How Jason Parsons Gets Dancers to Feel Comfortable with Improvisation

Photo by Lee Cherry, courtesy of Parsons

Jason Parsons began his professional career dancing for artists like Diana King and Celine Dion, for Disney and in countless industrials, but he soon realized his real interest was in the world of concert dance. Since then, he's performed with companies like River North Dance Company and Mia Michaels' RAW, and he has choreographed for Houston's METdance, Rasta Thomas' Bad Boys of Dance and others around the world. Having turned his attention to improvisational studies, he's bringing those experiences to dancers around the country with NUVO Dance Convention.

Parsons generally begins his improvisation classes with a conversation to help students feel at ease in the space they're going to explore. “It's a new experience for some of the students, and I want to get them moving in ways they've never even considered before, but I want them to feel comfortable," he says. “I have the students form a big circle so we have a huge, surrounded space, and then we begin moving inside of it, in groups. I always have a group of people on the exterior supporting and watching. They get to witness and also partake."

When it comes to music, Parsons likes to change it up, varying the sound from ambient classical tunes to house music, but not songs that students will likely recognize. It's during unfamiliar songs that some of his favorite moments happen. “I often play something very abstract, because I love seeing movement bring sound into the space," he says. “Instead of just trying to connect to the music, we actually begin to create it with our bodies."

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I often teach ballet over Zoom in the evenings, shortly after sunset. Without the natural light coming from my living room window, I drag a table lamp next to my portable barre so that the computer's camera can see me clearly enough. I prop the laptop on a chair taken from the kitchen and then spend the next few hours running back and forth between the computer screen of Zoom tiles and my makeshift dance floor.

Much of this setup is the result of my attempts to recreate the most important aspects of an in-person dance studio: I have a barre, a floor and as much space as I can reasonably give myself within a small apartment. I do not, however, have a mirror, and neither do most of my students.

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After the birth of her daughter in 2018, engineer Lisa McCabe had reservations about returning to the workforce full-time. And while she wanted to stay home with the new baby, she wasn't ready to stop contributing financially to her family (after all, she'd had a successful career designing cables for government drones). So, when she got a call that September from an area preschool to lead its dance program, she saw an opportunity.

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