Evolution of Thoughts on Improvisation
The Topic of Improvisation is wildly interesting to me. Since starting to focus on the practice of Improvisation within my Acrobatics/Dance practice in 2019 my thoughts went through a refinement process. In this post I share some written reflections on this topic coupled with some videos of me improvising. For a more recent analysis of what Improv can be, please see my more recent posts.
What is real impro?
My theory: when you learn certain movement patterns, they won’t be automated at first. After many hours of practice you will be able to access these patterns without thinking. These patterns could be very isolated moves, like lifting a arm or even whole sequences like Cartwheel->Roll->Macaco. You do not have to think about what you’re doing, you just do.
Now, when you think about impro, the first thing you would normally do is relying on the things you have already done so often that they became automated.
What’s the difference between impro and sequencing then?
Sequencing is fixed. Go from here to there to there.
Impro on the other hand is allowing yourself to play with patterns without a fixed structure. You fall in one pattern (automated), find a way out of that (chaos) until you fall back in old habits (automated), so on and so forth. The better you are at improvising the faster you can switch between different patterns, the smoother the transitions will be and the freer you can play.
Weird and uncomfortable. This is relevant to this topic of Improvisation, since it might first feel very weird and silly to improvise freely.
We are afraid to be weird, we’re super uncomfortable doing stuff that’s not normal. In the fitness world, people are afraid to move in certain positions because it looks weird. That’s funny.
And I’m not any different: performing in front of a bunch of high level movers – feels uncomfortable. Trying new dance moves that involve noodling around my arms – feels very weird.
But you know what? Do it nevertheless. Most of the time it is you and not the others who is feeling weird and uncomfortable. Most of the time you project in other people’s minds that what you are doing must look weird. Everybody does it. Just allow your mind to be quiet and DO.
Dance in front of people, let your weirdness come out! Practice being weird and authentic and the amount of fucks you give about how others must/should perceive you will shrink day by day.
When working without any external/chaotic factors (like a partner or a new situation) you tend to get stuck in your habits and patterns.
Imagine somebody tells you to improvise a little dance on the spot. Most likely you rely on patterns that’s you already know – maybe you‘ll combine something that you haven’t combined before but I think you won’t do anything to crazy in this moment.
I understand „surprising yourself“ as letting go of thoughts on how something should feel or look like. Letting go of if what you do/say/think is perceived as weird or how you could be seen by other people when you just do. In these moments when you just BE or DO you can actually surprise yourself (physically as I tried in this dance or in general life). In this dance I used some ideas I’ve picked up from Tom and Sarah-Lena like throwing (myself or something else), rapid change of direction or going somewhere where my intuition would not lead me.
Very interesting subject, so much more to learn here for me. Embracing the struggle.
Randomly playing and improvising with Rolls and Supports (Macaco-Variations). Been talking and reflecting a lot about improvisation the last months.
When teaching, I notice that most people don’t feel comfortable improvising. I wonder why. Lack of confidence? Simply not used to improvise because of the commonly used „tutorial-like“ way of teaching and learning where it’s more about the end product and less about the learning process?
I continue to research this topic since I find great value here.
Lets see where this study goes.
What is it?
How can you approach it?
Is it a useful skill?
Should it be practiced more?
In which circumstances is Improvisation needed and the only option?
I once read, that improvisation is the practical application of creativity. I liked that. Following words are inspired by some books I’ve read over the last weeks by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (always a pain in the ass to write this name..) — Flow & Creativity.
Creativity: if you want to act creatively you first have to understand and internalize the symbolic system of the field you want to act in. If you want to act creatively with mathematics you first have to learn the rules of the field. On top of that it makes sense to also draw inspiration from other, similar fields to see and find connections. Only then you can break the rules in a meaningful way. Of course fields vary quite a bit and in some field you need much more time and use much more logic to find new, creative ways of doing. Now, while you definitely need to have knowledge over the field, it doesn’t mean that you have to master the respective field. You can definitely start to act creatively after just a bit of practice — much more limited of course, but still.
What does this imply for our movement context?
In order to improvise (practically act out creativity), you first need to have basic patterns down (meaning automated and integrated that you don’t need to think about them while doing) that you can use in an improv context. While improvising with three patterns can be fun and is definitely possible, it’s still a bit limited. Now if you know one or two variations (for example different entries or exits) of each move you would have a bit more to play with. And if you are skilled enough to also improvise not only with the patterns themselves but also with the qualities of the moves (for example by imagination) you would have even more options.
Recap: learn first, put in the work and drill. Start improvising bit by bit and keep refining your vocabulary. Find more and more detail in your moves and keep up the interest to search for connections.
I’ve been improvising a lot with abstract ideas the last couple of months. The study of that matter is very interesting/challenging and reminds me a lot of how I used to play when I was young.
Improvising with certain images in mind can produce very interesting qualities which are hardly achievable by just focusing on technique.
How can this be relevant for your own practice you might ask? I think being able to produce vivid images in your mind which are not „real“ is a skill that can support creative thinking very well. I have also found during my practice, that imagination can lead to very interesting outcomes, outcomes you might not expect.
In this particular Video I played with some ideas that @tomweksler introduced to me. One of them being „The Animal Within“ the other one „Following Impulses“.
See by yourself how you would interpret them!
Quick sketch from yesterdays dance.
Make sure to watch my whole „El Jardin“ video that I posted yesterday.
What I like so much about an improv session is the fact that every session is truly unique, every dance special in its own way and after you finished it’s done! You are not really working towards an end product or something that you can hold in your hands afterwards. You just put something on the canvas but the canvas is gone afterwards. You can’t replicate an improv session and by the definition it wouldn’t be improv if you tried.
Maybe some moves, transitions, patterns or insight will be remembered but the whole thing is just temporary. Improvise, done, next.
Everytime you improvise you get a chance to create something new, and then let it go again. I like improv.
The last months I have read through some books from Moshe Feldenkrais and F.M. Alexander.
Amongst other very interesting ideas, a main outcome for me was this: the way you habitually react to any stimulus will dictate the quality of your life. If you are habitually reacting to stimuli in a harmful way over and over again without being aware of this reaction, things can go down the spiral.
Throughout my life I caught myself many times habitually reacting to situations like I would as back in my childhood. Some reactions where so engraved in my cortex that I just went back years of development when certain stimuli where strong enough. Some of those reactions I managed to stop taking over by being fully aware when they would arise and continuous practice of such, others are still taking over from time to time.
This phenomenon of habitual reactions can be found in any part of your life: reactions to when you get hurt (both emotionally and physically), reactions to fear, anger, etc.
One very interesting one that I just discovered recently: when meeting strangers on the street I would look them in they eyes to greet and immediately after I would look down and continue my way. Such a German/European thing I thought. Since then I try to keep the eyecontact a bit longer without looking down afterwards. May I tell you, this is hard! Even when saying to myself „keep your gaze up“ I would still catch myself falling back into this pattern. Interesting!
When thinking about this a question arises: since we are slaves to our habits, how can we be more aware of our reactions and how can we learn to modify those reactions so we can benefit fully from them?
In this Video: improvising but falling back over and over again into habitual movement patterns. Is that true improv then?