The Skeleton


On Friday I mentioned “skeletonizing” my performance materials, so I thought I would break down what I meant and how I find it useful in my creative process.

One thing you should know about me is that a large majority of the time when I perform I am improving. When I was a younger dancer I thought that to create a piece and have it be really good it must be choreographed to the millisecond and muscle memory must be intact for it all or it would be sloppy. That was the ex- ballerina in me talking. As I performed more and learned more and even through my own practices, I found myself getting bored with this. I would be in the moment and moving to the music and feeling the music- both in rehearsal and performance and while I knew my choreography at that moment I would find that this move made more sense than the move I had planned would. Then it would spiral off and I’d be lost in a improv whirlwind, once again. I stressed about this for a long time. Now, I can choreograph. I choreographed combos and choreographies for my classes all the time. Pretty ones! I’ve even choreographed solos for other dancers! So why was it so hard for me to do so for myself?

Then one day I realised something. I could choregraph so easily for my classes or fellow dancers because that’s what they needed and wanted. It worked for them. It didn’t have to work for me. So I began anew. But I felt sloppy only doing improv. And then I realised something else. My previous “improvs” had felt good because they had direction. Then I stopped thinking about it for awhile.

Awhile later I attended a workshop with Sa’Diyya and one of the things she talked about was finding the skeleton of your music. Visually (she used her mirror and a dry erase marker) separate your counts, mark where your accents are. Well, that made sense, of course, I had done that when choreographing. Then she talked about how she did that even and especially when working on improv pieces. That way you have direction, you know what’s happening when and after that you can go anyway you want.

That was it!! I took it home and started trying it immediately, just for fun. It absolutely worked. By creating my skeleton, like I had in the past, but leaving it unadorned with moves I had the freedom to do different moves each time with the same feeling. I adorned my skeleton instead with colors, shapes, visual stimuli (I think of sunsets and trees a lot. No clue why. I’m weird.). I found by doing this I not only felt I had direction with my improv pieces, but I was learning my music better and really connecting with it on a level I hadn’t found outside of choreography.

Now, I still love a good “get your butt out there, I’ve never even heard this song, let’s just dance” experience. That’s probably one reason I enjoy drum circles and the ATS format so much. It’s hard to do improv with a group unless you’re doing ATS or ITS. But personally in my solo pieces, this has been one of the most invaluable tools I have found.

I hope if you haven’t tried this and you give it a shot and it helps you, you will let me know! Also if you have any methods you use to improve your improv leave me a comment, I would love to hear them! I am always looking for new ideas and new methods to try for growth!

Smiles and shimmies! E :)What does your skeleton look like?

Image from


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