The concept of usable movement terminology, as opposed to fundamental movement terminology, is one of the first ideas I suggest in the context of my classes.
In my dictionary, fundamental movement terminology consists in the vast sum of the different movements you are able to perform. Usable movement terminology is the part of the fundamental terminology that you are actually able to use in improvisation contexts, that it “without having to think about it”.
As such, it is one thing to be able to perform a cartwheel, followed by a round off and a back handspring in a linear line, with a soft floor, and with the time to prep for this small routine beforehand. It is another to throw the same back handspring as you improvise, or flow, for instance inside a Capoeira roda.
It all boils down to the “integration” step, as coined by Ido Portal, that precedes improvisation. Most movements have to be ingrained to the level of tacit knowledge, and become second nature to you, before they can come naturally to your mind. We are talking about creating new patterns altogether: your brain is used to moving and reacting in certain ways it has deemed efficient in your current state, and you are trying to widen its range of options. This takes time and dedication.
As such, if your goal is to be able to use more and more fluid movements in your flow, repeating routines and isolated movements won’t cut it. You will have to integrate the movements, repeat them in diverse contexts so that your body learns little by little to rely on them without overthinking it.
This applies to movement, modern dance, but also to social dancing, like salsa, bachata, zouk, etc. I have seen many struggling in their progress, frustrated by the gap between classes and social dancing nights. You go to the dancefloor, muster the courage to pick a partner, and… You only can lead a couple of moves. Where the hell are all the tricks I have been learning over the past few weeks gone? I feel like an idiot now. Maybe this isn’t for me.
The short answer is: you haven’t really learnt them. You have seen them, you have been repeating them, but they haven’t reached your tacit knowledge. And that’s because you never really follow any method to ingrain them.
Facing this kind of frustration when I was exposing myself with humility to the worlds of salsa and Brazilian zouk, I started to deconstruct the routines I was learning in classes into smaller and smaller chunks. Soon, patterns emerged. Some positions became more relevant than others, because you could derive more variations from them. Because it hadn’t been done in this way, I had to label whatever moves and positions I found. Every core positions was now leading to several moves. So every time I ended up, let’s say, my back facing my partner, I had more and more choices as to where to go and lead her, because my range of choices had been increasing. I wasn’t repeating routines anymore. I was flowing. You may not be into this kind of partner dance, but the very same can apply to many improvisation practices.
Catch this: Don’t make the mistake I made as a teenager: just because your teacher does not see it this way, or the practice itself condemns it, does not mean you should not try to interpret their knowledge in your own way. The big picture is: you have your very own way of learning. Find what that is (it will take time) and try to adapt the knowledge you get from your teachers to it. Their way is not your way.