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Improv Dance & the Dance of Life

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Dear Reader,

I’ve wanted to dance for a while. To move and to flow, but without restriction on movement; without regulation on steps. So I found an improvisational dance class and began to dance weekly.

I very quickly realised that while I loved moving to my own beat, I was very clearly outside of my comfort zone. I did not enjoy being witnessed while moving to my personal rhythm. I did not feel comfortable dancing with the small group of strangers. The level of intimacy was daunting. But an inner voice said “stick with this Riv; this will be good for you…”

So, here I am sharing my feelings and thoughts with you only one month into the life of improv. I hope that some of this post will resonate with you as we dance the dance of life together. Indeed, I believe, improvisational dance is a metaphor for the dance we call life.

For “There is freedom waiting for you, on the breezes of the sky, and you ask “What if I fall?” Oh but my darling, what if you fly?” (Erin Hanson)

As with all of life, I’ve learned that improv dance is a slow process – a building up of small steps to ultimately become comfortable to embrace the free-flow movement without inhibition, in order to create something strong, deep and beautiful. It’s about embracing the moments of raw fatigue – accepting and surrendering, and through that compassionate fall, being re-energized to fly – pulling through to find the renewal of rhythm, beat and flow.

Sometimes, I stand still. My back against the wall, a gentle swaying of my hips. A little like those life moments when we take a beat, a pause – to breathe, to simply be. At other times, my body wants to move in a way where my arms and legs take up an intuitive journey of their own, forming steps I never imagined possible; stretching physical limits I never envisioned capable. Reminiscent of life moments when we accomplish greatness, when we challenge our norms and push the limits to effect healthy change; becoming better versions of ourselves, and rising above the old behavioural patterns that no longer serve us.

I usually prefer to close my eyes. It helps me to become centered within, without distraction from the chaos outside of myself – the others around me; the knowledge of them watching me; the different beats, varied movements, ranges of motion, and changing energies surrounding me.

When I feel brave, I open my eyes. Sometimes, I simply open them out of necessity so that I can navigate my improv within the dance space without colliding with walls or others. I then notice that each improv dancer is focused within. We are not concerned with the journey of the other, for we are here to change ourselves alone. We do not judge the life dance of the other, for we can only know our own internal rhythm. We are not intimidated by the different steps or alternative pace of the others, for our steps tell our story, and our pace is just right for us and all that we need. And when we are centered at our core – our essence, our integrity; no external perception can make or break us, no eyes of another can make us uncomfortable, for our choreography is clear, unshakeable and true. And we “dance like no one is watching…

There are other times when I open my eyes to communicate with my fellow improv dancers, or when we are actually tasked to bear witness to the dance of another. I am then reminded that while we may dance to our own beat, “no man is an island” (John Donne), and the dance of life is always in tandem with others – sometimes in perfect sync, or in mutual partnership; and other times in conflict, off-beat, random and chaotic. But, always, it is our job to bear witness, to take note, to raise awareness, to navigate our personal dance amongst the dancing others.

On some occasions, our instructor asks us to show our fellow dancers what we bore witness to. To dance the feeling we absorbed while watching the others dance. I feel messy, self-conscious, and imperfect. But then I watch the playback of my witness and I am moved. I look happy, carefree, graceful and alive. I think about those times in life when we are sure we’ve messed up. The self-critical voice that makes us believe that we have failed the test, lost the job, or ruined the deal. Yet, we are then proved wrong by the feedback of a witness who shows us how positively we are really perceived, and all that is left for us to do is to shift our perspective, to pivot on our heel, to honour our natural beauty, talent, and wisdom, as we continue to dance.

And then there is patience. Patience when the steps don’t seem to flow. Patience with the unknown, ever changing dance genres and rhythms. Patience when the path is unclear and the dance floor is hard and cold. This rollercoaster we call life. The highs, the lows, and everything in between. And all the while, we are dancing into an unknown, ever changing landscape, never guaranteed an outcome or result, but still patiently summoning strength for the next bold step, the next brave move.

Yes, dear reader, this dance is sometimes painful but “dance is your pulse, your heartbeat, your breathing. It’s the rhythm of your life. It’s the expression in time and movement, in happiness, joy, sadness and envy.” (Jacques d’Ambroise)

May you Dare. May you Dream. May you Dance.

Until next time….


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