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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

Hi! I’m still here poking around in old posts trying to figure out what this blog is about on its 10th anniversary year.   Creativity? Collaboration? I don’t know — I’m still working on it! I don’t have a master plan here. That’s probably why so many people that have blogs with posts on the topic of things like, “Make Money with Your Blog” like or subscribe to My Little Spacebook —  it’s painfully obvious I have no idea what I’m doin here. Despite my planners and goal trackers, I’m not the sort of person who has a 5-year plan. I’m just trying to get through today so I can give myself a gold star.

But Look! Here’s dance video of a duet we worked on for a bazillion hours. I haven’t shared this one yet. Hope you enjoy.

Mystic River Dance presented this dance in the show “Nature’s Rhythms” (February 2019, Memphis, TN).

Music:  “Mergence” by Safaa Farid’s Orchestra Negum (edited), and “Shimmabulous” by Issam Houshan,

Choreography: based on Ahmed Hussein, adapted by Jasmine, Sameera, & Valentina

Dancers: Mystic River Dancers Sameera & Valentina

When she appeared swaying

The beauty of my lover infatuated us.

No one can relieve my suffering from my love sickness

But the queen of beauty.

Lamma Bada Yatathanna, Translated to English, Author Unknown

The celebration of creativity continues.

Some songs and stories are so powerful they grab our imaginations and bodies and continue to reverberate through us. Today, I’ve been wrapped up in a song that’s drifted across centuries and oceans and I’m pondering the notions of songlines and stories of the Dreamtime.

In Braving the Wilderness, Brené Brown describes art as a “shared expression and a deep collective experience.” The performance video below fits the bill.  In it, the lovely Jasmine performs an improvisational dance to Joe Michael’s modern instrumental twist of the classic Lamma Bada Yatathanna.  Enjoy!

 

Today we made another spectacle on stage. Eventually, I may have a video of that to share. In the mean time, the video link to my Russian Gypsy Fortune Teller’s Dance has arrived! I hope you enjoy!

xx

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