Tips to Improve Your Improv


Improvisation ("improv" for short) is a major part of the DanceWorks curriculum. Improv involves the execution of non-choreographed movement. In other words, improv is when you dance in the moment, without knowing what you’ll do next!

It is possible to improvise in any genre of dance — contemporary, hip hop, jazz, and even ballet. It is also possible to improvise with more than one person, or even a large group. Improvisation in groups typically involves some sort of physical connection, or the sharing of weight with other dancers. This is known as contact improvisation.

There are no limits when it comes to improv, and this is what makes it challenging. When I first started dancing, I was so nervous about improvising during class! I always thought that the dancers around me were so much better at coming up with movements to match the music. Now, improv is my favorite part of dance!

Regularly practicing improv is what helped me to improve many other aspects of my dancing. Using different movements in my improv made it easier for me to learn new choreography. It also gave me a chance to practice movements and tricks that I wanted to improve. 

Here are some of my tips to help you improve your improv!

Tips for the Improv Beginner

  1. Don’t be nervous! Many people are unsure of themselves when it comes to improv. The most important thing to remember about improv is that there is no right or wrong! Be open-minded when observing both at your own improv and at other dancers’. Improvisation is all about experimentation.

  2. Use your movement inventory. If you have no idea where to begin, you can rearrange pieces of previously learned choreography to start off, and branch out into your own movements.

  3. Utilize the music. Respond to the mood, tempo, and emotion of the music or sounds that you are improvising to. Your movements do not have to match the music exactly, but it can be helpful to use your music as a guide for the overall flow of your improv. As a note, it is best not to rely too much on the lyrics for movement inspiration (ex: waving when someone sings "hello").

  4. Utilize the whole space. Wherever you are dancing, try to travel through the whole space with your improv! This will make your improvisation more visually interesting, and traveling also opens up new opportunities to experiment with movements. You could try rolls, jumps, turns, or even walking.

  5. Don’t compare yourself to others. You may not be satisfied with how your improv looks when you start out, but don’t let that discourage you. Remember, "every winner was once a beginner". Improv may seem easy to other dancers, but they may have had much more experience and practice with it than you.

  6. Take it seriously. Try not to talk or giggle as a way of releasing your nervousness when you improv. (I am definitely guilty of doing this!) This can be distracting for the dancers around you. Instead, take a deep breath and let those tense emotions guide your movement.

  7. Come up with a story. When I first started practicing improv, I liked to come up with a story which would guide my movements. For example, I might choose to improvise a dance about a girl running away from home, or falling in love. This is a great way to channel your emotions into your improv, and makes it easier to come up with ideas for movements.

  8. Watch dances. When I started dancing, I watched a lot of dance videos for movement inspiration. In the future, this blog will feature many dances and dancers that you can watch and learn from!

  9. Practice makes perfect. As with all other skills, regularly spending time improvising on your own will help you to become more comfortable with improv. When I first started dancing, I spent at least an hour every day just non-stop improvising. You definitely don’t have to do the same, but know that improvement takes time. Be patient with yourself as you explore.

Tips for the Experienced Improviser

  1. Move the way your body wants to move. If you have trouble coming up with movements on the spot, you may be tempted to choreograph in your head before you start to improv. However, when practicing improv, it is best to move in whatever way your body feels is right. It will take practice to become comfortable with letting your body take over as you improv, instead of using your mind, but your movements will appear more genuine.

  2. Venture outside of your comfort zone. One problem with moving in ways that are comfortable for your body is that you may end up doing the same movements over and over again. Many people find their "signature movements" through improv, but it is also important to try different ways of moving. Improvising to different genres of music is a good way to practice new movement styles. It is also a good practice to occasionally improv without music.

  3. Experiment with different focuses. Spend time playing around with weight, space, timing, and movement qualities. Try to lead your movements with one body part, or dance without leaving the ground. Try to create different shapes, such as circles, with your improv. Improvisation can help you to develop a better understanding of the many ways in which you can move your body.

  4. Emote with your whole body. It is very tempting to make exaggerated faces when you improv. I’m definitely guilty of this. Your facials are important, and they can really shape the mood of your improv. However, try to convey emotions using your whole body. The movements in your improv should tell the story just as much as your face.

  5. Be okay with pauses. When I was new to improv, I always tried to cram as many movements and tricks into my improvisation as possible. This can make it harder to emphasize movements, or add contrast to your dancing. It also prevents you from finishing all of your movements or fully extending. Even when you are not dancing to a slow song, try to incorporate pauses in your improv.

At the end of the day, improvisation is a skill that should be regularly practiced, just like any other dance skill. Improv is valuable because it allows dancers to develop their personal style and improve their artistry. It also creates opportunities for dancers to explore new styles of movement. Improvisation is, in some ways, the form of dance that will best allow you to understand and grow yourself as an artist and a person.