You know those 17 pages of rules you get from competitions every year? Do you read them?
I generally scan through them in search of key words, like "tricks" or "lifts", that will help me determine which category to put a dance in. How many "tricks" can we have in a Jazz routine at this competition versus this competition? The thought of reading that many rules makes me wish that all competitions had the same rules... but then what fun would that be for me!!!
Aside from the rules, I think there is a general stereotype or protocol we have all come to expect when we attend dance competitions, especially when it comes to dance categories. Hip-hop routines are to fast-paced booty-poppin' songs, ballet music can't have words, and putting a walkover in a jazz solo makes it an 'open' dance! Now, this whole new 'contemporary' category has really thrown every one for a loop! Most competitions this year define contemporary as a modern based dance style that includes improvisation and lyrical 'like' qualities. Perfect... thanks for clearing that up for me! I guess that's what we get when we have dance parents running competitions and writing their own category descriptions.
Now, when I go to competitions I don't see a lot of improvisation routines. A select few competitions offer a type of improv category, which I always enter my students in, but not very many other people do. I have stated in the past my sincere appreciation and love of improvisation as a learning and teaching tool in my classes, so why not take it to the next level!
I have a small group this year of 4 students, ages 11 & 12, who are doing a structured improvisation group. I actually came up with the idea one night while listening to a song at the studio. I tied an elastic chain around their waists on the fly and made them improv through the music. From there, I set some serious structure around the musical highlights and gave them a set beginning and ending... the rest, is up to them! It kind of worries me to let students of this age improv their way through a group on stage, but what's the worst that could seriously happen?
I entered this group in the 'contemporary' category, since I figured I was at least following some rules that way. It includes improv, and it is to a lyrical 'like' song! This might not be my group this year that is the best received by other studios or judges at competition, but maybe they don't share my appreciation of improvisational dancing. I did want to share some stage shots of this group from our first competition, to maybe inspire somebody else to do the same at their studio.
I don't think you should necessarily name the group "Improv", since those of us who are educated enough in dance, and open enough to accept the routine, will get it. And does it really matter if people know it's improv? Does that change how you or the kids feel about the dance itself? I sure hope not... cause then you might miss out on some amazing moments on stage that even a great choreographer can't mimic.
So take the chains off that limit you to following the descriptions that a competition sets. They aren't the knower-of-all-things!
Try something new, that maybe in turn helps give your students some creative freedom to parallel their technical training. Trust them... you have trained them!