Got the improv scaries? Never fear!
Aaah, improvisation – it makes some dancers get starry-eyed, and others look like a deer in headlights. If the latter sounds more like you, first know that you’re not alone. Improvisation can be a sincere challenge for many dancers.
Second, you don’t have to be stuck in the headlights forever; a few mindset shifts and intentional approaches can help you to get more comfortable with “improv.” You might even find that you come to truly enjoy it! Let’s take a closer look at some of those mindsets and approaches.
#1. Confidence is absolutely key.
Every building needs a good foundation to stand. Every dancer needs some level of healthy confidence in order to reach their potential. Arguably, that’s even more true with improvisation. Why? Because the movement vocabulary is coming from the dancer – not from a choreographer, director or teacher.
With both the movement and the execution of it coming from the dancer, there’s significant demand for creative generativity. Fear is useful in its own ways, and not to be swatted away (rather, we need to move through it). It’s also a great extinguisher of creative output. What’s a great extinguisher of fear? Confidence – because it assures you that you have what you need to meet the challenge at hand. Because you do! Believing is the first step to being; if you believe that you can do it, you’re halfway there.
Looking the part can make a big difference, too! What we wear to class, rehearsal or an audition can direct confidence inward – and also signal confidence outward, to those we encounter. That can play out most successfully when what we’re wearing is truly us; what we’re confident in here is…ahem…ourselves, after all!
In cut, color, size, pattern, texture, et cetera, does it reflect not only your aesthetic preferences but also your heart and spirit? Does it simply make you feel good, like you at your best? Check out Só Dança’s Be You Collection for a wide variety of dancewear options. Chances are that you can find something that’s truly you, and makes you feel great!
#2. The body’s knowledge
Ok, so you’re feeling confident, and the fear is at least somewhat eased. Your creative flow can now really, you know, flow. Check check. In terms of movement, you might wonder where to even start. Great question! Here’s the key thing: your body has the answers. It might need a certain prompt to get going: an idea, an image, a part of the body, a musical cue or rhythm, a physical sensation.
Yet, once the train leaves the station, as long as the overthinking, all-too-critical brain doesn’t get in the way (“that looked bad,” “ew, why did I do that,” “that was embarrassing,” et cetera, et cetera), the body can lead the way.
So, start with that prompt. Perhaps the shoulders, hips, knees or any other body part initiate movement – and the momentum moves through the body from there. Perhaps you picture an image from nature, or from the human world: a wave, leaves on a tree in a gentle wind, something from a sport or other movement-related activity, a pogo stick (yes, don’t be afraid to get into what you might think is silly!). With both prompts and where they lead you, don’t be afraid to take risks – doing so can lead to wonderful places!
That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what can guide your body in an improv. The important thing is listening to rather than censoring your body. Censoring or self-criticizing can stop the creative train dead in its tracks. Fear has then taken the lead, and creativity is in the backseat, only hoping to be in the driver’s seat again.
#3. “I have to improv at this audition?!”
Just the thought of it might make some dancers cringe: a choreographer or director running an audition leads an improv section. Before the cold sweat starts, remember that you got this! Another important thing to remember is that at an audition, it can be all too easy to look around at who we’re dancing with and compare ourselves to them. Yet, in this context, we’re putting ourselves forward to the powers-that-be, with all that we can offer. We’re not anyone else, and we can’t put forward anything else.
Moreover, when the improv starts, looking around at what everyone else is doing can block our unique creativity. We can start trying to layer things on ourselves that are not our bodies, not who we are overall. That’s not what the person running the audition is looking for; they want to see us. That’s not to mention comparing ourselves to others, and the fear that doing so can generate (again, it can block creativity!).
That’s different from being aware of what other dancers in the room are doing: finding moments of organic synchronicity, as well as being inspired to do things that are you, not to mention being spatially aware (avoiding traffic jams and collisions!). But beyond that, dance like you. That’s what you’re there to do at an audition, and it’ll feel better. You might even have fun!
A cute leotard that feels like you can only help – check out the Novella and Arabella from the Be You collection, for starters. For a theater, jazz or hip hop/street audition, Só Dança’s Riley top and Della leggings could be perfect!
#4. That feeling when your teacher has you improv in class…
You’re having a great time in class, dancing and feeling stellar….and then the teacher leads an improv section. Gulp! Again, no fear, you got this! Grounding in your confidence, letting your body lead the way, and dancing like you and not like anyone else – as discussed – all apply here. Additionally, class is lower-stakes than an audition or performance. Yes, it’s important, and we should put our all into it. Yet, class is also the place where we can make “mistakes” and learn from them.
So, you can feel even more free to take risks and look “weird” (whatever that even means; it’s all in the eye of the beholder, of course). That can be where the really exciting, interesting stuff can be! Don’t forget to stay safe by starting warmed up, especially if your body is leading you into athletic places in your improv. Warm-ups from Só Dança’s Be You Collection, like the Dream Pants and Autumn sweater, can help your muscles stay toasty!
#5. The lights are on you!
It’s that moment that it’s all been leading up to: showtime! You feel the heat of the footlights and the presence of the audience. Maybe some butterfly friends are filling your stomach. Performance jitteriness can be all the more real if we have to improvise as part of our performance. It bears repeating: dance like you. Let your body lead the way. It’s in you, and that’s what the audience came to see.
They want to see an imperfect human moving, not a perfect moving machine. Any toy or robot can be the latter. Breathe. Listen to the music. Know that you have this. Let your fear know that you hear it, you see it – but it’s not time for it to be in charge. Go wow them – with your improvised movement that is beautiful, that is irreplaceable, that is you.