How do we unite dancemaking and improvisation?

There is a big trend in our dance to make tightly choreographed dances, where we do it exactly the same every time. This is partly because we have recorded music, but it is also popular for a few other reasons.

For one, folks trained in Western dance styles usually started learning choreographies at the age of three in Miss Susy’s School of Dance. So that seems most natural and normal. For another, contests tend to value those highly stylized dances. And finally, many dancers just feel safer knowing exactly what comes next–unlike the messy surprises of life, our dance is at least one dang thing we can control.

But improvisation is the natural habitat of Oriental dance

So what can we do?

I thought about this a lot as I prepared How to Map Your Music. For a lot of us, getting into the nitty-gritty structure of a song is an invitation to tie it down, to articulate every note with a pre-selected movement, specially chosen to show off what a great dancer we are. Personally, I’d rather see a dancer enjoying their dance and inviting me to enjoy it, too. I am a big fan of improvisation.

I’m also a big fan of theatrical dance and structured improv. Structured improv means we have a plan. The plan can be based on many different things, but it’s still a plan. We have a general idea of what we’re going to do. Fall on the floor here, pose there, run across the room somewhere else in the song. Or what part of a story we are telling. Or any number of other cues.

I choose to champion improvisational composition

Structured improv preserves dancer agency and is a lot of fun. Plus we can have time to relax, to make connections in the moment. Oriental dance is alll about connections. We are right there with our guests, or with our friends and family when we dance socially.

To that end, I shared a bunch of improv inspiration on the Yallah Raqs Podcast. Here’s a link to my episode, Mapping the Music.

You might also enjoy my 2020 podcast on Taqsim, and 2019’s Joy and Improv.

I’ve also highlighted improv in this year’s UnDrill for the Instagram Challenge. This one is ridiculously fun, and I made an unspeakably cute video for it. There’s more where that came from, too. Wait till you see the next one!

Shameless self promotion–MYM is part of the Lecture Bundle this year, along with some topics that I am looking forward to, such as Zara’s talk discussing cultural, political, economic & social issues facing Egyptian Bellydancers, and Dawn Devine’s lecture on Danse Du Ventre at the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris. This year’s Dance Bundle is also loaded with goodies.

Many of these teachers feature free inspiration on the Podcast and the Instagram Challenge (which is 21 days of dance prompts to get everyone feeling like dancing aqgain).

Next year is shaping up to the Year of Composition of here, and all of it deliciously engaged with improv. But why wait?

Recital season approaches!

It occurred to me some of us might want to perform in recitals, or might just enjoy making their own dance.

Want a “Make Your Dance in 5 Days” (or make your dance in a day) this fall?

We could do it towards the end of October, so the dances would be ready for the holiday season.

If that interests you, comment below, or email me and let me know.

Here’s some improv music ; )

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