Getting students to improv can be like pulling teeth. While some dancers mesmerize us with their confident and cool moves, most dancers start out shy, predictable and timid. The key to improving your improv is to practice in the studio, but sometimes you need to take it a step further and teach a class completely dedicated to improv. Even then, you can’t just say “Go” and expect your dancers to move for an entire hour. You need some structure.
The following is just one way to teach improv. There are other techniques and exercises teachers do so ask around and keep improving your class!
Improv is important for a long list of reasons including:
- Auditions require improv
- Conventions require improv
- It allows you to explore your movement
- It allows you to be more expressive
- It boosts dancers’ confidence
Some Ideas for Structuring an Improv Class
Start out with a normal warm up. You’ll want students to be warm and focused before you launch them into their own movements. After warm up, line them up for across the floor. Start by giving them uber-simple choreography across that they can modify. This will get in them in the mindset without panicking them. Once they’ve got a bit of movement under their belts, send them across the floor and have them improv- but give them guidelines!
Again, if you tell an inexperienced impvorer to improv, they might freeze up. Instead, give them loose guidelines so they can improv but feel more comfortable. Some examples of this include:
- All floor work
- Can only stand on one leg at a time
- No technique
- Spell a word with your body
Another way is to have them imitate adjectives. Some interesting ideas could be:
One more way to inspire improvisation is to have them connect dance with other movement. Some ideas:
- Climbing something treacherous
- Weaving through traffic
- Searching for someone in a crowd
Pull out some chairs or a ballet barre and place them in the middle of the room. Using props can give the dancers something to keep their mind on while dancing. It also can be the starting place for some beautiful and new movement.
While I wouldn’t suggest doing this on beginning dancers, sometimes exploring movement with someone else can be magical. It forces them to pay attention and communicate with their movement.
Center & Long Form Improv
I recommend having your dancers improv across the floor at least 10 times before going into long form. This exposes them to a wide variety of songs and guidelines. Its also enough time to boost their confidence.
Once your dancers have gotten some quality movement under their belts across the floor, have them spread out and improv for longer – full songs or half songs.
Some things to tell your students:
It’s okay to have moments of awkwardness.
Sometimes your improv is magnificent and unstoppable. Sometimes you hit a snag. Sometimes you bomb.
Tell your students that its okay to feel “weird” and “awkward” – everyone does at one point or another. Just because we feel this way doesn’t mean we should stop. Instead of stopping in the middle of an improv, keep pushing, keep trying new things until you hit your groove. It will happen- it just takes practice.
Try to get outside of your comfort zone.
Also mention that this is their movement- not yours. It should look unique to each dancers. Don’t do exactly what your friend is doing or what you feel good at. Getting outside your comfort zone is scary- but it can produce amazing things.
If you follow this basic structure of class, you should be able to get your dancers more comfortable with the idea. Just be sure to keep revisiting so they are always improving. One more thing…
Improv with your Students
This is something I feel pretty passionate about. As teachers, we want our students to go out there and improv for us while we watch. What if teachers joined in more often? Improving with your students shows that you’re in it with them. It can also inspire them as they look for movement ideas and expression.
Ready to teach your first improv class? If you have other great tips for teaching improv, please comment below so we can all grow our dancers even more.