and ‘Thou Shalt Nots,’ from the veils and gilded cages.

A tiny dancer still lives inside of these subways, chambers, shadows, and longings…

If we cracked the door open just a little bit, what would we see…?

“…talent is no more than a clarity of doing, an embodied moment where spirit and hand are one.”

Mark Nepo

I started thinking about this list while reflecting on the 10-year anniversary of MyLittleSpacebook. Now that I have the list compiled, I realize the lessons I’ve learned from several of the books below have formed much of the basis of my own entrepreneurial toolkit. If that’s your jam, maybe there’s something in here for you too. Without further ado, here we go:

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation ~ Parker Palmer

It’s astonishing how huge an impact such a small book has had on my life. I was introduced to Parker Palmer’s work as an assistant professor/researcher trying to find myself as an educator. Palmer’s The Courage to Teach helped me discover what was in my teacher’s heart. His Healing the Heart of Democracy helped me better understand the notion of civil discourse in the face of seemingly unresolvable conflict. But, it was Let Your Life Speak that ultimately helped me realize what my work was NOT, which was a painful, but necessary step in finding out what my work is. At the time I read it, I was being carried along, almost imperceptibly, on a strong current powered by other people’s expectations and long-standing institutional traditions. Academia can be like that. Reading the book made me ask myself hard questions about the work life I was living, which I discovered was not at all the same thing as the life’s work that was living inside me. The book gave me the courage to jump ship and to begin charting my own course towards my life’s authentic work, which is an ongoing adventure, both terrifying and delighting!

The 4-Hour Work Week ~ Tim Ferris

Ferris’s book introduced me to the idea of lifestyle design. He generously shares all sorts of ideas on how to be awesome and get more done in less time.

Tribe of Mentors ~Tim Ferris

Ferris assembled an elite and successful crowd from which to source even more ideas on how to be awesome. The reading list alone is worth the price of admission!

The Happiness Project ~ Gretchen Rubin

My time-logging and goal-tracking systems were inspired by Rubin’s account of Ben Franklin’s systems as described in his autobiography. These practices have been effective in keeping me focused and helping me understand where my time goes so I can manage it better. Also, Rubin wrote about commonplace books, which I’ve also started keeping.

The Artist’s Way ~ Julia Cameron

Thanks to Julia Cameron I have been writing daily morning pages faithfully since December 21, 2019. While I have been journaling for years and years, I’ve never done so in such a purposeful and disciplined way as I have since starting The Artist’s Way. This book is a game-changer!

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains ~ Nicholas G. Carr

This book was not my idea. A client wanted us to read it together, and so we did. It expanded my understanding of the relationship between technology and thought. It also made me more aware of the tools I use and how they may impact and use me.

Meditations from the Mat ~ Rolf Gates

This book inspired a trip to a yoga conference in Washington, D.C., to practice with this master in person. The practice he led was absolutely beautiful – one of my all time favorite yoga classes ever. His workshop at the conference was informative, and I learned a lot I needed to know about how to start a business and how to sustain it at that conference. It also inspired me to dive deeper into my own practice and to embark on a 300-hour teacher training.

Sacred Plant Medicine: The Wisdom in Native American Herbalism ~ Stephen Harrod Buhner

Nothing about this book makes logical sense. It’s all magical heart song. Not even how I got it makes sense – we were on a road trip and there was the necessity of a bathroom break that somehow wound up happening at a Cherokee Museum and none of us were even planning to go through the museum, but there was a half-naked guy in a magnificent feathered headdress and as if that wasn’t confusing enough I was in the giftshop instead of the bathroom, and the book was calling and in my hand, but another of us was ready to go, so I put it down, and then third member of our party got confused about what we were even doing there and bought a ticket to the museum and before we could even figure out entirely what was happening, we wound up doing the museum tour. If it sounds like drugs were involved, I assure you, they weren’t, though it’s possible they should have been. After all that happened the book was still waiting and calling so I got it and no plant has ever been safe or the same since. Anytime this book gets opened something for-sure crazy is about to go down and I’m not even kidding.

Blink ~ Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell taught me the science behind thin-slicing, which neatly explains a lot of things attributed to intuition.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life ~ Twyla Tharp

I love Twyla Tharp’s writing style. It’s so simple and elegant. From her I learned the creative habit and that in itself was life-changing.

So that’s my list!

How about you? What books have changed your life?

In honor of My Little Spacebook’s 10th anniversary, for the next thirty-days I plan to be around here a bit more digging in to old posts, sifting through the dirt, studying the worms, planting seeds, and waiting to see what, if anything, sprouts.

Today’s dig turned over a quote I shared last fall in October Magic: Dream. Create. Inspire. Share:

“It’s very hard to have ideas. It’s very hard to put yourself out there, it’s very hard to be vulnerable, but those people who do that are the dreamers, the thinkers, and the creators. They are the magic people of the world.” 

–Amy Poehler, Smart Girls: Ask Amy

These words continue to inspire me to be more mindful about what I am creating on a daily basis and to be more open to putting myself out there. On that note, today I’m sharing a bit of whimsy I added to my life this year.  It combines the idea of giving yourself gold stars (from Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance) with the idea of  tracking progress on your goals daily (from Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project).   Add a bullet journal and some washi tape to the mix and Voila!

magic and mayhem

I might have gotten a little carried away with the washi tape.

Dot journal - bubble gum

My pages are presently star-studded, memory-filled, and happy-making.

 

crocus

“Like the crocus that pushes into spring willy-nilly, the artist also pushes forward into growth. The crocus lies beneath the snow waiting for the slightest touch of warmth to spring forth. Like the crocus, the artist does not pause to ask if his work is timely or welcome.  Critical reception will perhaps be chilly like an unseasonal snow, but like the crocus, the artist survives.”

–Julia Cameron, Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance

 

May you be safe and healthy and continue pushing forward into growth.

birdhouse

A bluebird couple caught my attention yesterday with their noisy fighting and flapping above the birdhouse. The male flew off to perch on the trellis several feet away. He lodged his complaints to the raspberry vine in a grumpy sequence of whistling, squeaky chirps. The budding vine listened patiently. Bluebird arguments are adorable.

IMG_3090

Um…hello lettuce, you little renegade. That is not where I put you to bed.  That sneaky wind put you up to this, I bet. You are thriving in the rocks and sand, of all things! I didn’t even know that was possible. And yet here we are.

IMG_3088

I’m pretty sure that yellow-flowered plant is spinach. At least it tasted sweetish and spinach-like even after it bolted and bloomed.  It looked like it could be broccoli when it started bolting. On my garden map I wrote “beans” in that location.  It’s definitely not beans.

flowers

The best things are nearest: breath in your nostrils, light in your eyes, flowers at your feet, duties at your hand, the path of God just before you. Then do not grab at the stars, but do life’s plain, common work as it comes, certain that daily duties and daily bread are the sweetest things of life.  

–Robert Louis Stevenson

What are ya’ll making out there?

dot journal march

That’s the start of my dot journal goal-tracker and summarizer for the month of March. I’ve been doing Julia Cameron’s 12- week program, The Artist’s Way, since December 21 and I have just under two weeks left to complete it.  It’s been ridiculously effective, centering, fun, and challenging.  I don’t want it to end! So I’ll probably just keep going…or see what else she has to offer.

Also, it’s garden time again!   I’ve already gone crazy stocking up on flower seeds and bulbs.

The kale, arugula, and lettuce planted in September are showing their colors – purple, red, and green – so pretty! The thyme and lavender survived the winter. I apparently planted something else that is also doing great — I thought it was spinach upon first sight, but it looks suspiciously like broccoli at its center. I don’t remember planting broccoli in the fall.  I’ll have to consult the garden journal to confirm what was planted in that spot.

The Lenten roses and the daffodils with small blooms have been showing off for two weeks now and the crocus are in bloom.  The big-bloomed daffodils are about to pop open.  The pear tree is a big show-off with all the white flowers festooning the branches.  The key lime tree, an anniversary gift,  survives winter indoors. She bloomed a couple weeks ago and smelled amazing. Two key limes now grace her branches! That’s the first time that’s happened in the three years since we got her.

I planted microgreens indoors yesterday. I’m so ready to get outside and play with the worms in the dirt.  It’s still too muddy though, so I guess I’ll break out the graph paper and start dreaming and scheming on how to flower up my world today instead.

 

Pharaonic

Tonight’s rehearsal

True Story:

Yesterday I went to work with my pants on backwards.

It wasn’t the first time.

I can’t be bothered by which way to put on pants.

I have a lot of goddess shit to do.

 

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