Using Improvisation in Primary dance education

Dance improvisation is creating movement without preparation. This spontaneous movement is an important part of using dance in the Primary classroom.

Creative Dance

The use of improvisation in dance is common practice. It is used in almost all genres of dance including Jazz, Hip Hop, Tap, Argentinian Tango and Contemporary Dance.

Improvisation is even seen in Ballet, with artist like Marie Taglioni, Anna Pavlova and Fanny Elssler using it to embellish and enhance their performances. Many social dances are based on improvisation, as in The Lindy Hop.

Improvisation is described as the art or act of creating and executing something without previous preparation.      Michele Biasutti

What does improvisation look like in the dance class?

In Primary dance education, improvisation is about playing with movement. Children have a chance to respond in the moment and create spontaneous movement.

dance activity international dance dayImprovisation is used to explore movement and is a way to generate choreography. After the movements have been investigated, they are considered by the students for further development.

Improvisations could be structured around a task, movement problem, theme, or idea. This could be as simple as where you travel in the space. For example, move from the corner of the room to the front of the room, starting at a high level and finishing at a low level.

The improvisation could also come from the body. For example, with your eyes closed, exploring how the body connects with an object, or by limiting how many body parts you use.

Movement games are improvisations of a sort, as they require the students to think quickly and respond to a set of rules or parameters. Using everyday gestures as a starting point for an improvisation can be interesting.

The stimulus for the improvisation could come from words, images, movement problems or by reacting to sensations. These could include sound, smell, or even taste.

What are the benefits of using dance improvisation?

The exploring of movement enables children to create new ideas for choreography. But more importantly, it begins the process of criticism. As they evaluate their own and other’s movements, students decide what could be valuable to investigate further.

dance improvisationThis critiquing process provides the link between improvisation and choreography. In upper Primary, this can be an important transition to more sophisticated evaluation of their own work.

Improvisation is a very practical way of learning, as children find surprising things about the way we move. It provides knowledge about how the body works, raising children’s motor awareness.

This self-awareness also facilitates further body control as they play with different qualities of movement. It makes students more physically alert as they work to explore the limits of their movements.

During improvisation students also need to ‘listen’ to other’s bodies. Moving in response to a partner, is one of the essential skills of improvising with a partner. This could be as simple as a leading and following, mirroring activity that does not require touch. Or something more complex involving leaning, lifting or falling.

Improvisation is a complex process that connects body, mind, and emotions through a child’s communication abilities. Key to this communication are the cognitive processes.

Because improvisation is not a rigid process, children develop emotions, feelings, personality, and an authentic body language. They have the freedom to adapt what they already know, sometimes taking risks, as they transform movements. (Biasutti, 20013)

How do teachers structure dance improvisation?

The improvisation needs to be set up. Set objectives about exploring the possibilities of the body. Make sure the focus of the learning is clear to the students.

When introducing the improvisation, clearly define the parameters of the task. This could involve setting rules as you would for a movement game. You can increase the freedom as you progress through the improvisation.

The teacher needs to entice movement. Use a range of techniques and prompts throughout. It is important to warm up by really feeling the body, at the beginning of the activity. Many teachers prefer to do the improvisational activity at the ending phase of the class, to ensure that the students are comfortable in their bodies. Arriving gradually at the improvisation can orientate the students and give them more confidence to explore.

When guiding the improvisation, use one instruction at a time and give the students adequate time to explore. The teacher is very much the facilitator. The atmosphere is best when it is relaxed and friendly.

Including a peer observation or a self-evaluation at the end of the improvisation, gives students the chance to verbalize their learning.  This reflective stage ensures that you are linking back to your original objectives.

In improvisations, the body becomes faster than a thought.

Final thoughts on improvisation

Despite the obvious benefits of improvisation,  some children will be reluctant to move spontaneously. They may be stuck in their own movement habits from years of formal dance training. However, some children lack the confidence to release their creativity through an improvisation.

Just telling them to ‘improvise’ is not enough. Giving clear directions and setting goals will support these reluctant improvisers. The teacher participating and moving may also give permission for the young dancers to take risks that they would normal be unwilling to take.

Improvisation in Primary dance class is an engaging way to create choreography. It empowers children through making creative choices. The act of improvisation has an emotional release that comes with self-expression.  Trying more improvisation will enrich students’ choreographic process and introduce an exciting range of  movement.

Use improvisation to unlock your students true movement potential.



Biasutti, Michele (2013): Improvisation in dance education: teacher views,Research in Dance Education, DOI:10.1080/14647893.2012.761193

Lavender, L. 2009.“Dialogical Practices in Teaching Choreography.”Dance Chronicle 32(3): 377–411.

Lavender, L., and J. Predock–Linnell. 2001.“From Improvisation to Choreography: The Critical Bridge.”Research in Dance Education 2 (2): 195–209.

Lord, M. 2001.“Fostering the Growth of Beginners’Improvisational Skills’: A Study of Dance Teaching Practices in the High School Setting.”Research in Dance Education 2(1): 19–40.