Ask the Experts: Using Chance to Make Dance

Q: We’re covering Merce Cunningham and his method of using chance to make dances. What tools do you suggest to let my students experience it firsthand?

A: Using chance to make dances is a great way to understand the work of postmodern choreographer Merce Cunningham, but it’s also just plain fun. And if you have a class that has trouble working together in groups, chance is a great way to make things fair. (No one seems to argue with the roll of the dice.)

I have a couple of tools that I like to use for this exercise. If you have a SMART Notebook, you can use the gallery to find numerous chance devices. There’s a random number generator, a quarter that flips, a rolling die and—my favorite—the spinning Wheel of Fortune. What’s great about these tools is that most are customizable: I have a wheel with choreographic devices, another with choreographic structures and even one with the students’ names.

I like using these on the SMART Board because they’re interactive, and that’s how the board should be used. (Plus, when my youngest students can’t make a decision, they can tap the board and different steps light up until one is finally chosen for them.) An alternative is to connect a projector to your computer or use a tablet with an app, like Undecided. It’s free, and it has dice, coins, drawing straws, a spinning wheel and even rock-paper-scissors. 

Barry Blumenfeld teaches at the Friends Seminary in New York City. He is an adjunct professor at New York University and on faculty at the Dance Education Laboratory of the 92nd Street Y.

Photo courtesy of Barry Blumenfeld

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