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Teaching Dance Improvisation: Prompts and Exercises for Technique Class
Improvisation is an essential skill for all dancers to develop. With improv exploding in popularity in recent years, it’s increasingly important for dancers of all skill levels and dance styles to be comfortable improvising. Improvisation activities in technique class or dance studio help students explore new ways of moving, develop vital skills, and deeply understand dance concepts. Read on for strategies to teach dance improv, example prompts and exercises, and the many benefits for your dancers, beginners or advanced.
How Can I Help My Students Develop New Improv Skills?
Many dancers struggle with improvisation at first. They may resort to tricks, get stuck in habits, or freeze up. As educators, we must provide the support students need to gain confidence. Follow these best practices:
- Use specific prompts and exercises, not vague instructions like “feel the music.” Give clear tasks.
- Have a learning goal for each prompt. Consider skills you want students to develop.
- Give clear directions. Don’t assume students know what to do.
- Encourage creativity and silliness to help students relax.
- Use solo and group activities. Both develop different skills.
- Vary prompts and introduce new concepts. Don’t get stuck in a routine.
Which Exercises Give a Deep Understanding of Dance Improvisation?
Improvisation helps students embody dance concepts in new ways. Tailor prompts to your style:
- Ballet – explore the darting action of turns through improv.
- Jazz – use the weight shift of ball changes as a base.
- Modern – differentiate undercurves and overcurves.
- Current skills – improvise using key actions, then revisit skills.
Word prompts also push dancers:
- Describe a skill simply, like “brush, suspend, point.” Let those guide improv.
- Brainstorm fun, evocative words. Improvise embodying those words.
How is Dance Improvisation Taught and Practiced?
Dance styles use improvisation differently:
- Some styles like jazz fully integrate it into technique as an art form.
- Others like ballet use it just to create choreography.
- Social dances like hip hop experience it by nature on the dance floor.
Integrate improv organically:
- Warm-up – Let students improvise preparing their bodies.
- Transitions – Improvise between combo sides or to get water.
- Learning – Explore new skills through improv first.
- Downtime – Improvise while you observe another group.
What Are Some Good Exercises to Use in Class?
Great improv grows skills in technique, artistry, teamwork, and more. Try these activities:
- Mirroring – Partners mirror each other’s improv to build cooperation.
- Call and response – One dancer improvises, the rest respond.
- Group shape exploration – Fill in negative spaces around a dancer.
- Prop explorations – Scarves, balls, and more inspire ideas.
What Are the Benefits of Dance Improvisation?
Dance improvisation helps students:
- Apply concepts in new ways to understand technique
- Develop self-awareness and personal style
- Improve musicality and expression
- Learn to recover from mistakes gracefully
- Discover their unique choreographic voice
- Experience meaningful self-expression and emotional release
- Build confidence through movement choices
- Develop adaptability, decision-making, and other life skills
- Find joy in movement free of perfectionism
Improvisation is a vital skill for today’s versatile dancers. Use prompts tailored to your students’ needs to help them gain confidence and artistry. Vary solo exploration and group improv to grow technique, creativity, and teamwork. Let improv inspire choreographic possibilities! With the right guidance, your students will learn to improvise with ease.
Using Dance Improvisation in Technique Class
Dance improvisation is a versatile tool that can be incorporated into technique classes in any genre. While some forms like jazz and contemporary dance have improvisation ingrained in their technique, adding improv to more codified genres like ballet can bring creativity into the structure.
For beginning dancers just being introduced to improvisation, start with simple prompts that focus on exploring through the body. For example, have students improvise moving one body part at a time, from head to toe. Give imagery prompts like asking them to move each body part as if it is stuck in peanut butter. These playful explorations give novice improvisers a chance to discover movement.
Even advanced dancers can benefit from going back to basics at times. Simple improv prompts like moving high to low or fast then slow reinforce core technique concepts like level and tempo. Advanced dancers tend to rely on old habits, so focusing on moving different body parts challenges their go-to moves.
The way you introduce improvisation will vary based on dance genre and students’ experience. But creative movement centered on technique concepts, with imagery prompts, engages dancers of all levels. Improv shouldn’t be an “extra” tacked on randomly, but an integrated part of class.
A holistic dance teacher weaves improv throughout technique class to reinforce skills. Add improvisation prompts between across the floor or combo repetitions to deepen embodiment. Improv transitions allow self-expression without wasting time. Short, focused improv exercises also give you time to observe and give feedback.
Dancers experience many benefits when improvisation augments technique class. They gain confidence through movement choices, learn adaptability and problem-solving, and experience self-expression. Most importantly, improv helps cement technique concepts through personalized exploration. With improv integrated thoughtfully into any genre, students gain creative skills to last a lifetime.