Tips for Modern & Contemporary Teachers | Classroom Improv

Photo by Jonathan Sherry

by Amber Perkins

I find that encouraging students to develop improvisational skills gives them not only a strong sense of confidence, but a chance to speak with their own voices and explore their own styles. You can incorporate improv into every single class you teach.

Let’s say you teach a combo in class. At the end of what you choreographed, allow dancers to complete the combo however they wish. You can give them elements to use, for example, “Use some form of jump” or “Go to the ground at least once.” My favorite strategy is to assign an element they have been struggling with or that we’ve been working on in class.

You can also hold a modern/partnering improv class once a month or so during one of your students’ regularly scheduled classes.

Split the class into groups of two or three dancers. (Any more can cause a power struggle.) Assign an “initiator” in each group. That person, and that person only, decides where and how the group moves. Give the groups a series of tasks: mirroring, following exactly, or moving only through contact improv. Rotate roles in the groups so everyone has a chance to be the initiator.

Sometimes your dancers will create a movement phrase you actually might want to use in a piece! This is really a fun, educational way for students to work on their technique while doing their own movement.


A native of Norwich, New York, Amber Perkins owns Perkins School of the Arts and directs Phoenix Project Dance. Her choreography has earned numerous awards. She has a BFA in dance and BS in economics.