Sunday, 5 February 2012

Mixed Improv in the Snow!

Jan and I navigating the M65 last night! Card by Rozie Hadley
- for more of her fabulous bellydance artwork and cards go to
Well, yesterday Jan and I headed off over the Pennines for an improv workshop and tribal hafla with our teacher, Chris. Intrepid explorers that we are we had checked out the weather forecasts (snow, ice and freezing fog) and had packed multifarious layers of clothing (including Jan's PJs in case we had to stop over), food, a torch and a shovel. Not a lot gets between us and our dancing! Despite hopeful signs of non-sticky snow earlier in the afternoon it wasn't looking good by tea time and we made the disgruntled decision to head homewards (I did console myself with a nifty purchase from The Tribal Temptress!) and the hafla actually had to be cancelled anyway - hopefully it will be rescheduled! We didn't need our Antarctic gear after all, but the vegan choccy biccies livened up the journey back!

Improvising North Wind style at an Arcomnia gig last year
 Luckily our journey had not been in vain ... we had a fabulous workshop, drilling moves and improvising to a bit of Arcomnia. The class was very well attended and was also very mixed in terms of experience ... some who had done a lot of improv in Chris' North Wind format, some who were familiar with the format but hadn't improvised, some who had done other types of tribal and some who were dipping into tribal for the first time. That of course, lends itself to a whole different experience on lots of levels. It reminded me of a great blog of Shay Moore's from a few years back (I thoroughly recommend her blogs - you can read her current ones here) where she focused on the importance of dancing with beginners - although it could equally be applied to improvising with people who just have different dance experiences.

Sakura - dancing in harmony!
 You can read Shay's original blog post here. She makes some really valid points and I'm with her all the way! When we dance together as Sakura we are really familiar with one another's dance traits and foibles - the slight level change, angling of the body, arm movement - and so follow one another relatively seamlessly, to the extent  that other dancers sometimes struggle to see our cues and have to check whether we were improvising (Yes we are - we only perform improv! Not all of our moves have cues anyway, but that's a whole different story!). We challenge one another in different ways; new moves, different lead changes and so on. But on reflection, maybe familiarity DOES breed a bit of contempt. Not in a nasty way of course, but in the sense that maybe we sometimes become a little lazy as leaders and don't define moves with as much intention as we should, particularly when we're fisrt moving into them. We also have a lot of trust in one another and maybe this impacts upon us sometimes as followers - once someone has led us into a move we automatically presume it's going to go to plan. Of course it usually does, but every now and then the music may change or someone might have a bit of a mind-melt and something different could happen! It might be infrequent, but it's always as well to be aware and alert!

Sarah takes the lead with
oodles of intent!
Dancing with people with different experiences - whether beginners or not - is a great way of heightening such awareness. As a follower you have to watch really closely, and sometimes have to follow different interpretations of the same move. You experience what happens when cues aren't clearly given, or when somebody isn't quite with the rhythm of the music.  You see first hand the need for shared understanding of moves and the need to be really familiar with moves you're leading on. You become really aware of moves that could be confused with one another, and of the need to really define them. It's an invaluable experience, both in terms of forcing you to REALLY concentrate on your following but also in honing your skills as a leader. When you step up into that front spot (Yay! Love that feeling!) you really take the time to emphasise your cues and moves and to ensure that everyone behind you is also really drawn into the rhythm by your dance movements. You really move with intention!

Cayte and Jan, working it  together!
 Sometimes more experienced dancers think they're too good for more basic classes. They might think that dancing with less experienced dancers isn't challenging enough. I think that's really sad. Basic technique is vital whatever level you're dancing at. When you revisit familiar moves you so often find new aspects on which to concentrate ... once the move is ingrained into your body your mind is freed up to concentrate on the finer points. You might challenge yourself in your private practice or in higher level classes, but dancing - particularly improvising - with less experienced dancers (whether that be less experienced in general, less experienced in improv or less experienced in your format) brings a whole new set of challenges. If your mind and heart are open you have so much to learn and take back into your own dance.

Improv rocks!

Until next time - happy dancing!

Thanks to Rozie Hadley and Ian Woodward for images in this blog


  1. One of the really valuable things I got from a workshop with Paulette Rees-Denis a couple of years ago was the importance of following. That even if the leader is pulling out a move you don't know, if you let your body just do what it sees, you can make a pretty good attempt at dancing together. I found that really freeing!

  2. Some excellent points cayte....i love that feeling, when following, of standing on the edge of a precipice wondering "what's gonna happen next?" and the knowledge that it could be absolutely anything, including 'non-standard' moves with their own rythmn...exciting stuff!