If you are part of a troupe or are just used to performing more choreography, then I feel your pain when it comes to improvising. Improvisation can seem intimidating but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be! Here are 3 tips on how to improvise fearlessly & fluidly.
1. Less is more
If you’ve taken the free email course I offer on this topic, then you’re already a step ahead ;) (If you haven’t signed up yet, you can do so for free here). One of the most common things that happens when we first start to improvise is that we begin to panic. Even in workshops we are so used to learning choreography that we’ve never been taught how to form our own style once we don’t depend on choreography. So the panic sets in, you are a deer in the headlights (or stage lights, in this instance), the audience notices and you feel bad about your performance, never wanting to improvise ever again. One way to combat this is to practice relaxation techniques, such as meditation or yoga. This is to calm your mind, clear your head, and give you a last minute way to relax before stepping on stage. Another way is to follow the next two tips, rinse and repeat. The best way to beat panic is to be prepared, so the more you practice and review, the more you can focus on how you want to dance instead of how you look when you’re panicked. The best way to see your progress is to film yourself and review. Start removing a move each time you practice, and rely on your connection to the audience. Focus on your breathing and relax between movements. Remind yourself that you don’t need to fill every sound with a movement and that there’s beauty and power in being silent!
Improvisation doesn’t mean unpreparedness.
2. Be prepared
The more prepared you are the less you will hate improvising. This goes from knowing what kind of costume you’re wearing, what kind of stage you’re dancing on, and of course what song you’re dancing to. This is assuming you’re in a position to choose your own music to improvise to. But if you’re in a position where you have to dance to a song you don’t know, then the best way is to listen to as much music beforehand as possible. If you’re an Egyptian style dancer like myself, familiarize yourself with all the classics, listen to any current bellydance versions of those songs, and famous pop songs. The more songs you memorize, the more you’ll have to choose from when it comes time to improvise and you will feel more prepared. You don’t need to know every word of the song, or every dum and tak. Focus at first on how it begins, how it ends, and any noticeable changes in the music. If it has lyrics, it’s also important to remember the general meaning of the song. You don’t want to misinterpret any song and create an awkward performance.
It seems counter intuitive to practice improvisation but improvisation doesn’t mean unpreparedness. It just means not sticking to a choreographed routine from beginning to end. But if you are dancing to a song you already know, then you are already at an advantage and know how the song begins, any accents, and how it ends. And that’s all you need! I suggest having 2 options for your entrance and final pose so you have more than 1 option to choose from depending on the energy you feel from the audience, the stage and lighting, and how you feel. You don’t want to limit yourself to only one option because you don’t want to cross over to choreography territory but you also don’t want to overwhelm yourself with too many options. For example, if you want to end the song with a dramatic turkish drop, but once you get to the venue and you see the stage isn’t safe enough, then you don’t want to force yourself to do it because it was your only finale option. So give yourself some breathing room and have a few options in your back pocket. Same thing goes for the accents, and they are probably the most fun to improvise to because you can change it up depending on your mood and energy from the audience. A dum doesn’t always have to be a hip accent, for example. So practice a few times, record yourself, and go over and see what you like and don’t like.
If you’re ready to learn more on how to improvise fluidly & fearlessly, then sign up for the new online course: Improvisation Station. Get 30% off now when you sign up before September 1, 2016. Click here to learn more.