It’s All Improvisation

Pumpkin and apple soup.  I was just in the kitchen, playing around as I tried to recreate a delicious preparation I had eaten in a restaurant recently.  I have a pumpkin soup recipe that I have made so many times that I know it by heart.

But this new soup?  I could only ad lib and make educated guesses on  proportions and preparations: two apples or three or more?  Sauté first with the onions or simmer with the pumpkin?   Keep the garlic in or not? If the soup is too sweet, how can I balance that?  No road map, or a fuzzy, dog-eared one at best.

Kind of like life.


It reminded me of my longstanding love-hate relationship with improvisation in dancing.  I used to feel “just tell me what to do and I’m all in.”  But come up with movement on the spot?  How to do that?  And how to choose from among the infinite kinesthetic possibilities?

So messy, so uncertain, so unsettling.  For the longest time, I resisted.

I don’t recall when that shifted, when I loosened my bear hug on rules and directions and certainty…or rather the illusion thereof.  For certainty and exact replicas are rare.  You know: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” ~ Heraclitus

Some of the shift has been facilitated by being a mother.  So often, there just aren’t time and energy to plan it all out.  More important, even when there are time and energy for detailed plans, there are inevitably changes, usually spur of the moment.  Someone is hungry, or forgot to bring a raincoat, or needs comforting for a scraped knee or a broken heart, or can’t get to sleep….

While my lovely kids have helped me develop and appreciate some flexibility, so have dancing and living.  I’ve come to appreciate that it is ALL improvisation to some extent.

Photo Credit: Rich Davis

Photo Credit: Rich Davis

It is amazing to consider the countless spontaneous choices we make every day, some conscious and others not.  What to wear, eat, say to someone, do with our unscheduled time, when to go to bed, whether to think about a nagging challenge….and on and on.

Even more miraculous is the endless improvisation undertaken by our bodies.  The body is constantly producing, compensating, improvising to create balance and wellness, breathing, digesting, sensing, pumping, cleansing, synapsing in an always changing microcosm.

Mind blowing.

So, as much as I might still cling to directions and structure and dependability, especially during stressful periods, I remind myself that the finest improvisations by dancers and jazz musicians are to a large extent a test of mastery: both of the craft and of certain traits and skills. Traits and skills that are equally valuable for living a grace-filled life: flexibility, openness, a collaborative spirit, adventuresomeness, being present, and a great sense of humor :).

Now, back to the kitchen.  Soup, anyone?

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27 Responses to It’s All Improvisation

  1. Reblogged this on By the Mighty Mumford and commented:

  2. ViewPacific says:

    Yes! Let’s all release our bear hug on life and just dance! Might as well let ourselves be moved by whatever music we’re hearing.
    Being a parent has also taught me to move with whatever’s alive. I notice some parents try to go the other direction, imposing control and order to the point of disconnection.
    Seems better to envision a result yet also work with what’s right in front of you
    Sort of like trying to match a remembered dish. 🙂
    Thanks for the inspiration and feel free to share a recipe – if you write it down.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Ha! You make me smile, Vincent. Thank you so much for sharing all of your wisdom. I have had the same experience as you observing other parents, and to be honest, I have had my own regrettable moments of attempting to control–with the best of intentions. Thank goodness for all of the wise people in my life who have shown me a different path, especially my husband. So, let’s dance! And eat tasty soup! With our kids! Yeah, baby. Thanks so much being here with your generous spirit, my friend. xoxo p.s. Recipe to follow when I get back from teaching :)….

  3. Catnip says:

    No garlic. Add citrus and salt.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Why, thank you, Catnip! You may be sad to hear I DID sauté some garlic in there…and it actually works with the curry powder–at least my family and I like it. But I’d love to try your suggestion next time. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. Looking forward to visiting you! xo

      • chiaink says:

        I rarely add garlic to this kind of soup though I can see how it would work with curry spices; and I load up the soup with butternut squash and tomatoes and one apple. I often sprinkle lemon or lime infused olive oil onto the plates of soup for added zing and freshness, brings delicious to sublime. Oh, and mint too. Now I’m hungry! Your soup looks and sounds great, Chloe, and your advice too!

      • SirenaTales says:

        Thanks so much, Chia, for your terrific tips. Lovely to have you visit. xo

  4. Miranda Stone says:

    That soup looks delicious! Perfect for fall. And I love your message about improvisation here. I can only imagine that being asked to improvise while dancing would be like someone asking me to sit down and write a story or poem–right now. I used to have to do that for creative writing classes in college, and let’s just say I never came up with any masterpieces. But it was a good exercise, though I resented it at the time.

    • SirenaTales says:

      Heh. I still share similar resentment at times, my friend. Although I have to admit that improvising dance, and other things, is in part skill…and so I have gotten “better” at this improv thing. Depending on my mercurial mood, and the alignment of the stars, and whether the sun is in my eyes and…:)). Thanks so much for your kind words and for sharing your experience, Miranda. It is always a treasure to hear from you. Hope things are going well. Love to you….

  5. Kate says:

    Magic=Chloe. Thank you for your ever-present generosity/curiosity! You never cease to make my day.

  6. Thank you, ST for another thoughtful + inspiring post. For me, I relate this improv to yoga — or my home practice. There are times when I just don’t want to do it, tap into my creativity to figure out what to do…it’s easier (+ more comfortable?) to just follow the rules, guidelines, structures, or teacher. I feel there’s a time and place to do both – follow and improvise. But when the improv gets going + hits its flow…that is THE BEST. Enjoy your soup! xoxo

    • SirenaTales says:

      Elysha, Thank you for your insightful take on this. I agree! And yes, it is fantastic when we are in the flow with improvising–as dancers, yoginis, moms, people. I appreciate your support, as always. xoxo

  7. F.G.M. says:

    Tu me donnes faims Chloé! J’adore la soupe et les potages 🙂 J’imagine que ta cuisine est comme toi: PASSIONEE & GENEREUSE. Merci 🙂 ♥♥♥♥

  8. Oh, yes. Life is improv.
    And I LOVE this line. “I don’t recall when that shifted, when I loosened my bear hug on rules and directions and certainty…or rather the illusion thereof.” I never thought of having a bear hug on rules, on plans, on certain aspects of life. But I love the image.

  9. Lorien says:

    Yes please! Give me some! For me, improvisation also requires a lot of trust and a willingness to be vulnerable, especially because I harbor memories of when my early improvisations led to ridicule. It’s a willingness to surrender to the moment, and trust that what comes up is precious, worthy of being experienced. And it’s also the ability to drop the ego that wants everything to be just so, wants to anticipate and plan the experience, and allow oneself to live in the unknown–you said “adventuresome”…yes, that’s it. Thanks for another lovely post Chloe, really well done!

    • SirenaTales says:

      Dear Lorien, What a generous, thoughtful comment articulating what the best improvisation entails. The key elements of trust and allowing “oneself to live in the unknown….”–thank you for noting their importance. I continue to be grateful to you for your honesty and wisdom, my friend. I hope the countdown for your workshop is calm and joyful :). xoxo

  10. Rachael Charmley says:

    Soup’s probably gone cold now, Chloe… 🙂
    Maybe there’s a lot to be said for ‘learning the rules’ then breaking them. That’s usually my approach to life and all the twiddly bits going on inside it. Listening to Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert as I write, I’m reminded that this guy can improvise stupendously for hours, yet was classically trained. His J.S.Bach is mind blowing, and his jazz is even better.
    And what about Pina Bausch ? 🙂
    Thank you for yet another lovely, inspiring, ‘from the heart’ post ❤

    • SirenaTales says:

      The Koln Concert!!!! Thank you so much for reminding me of that priceless favorite that I somehow let go by the wayside, Rachael. But no more: I just listened to some of it again: heaven!

      And yes, you have, comme toujours, hit the proverbial nail on the head: the value of learning the rules so we may break them as we see fit. I do believe that last bit is where many of us drop the ball–we somehow become so enamored of the rules, perhaps because of the sense of control they give (illusorily) that we stop exploring, opening, questioning the validity of the rules for the given scenario. That’s what I have observed, and experienced, anyway–not sure if you have seen the same?

      Thank you for the stimulation and support, my lovely and wise friend. xoxo

      • Rachael Charmley says:

        I agree. I think many people do not understand that the ‘rules’ in creative acts are there as a guideline to competence. Nothing more. Any creative act that produces something technically ‘perfect’ is dead: sans spirit. The life has been taken out of it. Some of the best violin playing I ever heard came from an Irishman who held his instrument and bow completely ‘wrong’, and had never had a lesson in his life.
        I remember a response to something in a story I had written that was being critiqued at a writing group. In this story the child’s piano teacher had said, ‘you’re not trying hard enough. There are no mistakes’. I’m sure you see where this is going. It’s the difference between competence and the odd flash of genius (masquerading as an ‘error’). But I think many of us are frightened of this place, and so avoid it. It’s a lonely place, few will understand, people are discomforted by how you make them feel and will judge, and so on…
        So I guess maybe it’s about courage… ❤

  11. diahannreyes says:

    I love how this meditation on soup turned into an improvisational piece about life- movement, mothering, dancing, being. Such a rich, delicious, creative stew.

    • SirenaTales says:

      My dear friend, So much gratitude I feel for your amazingly generous presence and support. Here’s hoping all of your endeavors are going well, and your decisions about your crossroads bear tremendous joy for you. xoxo

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