Movement as Healing: Why I Love Improv

I’m currently grieving the loss of a person and an animal that were both very important to me, so my life’s been in a bit of emotional turmoil in the past week.  As corny as it may sound, the best way for me to process that is with dance.  There is some science that talks about the benefits of dance on the brain in various ways, but I don’t want to talk about that here.  What I do want to talk about is the less science-y bit where I just really like dance and it’s had a really positive impact on my life.

Improv, specifically, is important for a lot of things (there’s an annoyingly small amount of information on this on the Internet, but here’s a thing that talks about contact improv specifically), notably movement generation, kinesthetic understanding, and empowerment through movement.  There’s a lot to be said for the value that improv puts on the movement that your body naturally produces, especially in a dance world that has so often, both historically and presently, put so much value on the need to make movement look a specific way for it to be considered “good” (I will write about this more in another post; I have pretty strong feelings about it).  Improv values all the cool things bodies can do without needing to be made to fit a specific image, which is empowering in and of itself.  As a corollary to this, improv has taught me a lot about my body and myself.

My personal improv practice has become very much like stream of consciousness dancing.  Sometimes I give it a direct purpose (i.e. if I’m trying to choreograph an actual thing, I’ll often have specific movement motivations in mind) and sometimes I just let whatever I’m thinking about or feeling come into my movement.  And when I have a week like this one, it’s the most cathartic thing in the world (and notably, much more effective for me personally than stream of consciousness speaking or writing).  I’ve found a lot of what I’ve been calling traces of self through my improv.  As in, I read myself better through my movement than through my words.  My movement feels a lot more authentic than my words in many ways, and (at risk of sounding corny again) this has made it a super useful tool for learning about myself as a person and a mover.  I’ve come to understand a lot about who I am and what makes me tick this way.

Importantly, this week and in other times of grief, dance and especially improv has been a way to process emotions and to heal.  At least recently, whenever I’ve felt any serious amount of grief it’s felt like the only thing worth doing.  Improv (and movement in general, I suppose) is a really great source of healing in the sense that it’s a reminder that my body can produce powerful and worthwhile movement.  So even when some things make zero sense, this has been a great way for me to ground myself and to remind myself that this is something I can do that is important for me.

I’m not sure that I actually said anything that I intended to say in there.  The point is, this has been a difficult week.  But it’s also reminded me why dance is such an important presence in my life (I mean, it’s that for a lot of reasons…this is just one of them) and why it’s important to keep supporting and teaching dance.  It’s an empowering and healing force, and there’s so much value in keeping that alive and passing it on.

To end, one of my classes gave us an assignment that allows me to use a super cool 360 camera.  So I took a video of me improv-ing around the camera, and then put it on the internet in not-360 view because it becomes a sort of dome/tunnel thing and it looks like I’m dancing around the edges of it, which is interesting and poignant, metaphorically.  Grief can make your world feel upside down, and I literally look like I’m dancing upside down at times here.  Here’s the video: (apologies about the sound quality…while the 360 camera can do a lot of cool things, good sound quality seems to not be one of them) (also note my Rosie the Riveter socks…repping the feminists).

This is decidedly very rambly, but that’s maybe well-suited to talking about improv, as my improv takes on a kind of ramble in the form of dance.

2 thoughts on “Movement as Healing: Why I Love Improv

  1. Very cool, Anna! I am sorry for your losses, and hope that you are feeling better soon! Take care! –Charle Holland


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