In The Moment: Ten Improvisation Tips

If you’re a dancer new to improvisation (or need a refresher), here are some improvisation basics:

  • Improvisation involves creating and executing movement spontaneously, without any premeditated choreographing.
  • Improvisation isn’t limited to modern or postmodern dance.
  • Improvisation may or may not include contact improvisation (involving the physical connection and sharing of weight with another person or people).
  • Improvisation can be practiced, performed, or used to make choreography.
  • Improvisation is a movement skill as well as a dance form that takes practice to master just like any other.

IMAGE Dancers improvise to music, making physical contact in a variety of ways. IMAGE

10 Tips For Dancers New To Improvisation

1. Relax.  Need I say more?

2. Be in the moment. Don’t try to think ahead too much or plan. If something unexpected happens, accept it, go with it, explore it, see where it takes you.

3. Listen and be aware of what’s going on around you, BUT allow yourself to enjoy moving the way your body wants to move.

4. Don’t talk, laugh, or giggle. If you are a beginner or feeling uncomfortable with being asked to move ‘on the spot’ it is natural to want to release any tension with talking, laughing, or giggling. This may be especially true if others around you seem very comfortable and are moving in a way or trying things that seem strange to you. Resist, and take a deep breath instead. Recognize you may have a lot to learn and experience. Stay focused and practice a professional attitude.

5. Don’t critique yourself. If you are being guided through an exercise or have been given an improvisation “score” – a set of challenges or problem-solving: Focus only on the essentials of what you are being asked to do. Move without worry or judgment of how creative, or original, or musical, or funny, or attractive, or _____ it is.

6. Be yourself. Finding or discovering original or authentic movement (movement that comes from within you rather than combinations or steps you’ve practiced from class) is an element of improvisation that will take practice but shows maturity in your improvisation. It is possible to “try too hard” to be original, resulting in movement that is the opposite of authentic. To combat this, see tip #5 above.

7. It’s okay to copy. Alright, I know I said to be yourself but in group or contact improvisation, occasionally ‘trying on’ the way someone else is moving can be a very interesting challenge. It can also be a good way to break out if you are stuck in your own movement patterns. Copying does not have to be exact replication. Notice the rhythms, or the body part, or the movement quality of others around you and ‘echo’ these. Anything you copy can gradually or even immediately be made into something new, something of your own.

IMAGE Dancers connect with a slight touch of hands. IMAGE8. Make eye contact and don’t be shy, especially if there is to be contact improvisation or you are improvising in a group.

9. Be “available”. This is related to the above but contact improvisation in particular involves recognizing and being open to opportunity for connection when it crosses your path.

10. Don’t compare yourself to others. This doesn’t mean ignore the other dancers – as you can see from above that’s the last thing you want to do. This tip relates to not judging your own movement and extends into avoiding judging the movement of those around you. Improvisation works best when people are safe and free to explore so adopt a positive and accepting attitude.

I’m sure improvisors have more great tips to share….

What would you add to the list?

Still have questions or concerns? What do you want to know about improvisation?

Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle Suzanne is a writer specializing in dance and online content. She is also a dance instructor with over 20 years experience teaching in dance studios, community programs, and colleges. She began Dance Advantage in 2008, equipped with a passion for movement education and an intuitive sense that a blog could bring dancers together. As a Houston-based dance writer, Nichelle covers dance performance for Dance Source Houston, Arts+Culture Texas, and other publications. She is a leader in social media within the dance community and has presented on blogging for dance organizations, including Dance/USA. Nichelle provides web consulting and writing services for dancers, dance schools and studios, and those beyond the dance world.
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)
Nichelle (owner/editor)

Latest posts by Nichelle (owner/editor) (see all)


  1. Camille says:

    Thank you for this great list. I would love to share this with some of my student as well. I have a tip for the list that I remembered learning in another improvisation class. If things are boring with in a certain score or game plan within an improvisation it’s OK to “break” a the rules(i.e. go outside the given score and guidelines)… and it just might become part of the score in the end anyway. I love the living and breathing nature of improvisation.

  2. Cristina says:

    Many thanks for this article!! My exam is on Thursday, so I’ll definitely have the above tips in mind 🙂

  3. Thanks ladies! And great tip, Camille! I absolutely agree, when you’ve exhausted possibilities within the confines or structure pushing the boundaries or breaking the rules altogether is allowed and maybe even encouraged! As long as safety is still observed, of course. This is one of the fantastic and fascinating aspects of improv!

  4. Thanks for this great article that you made. I also love to share this tips to my cousins.It really help.

  5. Hi! This is a good article. I really want to join an improv class here but it seems like there aren’t any. Doing improv is one of my dream goals!

    • Hi Isabella,

      If you’re looking for some instruction in improvisation, you may find it as an element within some modern dance (could be referred to as contemporary dance) classes. Or, look for contact improvisation workshops. Actually, it is typical for improv instruction to be offered as a workshop rather than as weekly classes. In a workshop, there will likely be some expectation that you are taking regular technique classes of some sort. Occasionally (though it is very rare) you’ll find classes labeled as creative dance. It’s most often a term used for young children’s dance classes but once in a while classes for older children, teens, or adults. Another place to look for improv opportunities is at a “jam.” There will be little to no instruction but open jams frequently have movers of all abilities, experience, and backgrounds. Depending on its participants, a jam could be very beginner friendly or not but, in these situations, you choose your own level of participation and often the most experienced dancers are also the most sensitive to working with or beside the beginners in their midst. I hope that helps!! Best wishes!

  6. Hi everyone..
    I love your article and surely I’ll follow this in my improvisation. But still I want some tips in a particular word. Like my improvisation word is MOON. I have to improvise in this word. How to do that? How to show this word through my dance through my improvisation? Please help me..

    • Hi and welcome, is this an assignment for a class? If so, has your instructor given you guidance on the assignment? If you are still confused about it, I would talk to him/her.

  7. Hello I have an audition soon and it includes modern impro. The problem is that I can do ballet but barely know anything about modern.
    What can I do during the impro? We will be placed in groups of 4.
    Is it of to so some ballet things like chaines and pirouettes?

    • Hi Manuela,

      Improvisation is a little like painting. If you’ve only ever studied ballet and that’s the only movement vocabulary you have, your “color palette” may have only a few colors to choose from. The more broad your movement experiences (whether it’s other dance forms like modern or jazz, or other physical pursuits like martial arts or sports matters not), the more colors you have to choose from to paint your picture.

      Chances are that those auditioning you will give you material with more technical elements (like chaines and pirouettes) and they are asking you to improvise to see you move in other ways. It’s not that they don’t want you to use your technique, but they will be looking for it within movements that are unique to you and created in the moment.

      I’d encourage you to practice some improvisation before you get to the audition. In your studio or some other space, you might try just moving to some music and matching its mood or tempo or emotion. It might be easier to start with music that you love or makes you want to move. If you feel you’re still getting stuck on ballet movements, though, you may need to break it down a little further. Limit yourself to moving only one body part at a time: one arm, your feet/ankles, your back, your head. You can eventually work up to the whole body but try to fully explore what that ONE body part can do before moving on to the next. Keep asking yourself “what else?”… “What else can my back do? How many ways can I move it? Where can it lead the rest of my body?” Think in opposites — can it move sharply/smoothly, fast/slow, high/low, stiffly/wildly, strongly/softly? If you have trouble coming up with these as you are dancing, write down a list of opposites like these or other descriptive action words like float, stab, twist, etc. for reference.

      It may seem like a strange exercise but creating parameters actually helps you think and move outside the box! Improvisation is really like learning any technique – it’s best practiced with guidance and certain exercises designed to improve your skill. But with limited time before your audition, I think at least practicing on your own a bit will be a big help. Best of luck to you!!