Improv Improves Creativity

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Below is an excerpt from a fabulous article on the decline of creativity. In this excerpt, the benefit of improvisation is discussed:

“A fine example of this emerged in January of this year, with release of a study by University of Western Ontario neuroscientist Daniel Ansari and Harvard’s Aaron Berkowitz, who studies music cognition. They put Dartmouth music majors and nonmusicians in an fMRI scanner, giving participants a one-handed fiber-optic keyboard to play melodies on. Sometimes melodies were rehearsed; other times they were creatively improvised. During improvisation, the highly trained music majors used their brains in a way the nonmusicians could not: they deactivated their right-temporoparietal junction. Normally, the r-TPJ reads incoming stimuli, sorting the stream for relevance. By turning that off, the musicians blocked out all distraction. They hit an extra gear of concentration, allowing them to work with the notes and create music spontaneously.

Charles Limb of Johns Hopkins has found a similar pattern with jazz musicians, and Austrian researchers observed it with professional dancers visualizing an improvised dance. Ansari and Berkowitz now believe the same is true for orators, comedians, and athletes improvising in games.”

To read more, go to

watch Improv for Your Soul

Monday, May 17th, 2010

If you’ve never had to experience improvisation in a class or audition on the spot, you may not understand the racing of the heart, the sweaty palms and the fluster of movements that your body creates. It is an out of body experience for me and when my improv turn is over, I don’t remember a single thing I did!

But! Improvisation is soooo important for dance! I mean, without improvisation, dance wouldn’t exist! Dance is the creation of movement in new, unique and abstract ways, so dancers must embrace the world of improvisation!

Over the years of embarrassing moments such as improv circles for tap or improving ballet for a Native American ballet audition, I have found different ways to think about improvisation to ease my nerves and allow my body to take over.

The first thing I always do is think of my childhood and let that childlike imagination control my thoughts. Children are such inspirations because they have no inhibitions thrown on them from the judgmental world we do live in. If you just sit in a park and watch children move, you will see the most unique and interesting shapes! Talk about improvisation-movement with child-like lack of inhibition is key! Getting into this non-inhibited mindset can free the tension that may hinder your natural bodily movements.

Another way to lose inhibitions is to turn out the lights! Get a group of dancer friends together, put on your favorite music, turn out the lights and just let the music take control of your body. You can also ask your teacher to do this for you and your peers. Every dance instructor I’ve come across would be elated that a dancer ask for an improv exercise! If lights off isn’t your favorite improvisation style, ask your teacher to prepare an improvisation game for your next class!

If group improv is still nerve-wracking, always remember you can improv by yourself! Lights on or off, you will be sure that no one else is watching. Don’t get down on yourself if you feel you’ve created an awkward movement or even if you trip, fall or stub a toe! Every great artist has their mess-ups to grow as artists and flaws that make them great.

To appreciate your improv creations, take a video camera to your improv space and record yourself. Surely, there will be things you might discard, but you will get to bask in the glory of the amazing movements you create and how expansive your creativity actually is when you lose inhibition. You will also have these movements recorded for use in choreography as I know I often forget what I’ve just done after improving.

Finally, a great way to find inspiration is from the world around you. Start carrying around a journal and take note of things that inspire you whether it be nature, architecture, human movement, even phrases or dialects. Then when improving, try to pick a few of these inspirations that correlate to one another and create a piece linking them. Movement may be literal, abstract or a combination. The improv choreography you will come up with, however, will be personal as it is drawn from your own inspirations.