Technically, improvisation combines the objective form of the body with the subjective content of a dance. Put simply, art is communicated by placing individuality in the movements of a dancing person. Too technical, right? Elements of dance can be created in fun games which produce form and content, not to mention fun. Dancers of all ages and proficiencies work on connections between body and mind while playing in a social setting.
This is often how pairs begin. Two dancers initiate the improvisation conjoined by simple physical contact. Although each partner can then break free into whatever form they wish, some games bring dancers back in contact briefly. In that sense, contact forms a home base for both partners. Other games improvise with one rule: dancers must remain in physical contact during the whole improvisation. Dance pairs can begin this form by playing the Back Game: improvisation while remaining back-to-back. This is a simpler form, because its free-form element is exercised by the dancers' limbs. Mutual trust between partners is key to the fun of contact improvisation. Watch "Back Dancing Improv" video for more.
This game is an improvisation ice-breaker intended to familiarize larger dance groups with each other. It consists of breaking a class into groups of four or five. The game leader calls out an alphabet letter, and each group of dancers shapes out the letter with their bodies. Some alphabet letters are so easy to form that groups may be challenged to involve all dancers, but that is the goal of the game. More complex letters will require participation of all group members. The contortion of bodies leads to collective fun, and it teaches individual dancers how to work with others.
Clap, Snap, Stomp
Time for some noise. Improvisers form a circle and individuals choose the numbers one, two and three in sequence: the first dancer, "one"; the next dancer, "two"; the next dancer, "three"; the next dancer, "one." The group begins improvising by going around the circle again. This time, the number "one" dancers replace their number with a class clap, while the "two" and "three" dancers speak their numbers. The next time around, improvisers clap, while number "two" participants snap instead of saying their number. Finally, the "ones" clap, the "twos" snap, and the "three" dancers stomp their feet. Dancers find out quickly how much coordination is required to animate all three actions. Check "References" for the video demonstration.
This game empowers dancers to shake out the natural physical constrictions that come when you meet other dancers and work together for the first time. Again, dancers stand in a large circle, allowing enough room between each other for the shaking. On call, dancers shake one arm, the other arm, one leg, the other leg and their backsides. The group leader descends from the number four through one, dancers shaking each part that many times. As the game progresses, the leader speeds up the counting to warm up the bodies. Check "References" for the video demonstration.
- The Evergreen State College: Dance Improvisation (A Gestalt Approach); Rob Esposito, MFA
- Youtube, Inc.: Improvisation Exercise
- Youtube, Inc.: Back-Dancing Improv
- Youtube, Inc.: Clap-Snap-Stomp Improv
- Youtube, Inc.: Shakedown Improv
- Youtube, Inc.: Contact Improvisation
- New York University: Dance Improvisation Games
- Photo Credit Michael Blann/Lifesize/Getty Images
- Improv Encyclopedia: Improv Games
- Youtube, Inc.: Froggy Dance (Exercise, Ice Breaker, or Energizer)
- Dolphin Dance Project: Dancing with Dolphins
- Youtube, Inc.: 2009 West Coast Contact Improvisation Festival Video Lab
- Contact Quarterly, Inc.: One History of Contact Improvisation; Nancy Stark Smith; Vol. 32 No. 2