This made my musicians dread working with me. They would get frustrated every time I brought them a particular version of a song and expected them to play it that way and only that way, because that was the version I had choreographed. Naturally, they preferred playing things the way they’d been playing them since before I was born. This went on for a good few months until I became more comfortable with the music, less anal about everything, and way too busy to choreograph at home. So 98% of the time now, I’m improvising, even when I’m doing a TV shoot!
Am I happy about that? Generally speaking, yes (though ideally I’d like to be more rehearsed for a TV shoot). I learned a very important skill and I can easily produce on the spot. I’ve also developed a “style,” so to speak—a default way of dancing that is uniquely and identifiably mine. Having this ability is priceless, but it only comes when improvising becomes part of your regular dance routine.
There’s nothing necessarily wrong with choreography. It helps get technique into our muscle memory, and teaches us how to transition between steps. However I’ve been noticing that our overreliance on others' choreographies leads to a sort of copy-cat syndrome. Rather than dissecting routines to understand the choreographers' artistic choices, too many of us are content to just memorize and perform…memorize and perform, until we all look like clones of each other. It’s getting even worse now that so many of us copy one or two dancers who have become stars in the workshop circuit. It seems that a lot of us believe that so long as we’re imitating a star, we’re stars ourselves. But it doesn't really work that way. Just because we dance exactly like someone we all know and love says nothing about our own abilities. If anything, it stunts our growth as artists, as we never give ourselves a chance to explore our own ways of moving.
This is why I make sure I go back to the studio. More often than not these days. Because even though I dance every night, it's not enough in terms of artistic development. Improv certainly has its benefits. But when you do it every night, your body gets used to doing certain moves and combinations. In fact your improv can eventually turn into a default choreography over time! The only way to break that mold is to use your time off stage to create new material. This is why I go the extra mile and experiment with different technique and combinations. (I suspect many star dancers do this, though they'd deny it to the death. They want others to believe that their talent is completely effortless and God-given. As if that somehow makes them better than their colleagues who admit to working their @$$e$ off). The results are rewarding, as my body shows me entirely new possibilities and creates new moves that I then test on my audiences and students.