Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The Importance of Improvisation

Early one season, I watched Frank Hatchett strike terror in the hearts of a class of dancers while working on combinations across the floor.

Was the combination so hard that nobody could complete it?

Was it so complicated that nobody could remember it?

Well, no. It wasn't.

Exactly what was the problem then? The combination was only 4 eights long. Frank choreographed the first two eights and the last eight. The third eight?

"Make something up! I want to see you dance for yourself! You've got a full eight! Go for it!"

Students that could perfectly execute every single choreographed move suddenly froze when they got to the "free eight". Others stumbled on their feet and tripped all over themselves. Some just did absolutely nothing. I don't need to say what Franks reaction was at the end of the first attempt of this horrible mess.

Improvisation is the fundamental basis of all jazz music. Why isn't it taught in jazz dance more often? If practiced, improvisation is not a difficult art.
There are many benefits for the student that is comfortable with improvisation. Their confidence is higher. They are more poised on stage. They are more likely to dance right through a forgotten section or recover from a mistake without the audience ever knowing anything was wrong. It helps free the creative mind.

Teaching your students to improvise is easy. It's simply a matter of having them do it often enough to be comfortable with the idea. Small exercises work great. Give them a few beats here or there. As they become more confidants with their ability, gradually increase the number of beats they have to themselves. Use different styles of music.

Improvising to lyrical is a lot different than percussive jazz or the more funky styles.

Teach them to not just dance, but to think.


Dale Lam - Artistic Director
Les Mizzell - Technical Director
The Columbia City Jazz Dance Company Website
Dale and Les on Twitter

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