Like it or not, improvisation is a massive part of Flamenco. And some dancers would have you believe that their every step is improvised - a sort of secret Flamenco technique that only the best can achieve. Yes, dancers may use improvisation as a performance technique sometimes - it may help them break out of a choreographic rut or refresh a well-used routine. But first of all we need to be clear about what Flamenco improvisation actually is.
One of the main misconceptions about improvisation is that you have to literally make up totally new steps as you go along. Steps that you've never danced or even thought of before. This idea may be one of the things that scares the less-experienced dancers away from improvising more than anything else, and it almost NEVER happens. When we talk about improvisation, we mean to use the steps that you know and love and combine them to the music in new ways, perhaps adjusting the arms or the accent, but working from the base of our knowledge, not making things up along the way.
Many dancers (myself included) avoid improvisation for years. And this is all well and good if you dance to CDs, or in a group with a strict choreography. But when we dance Flamenco in a Tablao setting, we are accompanied by live musicians and singers. And even with the most rehearsed routines, sometimes things change unexpectedly. A singer may lengthen a phrase, a guitarist may shorten a falsetta, there may be a miscommunication between the dancer and the singer and he/she doesn't come in when the dancer expects. So the dancer improvises. And when we dance something like bulería por fiesta, we are accompanying the singer and following them, so we need to be able to adjust the dance to fit the music ‑ in other words, to improvise.
Improvisation doesn't just suddenly happen - you have to work at it. And as you progress in your dance experience it's something that you will want to look at in more depth. The best way to practice improvisation is to dance at home or in the studio with music, but without any choreography in mind ‑ try to avoid the choreographies you have learned. Put together an arsenal of your favorite steps, sequences, llamadas and remates in your mind, and then work on mixing them up. Try to never dance the same thing more than once. Alternatively you could wait until you're out on stage and things don't go to plan - it's a great way of learning, but only if you're good under pressure!
The true key to improvisation in Flamenco is to really understand the structure of each dance. Each palo has a simple structure that requires different sequences of marking steps, footwork and accents. If you know your way around the structure you can mix up the steps within these sequences, secure in the knowledge of what will come next. Try to analyze your choreographies - what happens when, and why? And remember, you can use our Palos page to find out the structure of your favorite dance.
So get improvising! It's a great tool for learning more about how Flamenco works, and will come in very handy when you're in a great bar in Seville and you suddenly have the urge to dance...