General Dance Discussion > How do you improvise a routine?

Discussion in 'General Dance Discussion' started by ticolora, Nov 4, 2016.

  1. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    TL;DR: As I dance (lead), how do I choose next figure to execute?

    So far my approach is - pick one at random, that fits (position, hand-hold) and works with available space (e.g. need to travel or change direction).

    I think help I'm looking for is with understanding of "dancing to the music" concept. Is it real? I don't see how one figure would be better aligned with (better expression symbol of) musical theme than another figure. And how do I develop this translation skill efficiently?

    I was lead to believe that executing a preconceived routine is bad, one reason being that it makes it less exciting for the partner, because she starts to dance the routine, and stops following, which makes it less enjoyable for me). Another reason is that a routine might not always fit spacial constraints of a particular situation.

    As usual, "do what feels right" and "do what looks good" although correct answers, lack specifics to be practically applicable at my level.
  2. danceronice

    danceronice Well-Known Member

    To "improvise" you have to actually study and understand the figures--where the motion starts and ends, where your weight and your partner's weight are at the end of a figure, and what other figures can then follow out of that. To do that, you have to start with very basic figures and dance technique and work to master how they work. A partner in a social dance is not looking for an "exciting" dance in the sense of it being totally unpredictable. No, I don't really want to be lead in a box-underarm-turn loop for 2 minutes, but I also don't want to be wildly guessing what I have to do next because the lead is just making up moves as they go along without understanding where figures begin and end and why some don't naturally follow others.
    cornutt, JudeMorrigan and Loki like this.
  3. Loki

    Loki Well-Known Member

    "Preconceived" routines are far from bad unless they're ridiculously repetitious. However, one also needs to have decent floor craft with the ability to modify / substitute steps and alignments as needed.

    Invest in some syllabi - most have lists of precedes and follows broken down by level. And learn a couple of "get out of trouble" steps if you dance ballroom.
  4. Dancing Irishman

    Dancing Irishman Well-Known Member

    It sounds like your concern is nominally about improvising a routine, but might actually have more to do with how to express musicality on the fly while social dancing. Here's how I personally would approach this problem when learning a new dance genre:

    The overwhelming majority of music you'll dance to will likely be organized in phrases of 4 or 8 4-count measures (with occasional bridges). Waltzes will tend to be phrased in 4 or 8 3-count measures. You'll need to get a feel for your specific genre whether the energy tends to increase or decrease within a measure and also over the course of a phrase, and train your ear to recognize when those bridges (deviation from phrases) are happening.

    Once you know how your genre tends to be phrased, you can start to think of amalgamations (groups of figures) you could do that fit nicely with the phrasing of the music - depending on your disposition this is either a really fun puzzle or a dreadful chore. If it's the latter, maybe you'll enjoy just experimenting while dancing more and you can build this understanding as you go. Eventually you'll build up instincts for when a phrase is ending and what figures feel "good" at the end of a phrase and which feel odd.

    A final note: As a dancer, don't be a slave to the dynamics of the music (at least when dancing socially). You can be just as "musical" by intentionally contrasting the music (really energetic when the music is soft, low energy when the music crescendos). It can also have a cool effect to intentionally swing right through the end of a phrase without a clear break in your idea - acknowledging every end of a phrase in every song you dance to might start to feel tedious (I'm weird and have a high tolerance for repetitive stuff, so I actually enjoy the process of trying to repeatedly improve how I'm hitting the phrases; YMMV).
  5. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    @Dancing Irishman, your answer covered the correct topic, but you missed a point, that must be obvious to you, but *is* the point I am trying to understand.

    For the sake of the discussion, let's say we are choreographing a routine and have absolute understanding of the musical piece, and a selection of bronze level figures to choose from (and perfect).
    With that in mind, would you please elaborate
    > fit nicely with the phrasing of the music
    That's exactly what I don't understand.
    What I have learnt from you so far, is that same as figures should be aligned with a rhythm of the song, routine as a whole should be aligned with musical phrases (8 bars units).

    Musical phrases have relative "energy" feel defined by instruments, volume, rhythm, lyrics. Are you saying that I should (could) use that level of energy to choose more "energetic" figures to go with more "energetic" musical phrases? Are some figures appear "more energetic" than others?

    A nice way to rephrase the questions - what are the characteristics of individual figures that are relevant and shall be coordinated with the music?
    To demonstrate, suppose we are making an artsy animated music video. We would vary colors, colors intensity, and saturation, as well as shapes and speed of movement of those shapes in response to music melody, energy, rhythm, tempo, etc.

    What other characteristics that figures exhibit (I also understand that it is not just the figure that determines the effect of a figure, same figure can be executed to convey different perception)?

    Are there figures that appear more fun than others, or more energetic, or more aggressive? What are the different emotions(?) that can be used categorize figures.

    For the sake of this exercise let's assume I am a sociopath not capable of recognizing these aspects of the art, and therefore have to rely on my analytical facilities to infer those.
  6. RiseNFall

    RiseNFall Well-Known Member

    What style are you dancing? The answer varies depending on what you are doing. Big difference in how your question would be answered for West Coast Swing and Waltz.
    j_alexandra likes this.
  7. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    I don't think that specific dance would change answer conceptually. Feel free to use a dance of your choosing. Although this concept might be more demonstrable in some dances than others.
  8. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    This is a huge subject and difficult to cover in a forum post. A lot does depend on feel. This is art, not science. If you spend the whole song on the social floor calculating the optimal sequence by a numerical formula, you'll miss the whole point, which is to connect with a partner and enjoy the dance. And she won't enjoy it, either. And frankly, if you're focused on the formula, how much mental energy are you putting into leading?

    But I'll try to help. Someone might disagree with my explanation, but this is how I roll.

    So a phrase is two measures. The 1 is usually heavier and more distinct than the 5 (4 in waltz). On top of that, there's usually a major phrase (more distinct/exciting/emotional/louder) and a minor phrase. If you do a few basics and a fancy thing, start the fancy thing on the 1 of the major phrase.
  9. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    "Start figure on a strong bar" is a good rule.
    One down 16 to go.
  10. atk

    atk Active Member

    From what I remember of my social dancing journey, it's gone roughly...+

    - lead basics around the room
    - lead basics and the two other patterns I knew. Random order, chosen mostly as, "let's try this one, now... Okay, how do I lead it?... When do I lead it?... (13 basics later) try to lead it..."
    - what patterns do I remember? Oh! That one! I let's do that one! How do I lead it again (10 basics later) try to lead it
    - (attend lesson before class, review a pattern I know) let's try that pattern from before class... How do I lead it, again? (5 basics later) Try to lead it
    - these patterns work with this partner... These patterns don't work with this partner* lemme randomly choose from the ones that work
    - let's go that way. This pattern will get us there
    - (in working on technique) let's see how applying this new technique affects lead and follow... How do I do that again? (13 basics later) try to lead a pattern that uses the technique and try to use technique
    - my partner feels like she is going that way... I want to stop/continue her motion. (lead whatever would do what it was)
    - the music feels X-ish... Let's try leading Y, since that's kinda X-ish...
    - this partner can follow anything... "Hey, is it OK if I try something weird? Yes? Cool! One sec..." Try doing something different and see what happens
    - back to, "I wonder what patterns i remember" mixed with, "I want to go that way" and "I want partner to do this" with barring number of basics in between, and "lemme try to do technique X... What patterns do I know so I can apply it everywhere?"
    - it feels like we should go that way... What the heck are we doing? Wait - what did I just lead? Wait - what - how - how do we get out of this one? "Sorry, that was a terrible lead." and keep dancing or restart.

    *No blame. Sometimes it's my bad lead, sometimes it's her rejection of the lead, sometimes we just can't seem to connect
    + Pun intended
  11. Joe

    Joe Well-Known Member

    Aren't "improvise" and "routine" essentially mutually exclusive?
  12. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    @Joe, you are correct. I meant "improvise a choreography".
  13. ticolora

    ticolora Member

    @atk, well put. It makes much sense. Now if you can elaborate on "the music feels X-ish... Let's try leading Y, since that's kinda X-ish...". How's is sweethearts "emotional-feel" signature different from an underarm turn? Let's try that everybody, please pick two of your favorite moves (from a single dance), and describe them in 1 or more words, as to how they "feel".
  14. atk

    atk Active Member

    It really depends upon how you lead it, and is probably "personal" for what it means to you and so how you express it. but...

    Sweetheart aka cuddle is close and cuddly

    Under arm turn is showing the lady off. It can be sharp and fast or slow and sexy, or intermediate and playful

    Syncopated Viennese crosses in tango are energetic

    Waltz box can be very soft and floaty, and is nice during floaty music

    Cross overs aka new Yorkers can be playful. So can repeated quick causes in fox trout
  15. atk

    atk Active Member

    Oh, one other, more "basic" feeling: the music "speeds up," so lead a pattern with more syncopations. Or the music slows down, so lead something that's more posing or hovers, etc. Examples: hover corte, hovering at the peak of a twinkle and "diving" quickly into and syncopating the last step and the following half-open-box.
  16. twnkltoz

    twnkltoz Well-Known Member

    @atk gives pretty accurate advice.

    Honestly, OP, keep it simple.
    danceronice likes this.
  17. tancos

    tancos Active Member

    Although it requires familiarity with the music, my goal is to end a figure at the end of the musical phrase (or the end of a verse in the song) as often as possible.
  18. atk

    atk Active Member

    Most music to which we dance ballroom has regular structure. I can't speak for Paso, but the others are either 4 or 3 count measures, and 8 or 6 counts make a... Uh... Not sure what the right name is of the top of my head. Anyhow, we typically learn patterns that take one or more full measures to complete. Usually, these predefined patterns are an even multiple of measures.

    Musical phrases are usually 16 beats or 4 measures. If you do 2 patterns that take 2 measures, or 1 pattern that takes 4 measures, you land your last step at the end of the phrase.

    Therefore, if you learn patterns from any of the major syllabuses, then you'll get what you are asking for, "for free".

    If you continue learning and practicing, you can learn to hear when a phrase is going to end and target your lead to end your pattern then. Others may be able to provide better details on that - I only know how to do it intuitively. Music appreciation classes may also help.
    twnkltoz likes this.
  19. Mr 4 styles

    Mr 4 styles Well-Known Member

    Having studied music theory has helped too
  20. tancos

    tancos Active Member

    A lot of the music we dance to (not ballroom) has 4 or 6 count phrases, often combined in the same song. We also have figures that use different numbers of counts, so you have to know (or a least sense) how many counts are left in the phrase and pick an appropriate figures or combination of figures.

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