Monday, 16 May 2011


I started teaching a weekly dance class last Saturday. My class focuses mainly on improvisation because I love movers who are individuals. This past Saturday was my birthday, so I instructed the dancers in my class to warm themselves up by telling me a story about their most memorable birthday while improvising movement based on their story.

I had a new girl in class who decided not to participate in this activity. She stood on the side and watched as we talked about our celebrations or our disappointments or our presents. Afterward I asked which story she would have told and she said she doesn't celebrate birthdays because she doesn't want to organize all of her friends schedules...swing and a miss. It is my genuine belief that if someone cares about you, they'll prove it to you on your birthday. Even if they stop by for 30 seconds to give you a hug, isn't that enough? It is for me.

Anyway, we continued into another structured improvisation exercise across the floor and as two dancers began to move, this visiting girl crossed to the other side of the room, put on her coat, and scurried toward the door looking as if she was about to burst into tears.

I mean, don't get me wrong - I know what it's like to realize you're taking a class that you hate. I've left classes before...pretended I was going for water and just never came back. Or pretending I was hurt so I could sit out and watch. I've given a girl permission to leave my class because it was painfully obvious she was not enjoying herself and she was dragging the energy in the room down. She wasn't doing me any favours by I told her to go. This girl on Saturday didn't even give me that chance, after 5 minutes she'd decided it wasn't for her. Which, is fine, of course, I know that not every body likes to do the same things that my body likes to do - but isn't the thing about improvising that you can do whatever you want? If you're not comfortable moving a certain way, you don't have to move that way if you don't want to (unless of course the task is to do something you're uncomfortable with.)

It just got me thinking about how as much as I'd like to say I'm a control freak, I'm really quite the opposite. It's so important to be able to go with the flow...and this girl just couldn't. I felt like a weight was lifted when she left the room - how do you celebrate a birthday with someone who doesn't even celebrate their own??

I just read Tina Fey's book Bossypants, and she talks about the value of being a good improviser in a comedic sense, but I think it works for dancing (and life) too:

Rule 1. The first rule of improvisation is to AGREE. Saying “no” grinds invention, innovation (and improv) to a screeching halt. Obviously in real life you’re not always going to agree with what everyone says. But saying YES reminds you to respect what your partner has created and to start from an open-minded place. Start with a YES and see where that takes you.

Rule 2. The second rule of improv is to not only say YES, say YES, AND. In improv, you agree and then add something of your own. If your partner starts with, “I can’t believe it’s so hot in here,” and you just say “Yeah…” the skit has stalled. But if you respond with, “What did you expect? We’re in hell!” things keep moving forward.

I've always loved Tina Fey and known her genius, but I think now I really understand why I appreciate her brand of comedy so much. She goes with the flow. She also loves food and the gays, so I'm almost certain we were separated at birth. I just refuse to wear my glasses. Even while driving.


1 comment:

  1. Hey Brett,

    Did you stop to think that perhaps the idea of speaking and improvising was a terrifying concept to this girl? Added to the fact that she had to speak about something she doesn't participate in which may be for reasons that are absolutely none of your business. She is an individual, which I believe you are a huge advocate for. As teachers, we have to show respect for our students by being as open as we would like them to be. This means, realizing that sometimes they're not ready to be pushed in a certain way but if we don't single them out and ridicule them in front of the class, perhaps they'll be ready sooner rather than later. It is definitely a difficult task to teach within our peer group (your students are your age maybe even older?) but we have been hired to be instructors which means we don't get to bully students, we support them, encourage them, and hopefully give them something to contemplate.