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Improve imagery improvisations with these exercises

This is an excerpt from Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance - 2nd Edition by Eric Franklin.

Imagery Improvisation Exercises

The following exercises are separated by categories, but these categories are somewhat arbitrary and overlapping. An image that produces dynamic changes requires initiation. An image that changes the surface of the body reverberates out into space. When working with a group, it is a good idea to watch each other improvise. It may be interesting not to let the observers know what image you are working on to see if they can recognize it. If you imagined yourself as a robot and everybody says that you looked like a jellyfish, you know that you need to work on that image. After you finish an improvisation session, write down your experiences in a notebook. Even extraneous thoughts and images that entered your mind while improvising are of interest. Which images were most compelling to you? Which ones did you dislike? What parts of your body are more difficult to access with a specific image? To begin the improvisation you can be standing, sitting, lying on the floor, or in any preferred position. Let the image sink in before you begin. At the end of an improvisation exercise it is valuable for the members of the group to communicate their experience with each other. These discussions are often rich sources of information on the relationship between imagery and movement.

Spatial Path

The number of spatial paths is infinite. Think of all the spatial paths you have taken in your life as lines drawn on an immense canvas. Imagine that your fast movements have made thick lines and your slow movements thin ones, and behold a design of stupendous proportions. Explore spatial paths by drawing lines on a piece of paper and then transposing them into space. Inspiration for spatial paths is everywhere - in a jumble of sticks by the road or even in a bowl of spaghetti. I once laid my head down in a hotel the day before teaching a workshop in Germany and discovered an interesting spatial path in the form of a curtain (figure 5.11).
Spatial path created by a curtain.

Exercises for Creating a Spatial Path

  1. Explain the path: This exercise is appropriate for children from age 4, and it is equally valuable for adults in fostering the ability to visualize spatial paths. The exercise is done with a partner and music. Decide who will be person A and who will be B. Person A creates a path through space as long as the music plays (not too long to start). When A returns to B, B must explain to A what spatial path A took. To do this, B must be able to visualize the spatial path. Reverse roles and replay the music as person B finds a path through space. (Adapted from Werner Hushka, a German children's pedagogue.)
  2. The path ahead of you: Begin standing. Visualize a path in space, such as a long, meandering arrow. Move along the path to the end of the arrow. Then visualize the continuation of the spatial path, and move along that path to its end. Do not go farther than you can visualize. See how far you can extend your path and still remember it once you have started on your way.
  3. The path behind you: Imagine that you leave a trace wherever you go, like an airplane's jet stream. How long can you maintain the image of your trace?
  4. Space slide:If you have ever gone on one of those long, winding children's slides, you know what it is like to let your body be guided. As you move, see yourself being guided through space by an imaginary slide with perfect depth and width (figure 5.12).
    Space slide.
  5. Roller coaster: As you move, imagine that you are on a roller coaster. Similar to the space slide, your movement is being guided. However, the roller coaster adds loops, turns, spirals, and even revolutions around a horizontal axis.
  6. Energy current: Imagine energy currents like powerful ocean currents pulling or guiding you along pathways in space. Feel the interaction between stronger and weaker currents. Experiment with different shapes of currents: linear, circular, scalloped, or spiraled.


You can initiate movement from anywhere in the body. In certain movements, you want to initiate equally from the whole body. In others, you initiate from a specific place, such as the string attached to the finger pulling into space. The inside of the body can move the surface, such as a bag of helium-filled balloons pushing up into the sky (figure 5.13a), or the surface can move the inside, such as a bag dragging balls along the floor (figure 5.13b).
(a) The contents can move the container, or (b) the container can move its contents.

Exercises for Initiation

  1. Windy weather:
    • Gust of wind with a partner: Your partner initiates the movement in your body by giving you a gentle push as if a gust of wind were blowing at a specific area.
    • Gust of wind without a partner: Once you have gained some experience with a partner, you can do the exercise alone: Imagine the wind pushing against a body part to make you move. (Adapted from Body Weather practices.)
  2. Storm and lulls:Imagine wind blowing through you. Imagine your central axis to be a rope with fluttering flags. The wind blows through you and moves your body from your center line (figure 5.14).
    Center line with fluttering flags.
  3. Rolling ball:Imagine a ball rolling around inside your body. The ball's movement imitates and shapes your movement. Vary the size of the ball, and experiment with the number of balls initiating your movement (figure 5.15).
    A ball rolling inside the body.
  4. Puppet: Imagine strings attached to the top of your head, knees, feet, elbows, and hands. Let these strings motivate your movement. Add additional strings. Be a fancy marionette with very loose joints. Sometimes this effect is used in choreography, as seen in this excerpt of a review of Le Sacre du printemps: "One seems to be looking at marionettes . . . and many of the movements seem to be the result of some stern and invisible hand moving the puppets by an inexorable decree, the purport of which is known to the owner of the hand, but has only at certain moments been declared to others" (as quoted in Buckle 1971).
More Excerpts From Dance Imagery for Technique and Performance 2nd Edition