Here are a few strategies for getting started with a group.  Building a sense of ensemble can prepare participants for trusting one another and collaboration. 

The Circle

Doing warm up sequences in a circle together in silence. The group should try following each other and move as one. Choose something everyone can learn and repeat easily - a stretch, a gesture sun salutations.

This brings focus to the group and gets their bodies listening to each other.








Breathing / focusing the group:

[A basic centering sequence used by dance and theater]

Starting the group on the floor spaced out and focusing on breathing usually brings focus into the room and connects each person to their body. One simple process is starting in the torso - focusing on the rise and fall of the rib cage and breath filling up the back and sides of the torso.
On the exhale, it's good to remind the group of gravitational force pulling the body to the center of the earth- getting them to open up their awareness of the forces at play in the space. Then moving to the lower body.  Feeling the breath fill up the hips- legs and feet with air and relaxing into the floor on the exhale. 
Lastly focusing on the arms and upper spine- like water filling up hoses through the finger tips.  Once this process is complete (5-10 deep breaths in each stage) have the group try to listen to their heart beat or pulse, connecting to all the movement going on in the blood stream and their natural rhythm.        

Walking Patterns:

[Variation on a common variety of warm up's from dance and theater training] 

At some point during the warm up we have the group walk the space and give small tasks to get them working as a unit.  Simple directions can be the most effective- like asking them to all stop at a random time without talking.  Others include: lifting one person and carry them to another place in the room, take someone’s weight and lower them to the floor slowly, choose two people without letting them know and place your self between them, have a one minute conversation with someone and then keep walking,  flock (which means all move in unison slowly- trying to move as one), walk the interior space of your home. 

Getting the group to listen to the multiple bodies in the room, getting them to negotiate traffic and sense the compositions being created in real time, ground the participants for the work.     

Group Dynamics: Far Away and Close:

[from Emmalena Fredriksson]

  • Without revealing, everyone in the group selects one person in the room. 

  • Move as far away from that person as possible.

  • After running for a while, pause and choose another person without revealing who. 

  • This time you want to be as close to this person as possible. 

  • After squishing together in a lump for a while, pause and this time choose another person to be as close to as possible and another person to be as far away from as possible at the same time. 

  • This gets the group moving and often laughing and also interesting to observe the spatial patterns that are formed. 

Rhythm Portrait:

[from Daniel Nagrin]

Prowl around each other, observing everyone covertly: never let anyone catch you looking at them.  You are looking for the person in the group who interests you the most, positively or negatively.  You are looking for the one who gets to you the most.  Once you have made your decision, concentrate your powers of observation on that person only, learning all you can by the simple act of looking- still never allowing that person to know it is they whom you are interested in.  Ultimately what you are trying to sense is their internal rhythm in the form of a repeated phrase.

concentration and ensemble:

[from Cheryl Prophet]

Here's short description of an improv exercise I've done in the past to build concentration and create a sense of ensemble and spatial awareness.  It also functions as a sort of ritual to begin the class.

I give each student a small plastic glass, they fill it 3/4 full of water. Then I guide them with imagery and simple directions- walking, pausing, changing directions, balancing, changing levels, I keep it fairly open. The glass of water can represent anything they want, something that's precious etc.  

The rules are simple they must not spill any water, be aware of others, be alert and negotiate the space to avoid colliding. 

What tends to happen is that the movers are intensely focused throughout, have a soft gaze yet are acutely aware of the group. It's a nice way to start the class. It ends with the movers placing their glass on the floor in the centre of the room so that they create a circular form. It could also be the beginning of part 2- spatial design, creating a landscape to explore. And of course the improv can be modified.

Invitation to be seen solo:

[from Emmalena Fredriksson]

  • This is a good score for a smaller group that is new to working together and will do some form of performance in front of an audience. 
  • One at a time stand up in front of the group, for 2-5 min  (decide as a group what your duration will be) do nothing except invite your group/audience to see you. 
  • For the group/audience - questions like what do you see or what shifts your gaze or attention might be interesting to keep in mind. 
  • Switch roles in silence and talk about your experience after as a group.


[from Rob Kitsos]

A formal warm up sequence designed from a dance class can sometimes get the group connected through moving in unison and learning basic dance technique forms.  It's a good idea to introduce the material as 'movement' and not 'dance' as some non-trained participants can get intimidated by the idea of dancing. 3-5 exercises are enough- and if you meet the group on a regular basis, you can build on the sequences.

Starting on the floor with breathing and simple hip circles is a good way to get grounded.  Yoga is usually a form that most people know and can come in handy in transition from the floor to standing sequences.  Once the group is on their feet, a series of reaches and short lunges in a simple set of directions (front, side, back, side).  This can also be designed to get the group to sense the space you are working in.  Remind them to see the walls and directions as they move toward each direction.  

Next, you can build off the same design in terms of direction in space, but make the movements larger and the lunges deeper- possibly adding shoulder rolls and full arcs of the arms in space.  Getting them to feel gravity and weight transfer through the legs under the floor will ground them in the work later.

Staring a simple gesture base can also be a great way to play with easy movement that everyone can learn, see in unison in a group, and build on over time.  These gesture bases can also be used in improvisations or assignments later.

All together now:

[from David Lynch - Catching The Big Fish: meditaiton, conciousness, and creativity]

When you work, you want a happy crew going down the road together. You need the ability to focus on things as a group. You need to concentrate on one thing at a time and not have a million different things distracting you. This capacity grows when people start meditating and diving within.
There's an expression: "where the attention is, that becomes lively." So when you focus on a thing, its almost as if you start it moving and vibrating. You say, "This is what we are going to do today, this is where we are, and this is what we want to accomplish." Then the work gets better and the group gets happier.

Dynamics of Group Process

[from Robert Leveroos, introduced to him by Peter Balkwill at the Old Trout’s Banff Puppet Intensive]

All of these people are useful in a group

  • Those who initiate
  • Those who affirm ("yes good idea let’s do that")
  • Those who provide caution ("should we consider this? What about that?")
  • Those who say "I’m uncomfortable with that" or "No"
  • Those who say “yes, and”
  • Those who offer a counter idea
  • Those who just goes along with it (“I don’t care”)
  • The mediator
  • The practical one (ie. Stage Manager)


  1. Which can you identify as your default?
  2. Can you explore the roles you don't naturally fall into?
  3. If you see a role in the group that is not being fulfilled can you try that role?
  4. Can you think of other roles not listed? Add them to your list.

Good for getting a group in their bodies quickly, and setting a playful working tone, especially if the group is still unfamiliar with each other.

Body Centering with Material

[from Robert Leveroos, learned from Gavin Krastin]

A good exercise for getting a group in their bodies quickly, and setting a playful working tone, especially if the group is still unfamiliar with each other.

Step 1)

In pairs, Student A is the leader, Student B is the resistance. Student B stands behind Student A and gently places their hands on Student A’s hips. While Student A walks around the room Student B follows offering a small amount of resistance to Student A. The two should think of themselves as one unit. Student A can think about leading with the strength of their core and the effort it takes to move with this extra resistance. They can change tempo, and direction. Student A can offer challenges to Student B, trick them directionally or push them with speed, as a means of making sure they’re in solid communication. Once they’ve done this around the room for a few minutes. Switch so Student B is the leader and Student A is the resistance.

Step 2)

In groups of three this time, each group gets a length of fabric. (about 2 1/2 meters by ½ meter is ideal.) They choose one person to begin with. This person places the length of fabric around their hips, it should be folded over so there is roughly 10-20 cm width across their hips, enough so it doesn’t cut into their hips when they move. The two others stand behind the student in the centre. Each one holds one end of the fabric, which should remain taut. The student in the centre moves around the room with purpose, and the other two follow offering resistance, this time they’re communicating through the length of fabric. Again the student leading can play with tempo and shifting in direction, but as a group they must work to maintain the resistance in the lengths of fabric, so it doesn’t fall down or go slack. 

Once they are comfortable with this the following layers can be added:

  • challenge each other with direction and tempo
  • slide the fabric band over different body parts so the resistance is focused elsewhere while moving…the arm, a leg, the chest, be very gentle with the neck and head.
  • without verbal cues they can switch up who is in the centre of the fabric.
  • without verbal cues change partners with another group
  • trap each other with the fabric, someone in their group or a member of another group.
  • allow multiple groups to join if they come in contact with one another
  • allow the groups to separate when it feels natural.
  • can the whole group connect?

Ideally the entire group will find a flow together, playing around with the way they use the fabric to communicate with each other, and exploring different ways to use it and dance with one another.