Improvisation Festival returns to its roots

Dancers sit in a circle discussing improvisation

Oct. 4, 2023 – DENTON – The Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, born at Texas Woman's University 15 years ago, returns this week to Denton for the first time in five years.

The TWU campus will host the TDIF Oct. 5-7. It's an annual event to teach and inspire artists in the improvisational dance community, and features classes, jams and performances.

"We have a national network of college dance festivals called the American College Dance Association Festival and Conference that focus on choreography and performance," said Sarah Gamblin, TWU dance professor, host of this year's festival and one of the founders of TDIF along with TWU dance division head Jordan Fuchs. "This is a dance improvisation festival, so we have classes all day and jams at night. We also have a performance. But the dancing is more about the researching ideas and experiencing new ways of moving than it is to engage in traditional choreographic practices.

"I think what's distinctive about an improv festival is the evening jam," Gamblin added. "People come and there's no leader and they practice whatever kind of dancing they want to do for three or four hours."

Due to limited space, the festival is not open to the public and only registered participants may attend.

"We are the largest dance improvisation festival in the country with over 200 students every year who converge from all over the region," Gamblin said. "We bring in teachers from all over the country, 25 teachers this year, and 10 performers who are known nationally are coming in. And it's all volunteer. This festival enables all kinds of people who are new to dance improvisation to participate, and enables faculty who have college students around the region to bring their students, and then they get to have a really intense, immersive experience in dance improvisation."

The foundation of TDIF is contact improvisation, which involves the exploration of one's body in relationship to others by using the fundamentals of sharing weight, touch and movement awareness.

"It's a defined community within modern dance," Gamblin said. "The model for the festival is based in contact improvisation dance, a form of improvisational dance that was invented in the early 1970s. Over the decades, it gradually developed into this real body of knowledge that lots of people with formal dance training but also just regular folks who have no dance training. It's like a social dance, but with a little art angle on it. We invite all kinds of improvisational dance. But the concept is based in this kind of history of contact improvisational dance. Contact improvisation thrives around the world oftentimes through these festivals."

Attendees at this year's festival come from across the nation and Mexico. This year's guest artist is Karen Nelson, who has been involved in the field for more than 40 years and is a teacher, touring performer and contributor to Dancing with Dharma and Contact Quarterly.

"She is one of the early pioneers of contact," Gamblin said. "We're really excited to have her. She's going to be teaching several classes. She's also going to be serving as a guest for our regular students and then doing the festival at the end of her stay here."

For more information, visit the TDIF website.

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Page last updated 10:26 AM, October 4, 2023