More structure / less freedom or vice versa?

On Tuesday we danced a traditionally structured modern technique class but on Thursday we improvised and worked on our rhythm studies of 3s and 4s – changing meter and tempo. I also improvised with generating a new phrase on the spot (Slap the Giant). Which of these two versions of the warm-up and material building do you resonate with the most? Please elaborate…


17 thoughts on “More structure / less freedom or vice versa?

  1. I usually prefer a more structured class, but on Thursday I really enjoyed the format. I am not a big fan of improvising, but I can enjoy it when there is some structure to it (plus it looks cool when we are all doing something similar but different at the same time). I liked the exercise we did where we ran around, swung, and then posed. I let my body go into whatever pose felt natural instead of forcing it. It was interesting to see what my body did without me controlling it. I also really enjoyed learning the improvised combination. In general I love learning choreography so I was excited when we started to quickly learn the combination, and even though I felt comfortable learning the choreography, I was still challenged with some of the moves and the timing (I tended to speed up towards the end, instead of staying at a slower rate).

  2. I like both styles of the class. I particularly liked our Thursday class because it allowed me to feel more where my body wanted to go. I like being able to let loose and see what happens. I don’y ALWAYS like having this freedom though, which is why I say I like both techniques. I feel like both are kind of essential for the creative process and execution of dance. I like experimenting with my energy levels and seeing where I will let myself go when my body is freed of any finite expectations. I also like having a structure though because it can help by creating a template of where I can put myself and where I can get to. I want to experiment with my body but also come back to a structure in order to evaluate my progress and understanding of the movements we are working through.

  3. Being a dancer for years, I’ve just started exploring modern dance recently. I haven’t had much experience with it so I always appreciate a nice structured class. I love technique, I think it is gorgeous and I think the most consistent and versatile dancers all know some form of technique, but I also am beginning to feel like technique is overrated. I remember Gerald saying to me in class (when I asked about the leg swings) that the most advanced dancer is not thinking about technique, but how the movement feels through their body. He explained that intermediate yoga students will show off (“look at what I can do!”) but more advanced yoga students are concentrated on themselves. It really made me start to believe that since I know the technique, maybe I should start exploring myself further.

    Improvisation is easily my favorite thing to do though. It is an utterly freeing experience when you stop caring about what others are thinking about your movement. Everyone’s vocabulary is different, and improvisation (I feel) brings out the true and honest dancer in oneself. I LOVED the 3s and 4s because they were so challenging. Everyone looked like five-year old children dancing around in circles, but that made it so easy not to pass judgment on each other. It was so impressive watching Gerald create a sequence so easily out of nothing. It’s something that I wish I were better at. Every time I try to create out of improvisation it falls apart because I can’t remember what I’ve just done. Watching his process was just inspiring.

  4. I could not make it last week, but I think this sounds like the week before last which I may have just posted under “connectivity”. The improvisation with the changing between 3 and 4 tempo and meter really felt like an awkward jigsaw puzzle to me. I also, like Sam, have just started exploring modern dance last quarter with Gerald and I am so “use to” structure and technique it is hard to shake that off and have freedom in my dance. I don’t like it because I don’t know it. I have been conformed over the years to follow structure that leaving it behind forces me to choreograph not only for the first time, but on the spot making things feel off for me. I love that it is challenging and makes me think about dance in a new way. Breaking habits are so hard in every day life so to break them in dance is just as hard. I wish that I had learned modern side by side with ballet and jazz, but that just isn’t the case. It makes me think of the “pedestrian movements” that Gerald is always talking about when creating a structured modern dance for us and thinking of these everyday movements as part of everyday life and then the breaking of them just blows my mind. What if for years we walked starting with our right leg, got on our bike with our right side and always wrote with our right hand and grabbed things off the shelf with our right hand….and then all of a sudden…we are asked to start consciously start doing things from the left side forward instead? This readapting that is interrupted after years of creating habit as the pedestrian in life can be the biggest challenge and that is exactly how I feel moving freely, improvising dance and movement and kicking first position and rigid movement from my practice in modern dance. I just found out I have femur acetabular impingement syndrome (FAI) which is not allowing me full hip rotation or stretching on my right side. The ball of my femur bone has an extra bone knob that hits the socket when rotating and stretching my right leg. I now have to get on a bike from the left side and I almost fall every time, or when I jump on the counter to grab something off the top shelf, I now consiously am attempting to reach with my left arm and leg lifted on the counter. When I thought about having this new ambidextrias way of living thrown at me after habits were already formed, I started thinking about Gerald’s “pedestrian” movements in our dance and it really was a big epiphany for me to understand finally that I am looking at dance through a new lens.

  5. In general the idea of having such freedom in a dance class, frightens me! Having such freedom means that you will be think “outside the box,” something i’m still in the process of learning. I feel more comfortable taking a class where you’re given the task because that is that is the format i’m more comfortable with. The dance department here at UCSC gives you a tremendous amour of freedom to move through your dance career. Its intimidating but nonetheless, it has become a personal objective to accomplish. I like the idea of having such freedom in dance but the “now what do i do with it,” is the challenge. The piece “Slap the giant” has become one of my favorites pieces thus far. There is structure in the piece yet, there is a huge amount of freedom to move in and make the piece your own.

  6. So, I’m a little stuck in the middle. I really like the freedom I had in warm-ups on Thursday, but I do like focusing on technique and using that technique in combos. The improv warm-up helped me to relax, almost more than laying on the floor and breathing did. I felt more loose and less anxious about the rest of the class. I enjoyed Thursdays improvisation! I felt like I could really start to have more fun with the movement. The activity where we ran around, swung our arms, and then made still poses was a lot of fun. It was probably one of the times I felt most comfortable. I also felt like I was more in tune with my impulses. Everyone was going kind of crazy and having fun. I like learning technique, and I feel like structured classes are good, but it’s nice to let go for a bit. As a much less experienced dancer, I will take all the technique I can get, but I love flying around the room and going a little crazy

  7. Personally I really enjoyed the structure of Thursday’s class! It felt more relaxed then our usual routine, and while I think there is a great deal of good in the usual structure as well, it was a nice change of pace for me right when I really needed. The fact that the dance was improvised (and thus, we saw you goof up every now and then while showing us) made me feel more comfortable with that fact that I was sometimes missing steps or messing up. Since it was so informal, I felt more relaxed and less bad when I wouldn’t understand something or some such. I also really enjoyed the running, jumping, posing activity that we did. I feel like that loosened me up and allowed me to have more fun with my movements. I was a runner for 2 years, so I wonder if that extra bit of comfort came from the fact that, for at least a 1/3rd of it, I was comfortable in the way my body was moving because it was something I had a real practice and experience in, so I didn’t need to worry about “what I looked like” or if I was “messing up” because I already have a good grasp on my running form and technique. I think that allowed me more room to breathe because I was spending less time worrying about “doing something pretty/right”, unlike when we are learning a new dance. It also helped when Gerald told as that, as far as posing goes, it was supposed to be as camp and cliche as possible, so I didn’t even have to worry about posing pretty either! So overall, I greatly enjoyed the change of pace on Thursday.

  8. Slap the Giant, was a difficult dance because it didn’t have the themes of circular balance, counter balances on each side. Learning the dance was difficult the first day, but the second day was so much fun. It was playful and I felt a creative space to release freedom of my personal movements. I loved how Gerald brought in naming the moves, like “coin purse,” “fendi bag, “slap the giant,” and “coffee table.” I also loved watching and integrating the drum beat awareness and freedom of going off beat “purposefully.”
    since this class I have been more aware of my jaw clenching and relaxing my face. Before I join class I often feel grumpy or tired and leave feeling wonderful. The playful energy brings me life. Also I have noticed gentler transitions from laying in x, to fetal position, to seated. noticed this in my yoga practice and getting out of bed in the morning, I feel lighter and less clunky. head to tail relationship needs work and continuous flow/movement. After watching the video, I have new perspective on my progress in class and I actually look like I know what I am doing.
    love, love, love Gerald’s style of polar opposite/counterbalance flow. it’s circular and works every inch of the body and brain.

  9. Technique is good for me, especially the way that Gerald teaches. There is a logic and flow to the sequence of warming up and it helps me understand how to make the movement connections. I also appreciate the choreography and codas in the warm-up, it’s like the dance before the dance. But it can be less challenging if we do the same warm-up at every class, I like the blend of yoga style and the modern technique. It’s more holistic and the breathing meditation helps me stay centered and in the present. I missed Thursday’s class but we did the 3s and 4s previously and I liked playing with rhythms and feeling challenged by the coordination. The Giant combination was difficult because I didn’t get the beginning and missed the improvisation. Personally, I like to be directed when I go to a dance class, I’ve usually been making design decisions before I get there and my mind needs a break.

  10. I felt like I enjoyed both ways of warming-up. Each had different impacts to how I felt afterwards, but both in a positive way. For Tuesdays class I was able to feel more connected to my body. The warm-up makes me feel more aware of my connection. The thing that still messes me up is the awareness to breath. I think I overthink it a little to much and lose the breath connection. Thursdays class just made me feel free. Being able to do improvised movement gets my blood pumping and the oxygen flowing for me. I found that when doing the improvised warm-up I was more connected with my breath because we were doing so much that I tended to think more about breathing. I will say that doing improvised movement makes me feel more comfortable & confident because it is not a structure that we must follow through with. I am not sure I could say which I preferred, but I would express that it would be nice to have more improvised warm-ups now and then.

  11. Changing the tempo is really useful for me, because if it stays the same, I get trapped in what you refer to as ‘patterns’, and I become complacent. And then it goes downhill from there. Changing tempo forces me to pay attention, and change everything up. It keeps both my body and my mind active, which is good! Changing structures and improvising is also a good game changer: it avoids patterns. That said, there are ways in which the routine can still be free and not confining, as long as there is room for individual expression.

  12. I have done the improvisation exercise with the swinging and posing before and each time it gets easier. Because I have had dance technique forced on me since I was little, it is often really hard for me to to let go of that and stop thinking about looking good but just letting my body freely explore movement. I really did enjoy the combination taught later in the class. I especially liked seeing the choreographic process that went into creating that piece. It wasn’t exceptionally hard but I found ways to push myself. I like having set choreography but I would love to explore my improvisational ability a bit more.

  13. Personally, I feel like I need a little more structure because I have a hard time creating movements on my own without feeling awkward. I’ve grown up in a family of musicians and natural artists so I like to think I’ve got a good sense of rhythm. However, doing the 3s & 4s movements threw me off completely… I felt like trying to improvise while keeping tempo was near impossible because my mind doesn’t always work that fast. Additionally, the music often changes and I tend to find many different kinds of patterns within music. This can cause me to find a pattern I like even if it isn’t the one we’re trying to focus on. I think that the Slap the Giant movement was quite fun but once again I had a harder time with it in the beginning. I have to say that I really appreciate the challenge because that’s how I know I’m learning and expanding my comfort zone. Everyone has a different natural rhythm and we all have something different to bring to the table. I thought that watching each person was almost like a bag of jelly beans, each is good but they’re all so different.

  14. I really enjoyed both structures of class. Usually, I am used to (and like) having a structured class, but the improvised class really challenged me and helped me as a dancer. At first, the running/jumping/posing exercise felt weird because I felt myself overthinking every movement. However, as we did it more, I became less concerned with the “look” of my movement and focused more on what I wanted each movement to convey – I think that this moment was really liberating and enlightening, as it allowed me to focus on myself rather than concentrating on technique or comparing myself to others. I loved learning the “Slap the Giant” combination so much. First, it was so cool to see how talented Gerald is, and how he improvised something fun so effortlessly. Furthermore, I love learning and dancing new choreography, so it was fun exploring new pieces with the class and Gerald at the same time. The piece wasn’t overwhelmingly difficult but I found it appropriately challenging. I found myself recalling techniques that we had learned in earlier classes and trying to incorporate them into the movements of the choreography.

  15. It is easier for me to follow a structured technique class rather than improvisation. With improvisation there is no single way to do something so I overthink and try to do whatever looks best. However, I think in both structures there is overthinking. In a structured class you can get caught up and start comparing yourselves to others because their form may look better than yours. In an improvisation class you can compare yourself to others by thinking someone else had a better idea than you and your ideas just make you look silly. When doing the rhythm studies of 3s and 4s I was touching parts of my body that I was not supposed to because I was just trying to keep with the beat and not look out of place by being off beat. Once you get out of your head though, you are able to let loose and just have some fun. This happened for me when we were jumping/running around and striking poses. Although I’m not completely comfortable with improvisation, I really enjoyed Slap the Giant because we got to pick our own turn for the ending.

  16. I like the more structured warm ups, I suppose because I’ve been socialized to like structure and there is something comforting about knowing there is a specific way of accomplishing what the warm up is intended to do. However, I also personally enjoy the improvisational warm up and material building, because it allows a freedom and there is less concern about executing moves correctly. As long as you were moving with the intention that the less rigid guidelines imposed you were free to move in whichever way you felt was right for yourself. There is a bit of “oh, I wonder if I look odd while I do this” within improvisation, because the movements because the ideas and movement come from yourself, and based on your own personal level of self-confidence that can be intimidating. But once you let go of those insecurities I find the improvisation to be more freeing than intimidating. I find a similar feeling of empowered freedom when we do the run, swing, and pose, exercise. It leaves me feeling warmed up, light, and ready to move and it is so enjoyable to just let your body move, swinging about, doing as it feels. I also absolutely enjoyed the Slap the Giant phrase, it was quite enjoyable to learn and dance!

  17. I am used to more structured classes, but I liked the 3’s and 4’s class. I think a big part to developing as a dancer is improvisation. It’s one of those things that I like to incorporate during the classes with the little kids that I teach, yet I don’t do enough myself. When there is that freedom of movement, that is when I feel like I discover the most about myself as a dancer. Improvising lets your body do what it wants and I feel like the different poses and movements that I create without thought (but still intention) is so useful for my choreography as well as learned combinations.

    I found I couldn’t stop laughing during that exercise and it reminded me of when I was little choreographing dances with my friends. Sometimes our dances would be so cheesy and we would wonder if it was too cheesy, but we would still try it and our stomachs would hurt from laughing so much. It’s that vulnerability of doing what you’re not sure will look good or feel good and the rush of taking the risk of actually doing it- it’s so much fun to be true to that inner person inside of you.

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