In Spring 2018, I took a Friday class where it focused on improvisation practices. I had the privilege to take classes by Katherine, Bita, Ching Dian, Susan Petry, Norah Zuniga Shaw and guest artist Mayfield Brooks and Liam. In this post, there are links to inspirations and events to give you an inside scoop of my experience.
I also taught a version of improv that I’ve been working on. It was a Hybrid of Sheron Wray Embodiology Research and Margaurite Hemming #WeFree Lab. I utilized 3 exercises. On this day I was very sick but I made it work.
Exercise 1: Appreciation. We went across the floor partnered. One would dance how the saw fit for the day, The other watch closely at, in the end, the partner would dance in their essence. I allowed them to discuss with each other on how it felt to move and watched. We repeated this 3x.
Exercise 3: Relationship to music. I played a song several times that had many instruments on different rhythms, I had them pick one, and then dance to it. We watched and had the class figure out what they were dancing on. One thing they found was it was difficult to dance to for the complexity of the song and the structure of the music. One thing I could have done was allow them to color or write out the many rhythms of the song and visualize to movement connection.
Exercise 3: J-Setting. We did this to different music. With different rhythms. I’ve noticed that they nor I prompt them to play around/out of the rhythm of the music. but overall They’ve never experienced this way of improvising.
I met Margaurite Hemmings in the 2017 ADF Winter Intensive in New York City. In her class, we focused on improvisation techniques of dancehall and African American vernacular styles with relationships to the music of Trap, Rap, Afrobeats, and Dancehall. She and I instantly connected on my introducing to Afro-Trap (which is a music genre of afro-beats and trap music). From there she invited me back out to dance with her in this process of #WEFREE lab. For 4 days we practiced different improvisation scores that dealt with rhythm, emotions, relationships, and more. I will go over 3 exercises we did.
J-Set(ting) is a dance style that is characterized by a lead and follows the format where one dancer initiates a series of high-energy dance moves, and the other dancers join in the movement. In this exercise (which is included at the beginning of the video), we practiced sharing our improvised dance moves. We picked an instrument rhythm in the music and danced to it for 8-16 counts. After that, the people did the exact same thing you did. This kept us engaged and on our toes. Evey time it changed and you were to quickly execute it.
Relationship. We could relate to each other or music via a mirror, contrast, compliment, control.
Compliment: We went across the floor and watched intentionally our partner. Then we did a version of their solo in their essence. We showed moves that caught our eye. the partner watch intentionally to see if they can see themselves in it. W/ music we listen to 1 track several times to find our rhythm and dynamic and we danced to it. this allowed me to slow down and intentionally move within the parameters the musician gave us.
Mirror: Copying of our partner via mimic or in essence of. We tried to keep eye contact with one another
Contrast: One person dancing in their essence and you do something is a different dynamic vain.
Experimental: We played the familiar trap, dancehall, and rap music to get our memory. From there we put a flocking together to follow each others movement.
During my time in New York, I had some downtime after the show. I found out that my absolute favorite teacher and maker is teaching a class with another person who I am really diving into as well. As I trekked down from Harlem, I was just uber excited and nervous. I really don’t know what to expect in these spaces. The details of the event were:
“Our shared practice session is shaped by the premises of The Making Room: making in parallel; making in response. Taking turns making a movement (and structure), seeing how we each work, continuing until our dances are made. Sue and Bebe will work with all the artists in back-and-forths as they compose, starting from scratch. This session of parallel play offers the opportunity to work in relation rather than in collaboration, sharing our best practices.”
The first exercise we did, Susan led. We were to bring 5 item and partner up. We each took turns to move each item. Like it was our own creativity in collaboration. we did this for 5 min. From there, we kept our partners and we put it in the body.
First I verbally told my partner what to do. We showed. Then in reverse. After this, Bebe instructed us to try and interrupt our partner, not just with our hands but full body. She gave us an example. So my partner and I built upon the dance we created. I noticed in this I get really inward with my movement with fear of intruding too much. But that isn’t what BeBe or Susan want us to do. They made us do an across the floor exercise to get us to move our partners and intrude more. It’s supposed to be a dance not an I go you go.
This made me appreciate Improv as dance composition and that contact of intrupting is a deeper investigation I need to look into.
Improving/Dancing While Black
This semester I met with a group of Black dancer who is Dance Majors, Minors, and Other degree and we danced together. I started out discussing space and our being. It got into a deep discussion on our concerns of ourselves and our conscious in the space. In this, I wanted to give them tools to push their personal dance narrative in spaces where they aren’t. I utilized some of the activities from Sharon Wray, Margaurite Hemmings, and Mayfield Brooks to pull these movements out of it. Overall, it was a good dancing time I got to know them a little better and want to continue this next semester.
Mayfield Brooks -Resisting Contact Improv
Dancers in Grad School (DiGS) sponsored Mayfield Brooks for a 3-day residency. They joined us in our Grads class. This is where we were dealigning with the heart and projecting it into movement. She guided us with words that allowed my imagination and body to be at ease. We were given space to share our heart story,. During that day, I had a lot of sorrow, aggression, and heights in my body. It came out in story mode. My gaze was low. I can’t remember the exact moment, but afterward, my heart was open to receive everyone’s heart in the room.
Saturday, They gave us an improv class of asking permission and resisting contact. For me, I generally don’t come into contact improv spaces because of the ideas of fetishization of me/my body and the lack of respect for my space/movement. They and the class acknowledge these sentiments and shared their woes with contact. We first started with straight asking verbally and responding verbal and no verbal no’s. Then merge into contacting and breaking away without it being awkward. During the second exercise, Fen mentioned that They do not like being lifted, and I find myself in those awkward positions in contact I tend to lift. We worked on different ways of breaking away as the dominant person (me) and the non-dominant in the situation. The groud is always an option to go to, or dropping out is something I can do. Or passing the control to the non-dominant person to tell me what to do next. This was a helpful exercise.
Afterward, I viewed the improv jamI’mIm still not in a space to improv freely, but I am working on it.
Dance Improv: Garden of Constants
Bita sent out a call for us to join her in this Council of Graduate Student Arts and Culture Sponsored event. In rehearsal, we were prompted to write down numbers we remember or are significant to us. From there, we compared our numbers and circled and crossed numbers that weren’t similar. We shared with each other our significance to the numbers listed. Then she gave us the music and score to go over.