Structuring Spontaneity

Improvisation Reflections


Lauren, Stopgap’s Access Worker, shares some insightful reflections on leading improvisation workshops with Fin, who is an autistic dancer and one of our Sg2 Apprentices.

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As Stopgap studio life begins to slowly resume, apprentice dancer Fin, main company dancer Christian and I had the chance to work together in person to focus on improvisation and to share knowledge, space and reflections on our own individual understanding around improvisation and what allows us to connect with this. It felt great to move, make eye contact and have fun with others in a real-life studio, we instantly began bouncing off each other’s dancing, remembering how it feels to move freely in a place besides our living rooms. For these few days our dancing partners would be real humans and not just our sofas and chairs!

Sg2 Apprentices Fin and Sander together in contact dance.

Image Description: Sg2 Apprentices Fin and Sander together in contact dance. On the left, Sander a white wheelchair dancer faces to the right of the image, prepares right hand on wheel and looks down at Fin's hand on their knee. On the right, Fin takes a deep lunge, facing the same direction as Sander but twisting in his upper body to place his right hand on Sanders knee. Fin is white and has long dark hair tied up in a ponytail. They are in a studio with light wooden floor, the studio and other dancers reflects in the mirror behind them.

Planning and leading improvisation sessions that didn’t involve contact took a while to figure out. I had to keep my focus on what, for me, is at the core of the skills that allow improvisation to become more than just moving: finding ways to embed knowledge, learning, and thinking into the practice. Together we explored and played with lots of different ideas and exercises encompassing different approaches and understandings to improvisation as a technique in itself.

Later, Fin and I took some time to reflect on the sessions together. Generally we both have different approaches to improvisation and so it was really interesting to share our reflections of the two days spent moving together. We spoke in detail about knowing as dancers what we need in the moment of moving and what our role is as a dancer when improvising in the many different circumstances that it may be used. Many of our reflections were about our perception of the environment we find ourselves in and the choices and decisions that need to be made during a task with improvisation both inside and outside of the action.

Fin seated on the floor, in conversation.

Image Description: Fin seated cross legged on the floor, in conversation he looks to his left and gestures left hand out as if presenting a tray. Perfectly framing the image on either side are two spoked wheels of wheelchairs, one has a silver rim and spokes, the other has a red rim and centre. Fin wears a light grey hoodie zipped up over a dark blue tshirt, with bright red joggers.

Fin is a dancer who relishes feedback and thrives on learning and improving movement material, whereas I prefer to find my own path that suits my body and mood for the day. We often enjoy talking about our different approaches to movement and learn from each other in that way. I wanted to create a space where these differences can still exist, coming together to share and learn as a group and really begin to appreciate the different approaches we all take to each task; revealing the thoughts behind the action. I found this particularly interesting when dealing with improvisation, as so often this can be quite an open form of dancing that allows for different approaches to exist simultaneously.

We talked about a shared perception that often improvisation can feel quite open or vague, and how when working in a creative capacity that can sometimes feel unclear for all involved. When facilitating, there can sometimes be a tendency to keep things open with the aim that this provides freedom for the dancers to make choices and not feel restricted. We discussed about how this can in fact sometimes be counterintuitive and lead to relying on habits rather than working on a specific task. Keeping a focus on outcome and providing specificity when facilitating can actually provide clarity and allow for greater risks to be taken by the people moving. This approach almost allows the dancers to settle into the information given to them and actually explore a task with more depth. By knowing there is an outcome to figure out through the improvisation, it could help avoid feeling distracted with concern about fitting to the perceived outcome.

We also played a lot with the idea of non-attachment; how do we as dancers spontaneously create movement without feeling precious and overprotective of the outcome? Can we let something develop and not have to put every ounce of energy into its creation? Being able to change and try something new because you are not invested heart and soul into the movement you are making, can be a positive way of thinking that allows for more possibilities to arise. As a choreographer working with improvisation, what happens when you give an instruction and the dancer does something unexpected? In that moment of guidance, you sometimes have to be prepared to hand over control and allow the dancer to input creative ideas and responses to the task you set, enjoying the different interpretations and understandings that might come out. This can be especially true when working with neurodiverse dancers who experience the world in many different ways.

Fin during movement in a studio.

Image Description: Fin during movement. Taking a deep lunge forward, he spreads both arms open low to his sides with palms up to the ceiling. He looks upward baring his chin to the camera and chest opening wide and proud. In the background of the light wooden studio other dancers move. Fin wears a dark blue tshirt and red joggers.

Something Fin and I both agreed on was the fact that improvisation in itself is a skill that requires practice and that by doing so, there is much to be discovered and enjoyed when time and energy is given to it. We both agreed that a task based, conversational approach to improvisation can help alleviate nervousness or uncertainty around improvisation and that it doesn’t have to impact the outcome at all, in fact it may surprise you what comes out when clarity and understanding become at the heart of your practice.

– Lauren Trim