The TRS Teachers are always excited by new ideas and trying new things. We recently had our sharing days and the TRS Teachers met for the All Hands Meeting on Monday too so this has been even more apparent.
 
Improvisation is the term used for spontaneously moving. The movement isn’t choreographed, it is usually very creative and it almost always leads to an unexpected and exciting outcome.

Why Use Improvisation?

Improvisation can be used just for fun. In our Educating Dance and creative dance classes we often use improvisation to help find movements around a theme that can be used later in choreography. We can also use improvisation or brain health.
 
It has been proven in both recent and quite old studies that dance is great for brain health. I think the first time I realised just how good dance is for the brain was when I read ‘Use it or Lose it: Dance Makes you Smarter’ by Richard Powers. A fascinating article about a major study that found dance questioned whether physical and/or cognitive recreational activities were affective in protecting against dementia. The only physical activity that proved affective was dance.

The article (read it here: http://socialdance.stanford.edu/syllabi/smarter.htm) goes into greater depth and there is a lot to be said on this subject, but for the purpose of this blog post I will focus on one element… I believe that one of the reasons for the protection dance offers against dementia is the fact that improvisation often plays a key role in dance. Thinking on your feet whilst also taking part in physical activity and, therefore, with the respiratory system working harder seems to have great benefits. Quick thinking, random thinking and making decisions that are not carefully planned whilst the body is also physically moving seems to be excellent for the brain and neural pathways.

The Different Types of Improvisation

In our training for school staff we teach how to give ownership of the movement to the participants. By ensuring they know there is no wrong outcome because they are being creative, the dancers can choreograph themselves and can achieve extraordinary outcomes when supported in the right way. Improvisation to explore a theme and experiment with movement is a great way to do this. Teachers can support students in free improvisation that is often very personal and always open ended or in closed improvisation that has a much more specific aim. 

Ideas for Improvisation

Improvisation Journies are great fun and very exploratory. The teacher has a pre-planned and very simple journey Just a few lines with lots of description ideas. The journey could take place in multiple settings such as for an around the world theme (home to hot air balloon with words such as high, free and clouds, to jungle with words like trees, vines, logs to go under and over or animals. Back to the hot air balloon with the same or different adjectives and onto the desert with ideas such as hot sand under foot, quick skittish lizards and sand dunes and so on.) 
 
If the journey takes place in one setting you can go into more detail. This is great for a topic like Habitats. For a jungle theme the teacher can describe the habitat in much more detail. There are tall trees with branches that spread wide. Vines from the branches for monkeys to swing on. The playful monkeys are jumping, climbing, swinging and picking flies from each other. The flies move from giant plant to plant. There are some fallen trees and you have to go over some and under others.
 
The teacher has the option to be as specific or vague as they like and can alter their words each time they do the journey depending on how the group are responding or if they have done it before. 
 
Improvisation stories are a great way to include the class topic in a cross-curricular dance class and we use it a lot in Educating Dance. In our training, Dance: A Cross-curricular Approach, one of the first journies Sophie (our first ever TRS Teacher) and I did was Water’s Journey. The improvisation can be undertaken as a whole class moving as particles (as one, slowly and quickly etc. depending on the water’s current state), as an individual moving as the water moves through a story that can begin at any point (basically ice to sea to river to water system to tap etc. but this can and should be expanded upon) and can even include a staff member or guest as the sunshine (we always had Sunshine Sophie!) or within small groups with each group having previously been given the water state they will move as. It is a hugely diverse topic!
 
Story improvisation can become a great game for exploring a theme (such as Dinosaur Excavation), as a way to close a session (line up as a…) or as a cool down (Astronaut Suits). It could also be used within the school day if the story is appropriate. Please see my ‘Dancing Day’ blog post for more on that.
 
The first ever story improv I wrote was one I use just for fun as a game in dance clubs, but that is also great for gross motor skills development… I invented Pumpkin Soup whilst sitting on a train because there was a cafe at the station that had a similar name. Whilst the teacher says the story (and hopefully moves a little themselves as well) the children improvise. It’s quite a closed improvisation and due to that can be done with a whole class. I will create a full download for the story and instructions soon (in our new section of the website), but for now suffice to say that there’s a bowl of soup, a sudden mess and some sliding, tip toeing and sticky feet followed by a big clean up operation.
 
Carnival Dance is a wonderful way to inject colour and excitment into a class and works especially well within Active Armchairs. It can also be easily adapted for different themes. This is basically when the whole group moves, everyone is moving individually, but is occasionally inspired by someone else in the room. For carnival dance we would all have colourful feathers or scarves to dance with. When the facilitator sees something they particularly like they can commend the person who created it and incorporate it into their own movements. This also means that those who are shy, new to improvisation or struggle to improvise can still join in because ‘copying’ is welcomed and encouraged. An extension to this is when the facilitator begins to pick some of the movements and sequences them to choreograph a motif (small section of dance).
 
Although this is called carnival dance, the theme doesn’t have to be carnival. At Christmas I’ve used tinsle, jingle bells or silly hat voguing for a similar affect. 
 
Strike a Pose is a way to introduce a moment of improvisation into lots of different aspects of the dance class or school day in general. They could strike a pose at the end of a dance or exercise (you could give warning or spring it upon them depending on the group) or and the start before the music begins (this is a great way to get a group of young children to stay still!). 

It is an important part of travel / stop games (where the teacher shouts travel and then, after a while, stop and the participants move within a theme). It can also be done when improvising with props. It is very exciting when done with a giant elastic! 
 
 

Partner Improvisation is great for relationship building. Of course it can be done in schools and is brilliant for PSHE themed dance lessons, but my two favourite examples of partner improv are found in Active Armchairs, the dance together (holding hands as the participant leads the facilitator) and the Floating Material (a person at each end of a long piece of material wafting it in various ways). 

 

The photo on the left is of spontaneous improvisation with a participant who asked me to dance during Active Armchairs. We were supposed to be copying Georgie (leading her warm up in the background), but this particular lady became so excited by the class that she just got up and went for it! She led me and I had to follow. This is the best type of improvisation, when some one lets go and just goes for it. 

 
Improvisation is clearly a subject that excites me and I could go on and on about things we can do, but my biggest tip is to just give it a try. You’ll never guess what the group will come up with and in the highly unlikely event that they don’t know what to do, you can always move to the next bit more quickly or change tact slightly so the theme changes.

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