I’ve heard that life is a dance. More specifically, I think it’s an improvisation. You can tell because as with most improv situations, a whole lot of people are doing the same thing over and over, wondering if they’re doing it wrong, looking at other people, wishing they had done something cooler, and wishing someone would just tell them what to do.
But seriously, there are some lessons from improvisational dance (at least from my experience) that can apply to just about every other aspect of life:
- Spontaneity requires practice: the first time I heard of an improv class, it sounded like an oxymoron. How could someone teach you to do whatever you want? In reality, though, thinking on your feet is a skill like any other that gets better with use. The more I took improv classes, exposing myself to new challenges and forcing myself to generate new ideas day after day, the more comfortable, successful, and creative I could be in each new situation (and of course it’s still a work in progress!). Whether you’re concerned about test taking or first dates, it helps to remember that while “just winging it” is a perfectly valid approach, it will typically work better if you have some winging experience backing you up.
- There is freedom in restriction: tell people to move however they want and they will probably automatically resort to their five most frequently used moves. Tell people to travel across the floor with their chin on the ground using only circular movements and they will probably discover some things they have never done before. When you have absolute freedom, it’s easy to stay within your own self-imposed limitations of what you do and what you are. External rules and restrictions can force you out of this comfort zone and make you realize additional possibilities that you’ve been ignoring all along.
- Know your habits to break them: once I realized that my natural tendency was to move at a snail’s pace, I was able to push myself to find more varied and interesting rhythms in my dancing. In a more general sense, you can’t change until you really understand and accept what you are right now.
- Commitment trumps judgement: sometimes you find yourself doing something weird/bad/stupid/uncomfortable. You can get caught up in thinking about how weird/bad/stupid/uncomfortable it is, and pull away from the task, or you can keep going with it as if it’s the most brilliant thing you’ve ever done and see where it takes you. This latter type of unapologetic commitment is often enough to make viewers believe in the abilities of a performer, whether they really deserve it or not. In other words, no one is going trust your choices unless your do–or at least unless every inch of you acts like you do.
- It probably wont happen again: then there’s the times when it does go right, when your crazy experiments flow into something that looks and feels great, leaving you wondering “what just happened?” Unfortunately, while these moments can be an inspiration for future choreography, you probably won’t be able to recreate them perfectly. The sooner that you accept this, the sooner you can start creating new fabulous moments instead of endlessly chasing after old ones.