Hello, friends! This is Olivia, project coordinator for Body Shift, VSA Texas’ acclaimed mixed-ability dance project. Every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month Body Shift offers a class we call Elements in which we practice improvisational dance in an inclusive way by using the DanceAbility method. In DanceAbility, we work with four basic principles that are the building blocks of choreography. These include sensation, relationship, time, and design. Oftentimes we will choose one of these principles to narrow the focus in order to increase the students' understanding and awareness of how to make use of these elements.
In the July Elements class Kelly Hasandras and I chose to focus on “design.” Oftentimes when people hear the words improv dance they think that means the dancers will make random movements with little or no pre-determined structure. This is rarely the case. In fact, improvisation is a technique that when practiced regularly and with certain principles in mind has the potential to create quite organized compositions in the moment. One way that improv dance can take on a choreographed appearance is to be aware of designing the space using elements that include placement/proximity, levels, patterns, repetition, imitation, unison movement, development, contrast, physical contact, beginnings and endings, entrances and exits, etc.
When you combine body awareness, non-verbal relationships between dancers, use of varied timing (fast, slow, stillness), design naturally occurs. How you move and where you move in relationship to others and the space around you can be determined by your intuition and imagination. Improvisers shift between a more intuitive, preconscious choice making and conscious choice making. An example of this – I might notice that other people in my group are moving very slowly. My intuition might draw me to join in moving slowly with them. My conscious mind might suggest that I contrast what they are doing by moving fast, whatever fast means to me. One is not a better choice than the other. You should be able to make both choices and weave them together. Alito Alessi suggests, “As an improviser you can think of the whole space as a soup that you are helping to cook. Taste the overall flavor and let your senses tell you what spice it needs.”
This is one of the ways that the DanceAbility method makes dance friendly to people of all physical and cognitive abilities. Participants who are more advanced theatre and dance performers can challenge themselves to see and sense what everyone around them is doing and make choices to place themselves in ways that make a satisfying stage picture. Folks who have little or no experience can challenge themselves to move in ways that feel good to their body and ways that relate to their own sensations or the people around them. One does not have to be cognizant of what their movements look like to an audience to have a dance that is both satisfying to do and to watch. Ultimately the deeper one’s concentration and perception of what is happening internally and externally, the more compelling the experience both inside and out.
I hope you will join us for this month's Elements class which will be taught by Michael Joplin and takes place August 12 and 26 from 2:30-4:30pm at Townlake YMCA. No membership is required and adults of all abilities age 16 and up are encouraged to attend. Cost is pay-what-you-can on a sliding scale of $5-$20. Remember if you are new to dance but feel intimidated by jumping right in you are welcome to observe class and chat with the dancers about their experience before or after class.