Improvisation: How do we access our body’s mind?

How do we access our body’s mind?

One of our central concepts of improv is to let the body lead, to let it move as it wishes. But what does this really mean? We are so used to calling the shots of what our bodies do, that when we stop for a moment, nothing happens. Which can be pretty scary, since we are dancers. So sometimes we have to wait. 

And that’s not a bad thing. When old Arab guys compliment my dancing, they often say that I wait for the music. A famous quote from Martha Graham is, “Don’t just do something–stand there.” So there is something to be said for patience.

bunny with elf

Elena Lentini says that when she doesn’t know what to do, she walks in a circle around the stage. She just walks, sometimes with her hands clasped behind her back, focused, apparently deep in thought. She is waiting for something to come.

I’ve also seen her turn when the music is not speaking to her, once for five minutes straight. She slowed down periodically as she tested where the song was now, but when she did not find a toehold, she just started turning again. She wasn’t thinking about what to do–she was patiently listening to the music and her body, waiting for a physical impulse that would lead her to the next round of movement.

Here are some cues that can help us get out of our body’s way.

  • Lead with alternative body parts. The elbow, say, or the knee. Or the shoulder blade. Let it pull you around the room–and then let it push you.
  • Use low space. Lie on the floor and roll around at a continuous rate–keep a movement flow, so you never stop, but slow down a lot.
  • Use glacially slow movement. Let the shape of the movement evolve–we usually decide in advance what shape we will make–a circle, an infinity, a hip drop. Try letting the body decide, and give it space by moving so slowly there is plenty of time for it to change on its own. Be an observer rather than an initiator.
  • Dance only on the AndOne (from the second half of the four through the one): AndOne (andtwo andthree andfour) AndOne (andtwo andthree andfour). And then just waft through the next few beats. Take your time. Enjoy the space. After a while, maybe dance the one and two. Or the one and three. Or the one and the four. Mix n match.

Let me know how it goes!

You can see how it goes for me this Sunday–I will be performing imprivisation to live music from Cairo via Zoom! The Camp Negum Online Hafla! 17:00 UK time, 12 noont EDT. I hope to see you there!​

Here’s some music—AJ Racy’s Ancient Egypt.



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