An exercise in falling into impro

Purpose of the activity

Many facilitators of improvisation work with the metaphors of “energising” a group or “ice-breaking” early on at a workshop. A friend of mine, Jack Martin Leith critique ice-breakers because they assume there is “ice” – people in a default state of coldness, stuckness, and that they need “un-freezing”.

I agree with Jack on this. I don’t believe there is ice to be broken in a room. Nor do we need to inject energy into people who may simply be in a mood of nervousness, expectation, or even hesitant openness.  I like the idea of a simple activity to allow us to fall into an improvisational state – a state of falling where we know there is a soft landing waiting for us. Leaping in also works for me! And that is what this gentle activity is all about


This is an activity for a group of just about any size of group.

Stand in a circle.

Simply focus on breathing calmly at whatever personal pace suits. Quiet breathing.

At any point someone can say the word “beat”. When they say beat everyone must look at them and hold their breath. They breath out after a second or so.

Slowly the breathing returns to normal.

In discussion afterwards, explore what triggers a person to instigate the word “beat”.

Repeat the activity for longer until the moment when beat is said is not managed or planned but arises in the moment.

The exercise is very simple and can run for quite a long time. In moments of pure “reaction” there can be an electric feel to the exercises. Spontaneous drama arises.

When two or more people say “beat” at the same time, simply allow the exercise to settle, but also explore impressions afterwards when this happens


How did you personally experience the activity?

What happened to you when someone said “beat”?

When was “beat” predictable and when was it a surprise?

What happened further into the activity? Did some rhythms emerge?

How “in the moment” did you get and when were you still planning ahead?

One Comment

  1. Reblogged this on Thomas Johannsen and commented:
    I expecially like the observation about “ice-breaking” at the beginning of the text.

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