I remember my mother teaching class in the 1970s, using a method she developed years prior. Her students moved in a counterclockwise circle around the room, and she encouraged them to improvise with the movements and finger cymbal patterns. The very nature of keeping students working in a circle and not always facing the mirror or a singular wall further encouraged this improvisational element. Jamila wanted her students to learn the movements correctly, and then start to own or “rock” the move by adding something extra of their own.

In our recent Jamila format workshops, we worked with the structure. First you learn the required technique of the move, and you work to ingrain the technique and movements in your muscle memory. But, you also learn to improvise or groove the move. But it’s very important that in grooving, you maintain your basic technique. When you adapt or change a movement, always remember the base; when you evolve or morph or change, remember the root. Grooving and “feelin’ it” are not excuses to dismiss technique. If you lose the technique when you start to improvise, that means your technique isn’t sufficiently developed yet.

Groove it but don’t lose it. Take moves that you drill and make them your own with stylization and feeling. But, maintain good technique: when you groove the move, don’t lose the move.


Groove the Move is part of our Today’s Word: Sometimes We Have Something to Say series in which we discuss in brief the common themes and questions facing dancers.