did you say something? improvisation vs. choreography

I got this text from a client earlier this week, in reference to a performance she was prepping for:


[box style="rounded" border="full"]I'm getting very scared. I want this to be good. I'm afraid to improvise because I always do that. I feel like I should really make something that doesn't change from night to night[/box]


I had not-coincidentally been going through a similar struggle in prep for my TEDx talk, which is tomorrow. A part of me wanted to do what I typically do when I’m teaching or speaking: just memorize the sequence of events and key bullets, and then improvise in between.


Luckily I had an incredible voice coach on my side, Susan Main. As we talked things through over Skype, she gave me the smack-down: (this is totally paraphrased)

 “This is important. Your message is important. When you don’t know the exact lines you sound like a valley girl because you’re thinking of what’s next while you’re saying something else. Don’t do that. Learn the lines. Get them in your body.”

And taking this amazing advice in, I replied to my client:


[box style="rounded" border="full"]I was just having the same dilemma with my ted talk and my voice coach told me that memorizing the lines word for word is a must... i was improvising and going off on tangents and it took away from my message and purpose. If you're feeling that way, then get clear on what you want to say and find a way to say it through your body. practice practice practice and then feel free to let it flow. having something set doesn't mean it's not YOU. you can roam even freer when there is structure in place to work with.[/box]


I think that improvising can be really valuable. The vast majority of my dance videos were improvised. But there is also something amazing about learning specific choreography. Either way, one thing is definitely certain: getting clarity on what you are saying is essential.


If you don’t know what you’re really trying to say, take the time to figure it out or else the message will get jumbled.


So I’ll ask you, creative one,


What is it that you want to say?

What’s the message you’re bringing to the world?


Whether you’re a performer, a teacher, a parent, a caretaker, a doctor, a writer, a wandering traveler, or anything else, ask yourself, “what do I know for sure, and what feels important to say to the world?”


You may not speak it directly, but knowing your message will translate through your actions - whether they are improvised or choreographed.


Take a deep breath. And then take your version of the stage.


There’s a video I’d like to leave you with, below. It’s by Brene Brown whose book Daring Greatly I’m currently reading. Take the 20 minutes to watch it, especially if you are getting ready to share your work with a larger audience.


And if you are getting ready to share your voice with a larger audience, I highly recommend working with Susan. She will tell you like it is and bring out strength in you you never knew you had.


break a leg,



Susan, from the bottom of my heart I thank you for helping me to get clarity on my message and how I can best deliver it. And for making me laugh at myself. All priceless.


99UCONF 01A BROWN v05-720p from 99U on Vimeo.