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CI Sharing Balance

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this essay dives further into a topic touched on more generally in Contact Improv As A Way Of Moving. sharing balance with another person pretty much requires you to cooperate organically.

sharing balance to find dances

i love what can happen in Contact Improvisation (CI) dances, especially a kind of exquisite cooperation.

in the basic CI recipe, dancers follow shared points of contact to mutually discover their dance. to the degree that they are following, the partners yield independent control of their paths. this leads to unusual positions and trajectories, where the partners sometimes depend on one another for their shifting balance, and sometimes need to take independent charge of their own balance.

the more that the partners organize themselves around shared points of contact, the more they yield independent control of their pathways and commit to a shared center. the more they can do that, the more mutually involved and engaging is their dance.

this kind of cooperation is not unique to contact improvisation - it is inherent in most direct-contact collaborative dance forms. what's different about contact improv is that the it's not organized around movement patterns - eg,  waltz patterns vs tango patterns vs contradance, etc. in ci, the movement patterns range much more widely, more like an individual moving their body for a wide range of purposes.

what's so important about balance?

physical balance is the unifying measure of our body's situation in space, and it is in accordance to balance that our separate body parts coordinate. in this way, sharing balance with a dancing partner is extending the kind of coordination that happens between our body parts to coordination with another person. our well-being is coupled with our balance, and sensing, processing, and responding to its changes have an overriding priority in our moment-to-moment attention [situation]. sharing balance while moving (and even while mostly still) is sharing our fundamental physical navigation of the world. it's an opportunity to engage with another person in something vital and immediate.

"sharing balance through change"?

dancers organizing around a changing shared center respond together to the dynamics of momentum, gravity, and other practical logistics. their inter-responsiveness, itself, develops dynamics that are an essential part of their dance. this is the essence of contact improv.

CI practitioners often speak of "sharing weight". this is just one aspect of sharing balance, and not a necessary one. sharing dynamic balance refers to responding to and playing with changing shared equilibrium conditions - momentum, weight, trajectory - while moving together.

shared changing balance can entail fluidly shifting distribution of shared weight, shared paths through space, falling together, lifts and leaps into the air, and much more. it need not include any outwardly large, overt activity, as well - all of the shared balance can be happening in subtle inter-responsiveness of the partners, in barely noticeable movement.

partner inter-responsiveness, whether large or small, can extend to a kind of balancing of choices and composition not just in physical contact, but also across space. it is a particular kind of inter-dependence, most clearly discoverable while touching. once familiar, however, it is viscerally recognizable, and, with a similarly focused partner, can be established and maintained across a distance.


it is through a commitment to sharing the dynamics of balance that CI partners connect this commitment is a willingness to explore and engage, up to and beyond the point where you depend on cooperation with your partner to do what you're doing. the immediacy of the connection, whether physically in contact or not, fosters a shared presence, a process of cooperating as an organism.

in order to work, the cooperation between the partners in a CI dance must be a dynamic, varying thing. pragmatically each partner must continuously make choices in the moment, balancing their independence from and inter-dependence with their partners accordingly. this personal discretion is another dynamic element unique to each dance.

what's distinctive about the role of shared balance in contact improv?

shared, shifting balance [situation] is by no means unique to contact improvisation - it's a part of much partner dance (and solo dance, too [solo-balance]).

waltzing, for example, fosters elegant connection through shared balance, in a very clearly delineated form. many other practices involve it, including not only other forms of dance but also sports, martial arts, and even some meditative arts. (thus CI is recognized as having aspects of all these modalities, not just dance.)

exploration of balance-sharing dynamics is more directly the focus of CI than it is in most practices, however, in a less delineated, more wide-open range of moving. (a progressively expanding range of movement is one thing i've enjoyed through my sustained practice.)

principles supporting dynamic balance sharing

moving your self as an integral whole, by:

  • being attuned to your "small dance" - the essential (overt and subtle) ongoing activity, interdependencies, dynamics in your body
  • "going where you're going" - following your center with all your self, organizing your movement from your center

coordinating with partners:

  • cooperating with gravity and the floor - using curved continuous paths, including rolling and sliding as well as traction with the floor and other partners

  • getting involved in the shared, changing center

  • listening - to small dances, situation of and changes in center, in partner and self. too little attention to one or the other sacrifices integration.

    ultimately, listening to a third partner: the collaboration. ie:

    • following what's going on in the moment - "replace ambition with curiosity" (nancy stark smith)
    • yielding/releasing - yielding weight to structural support, and yielding that support to change - "tension masks sensation" (steve paxton), ie continuously falling, down and up
    • coordinating weight cycle - respecting rhythms of one's descents and rebounds relative to partner's cyle, enabling shared trajectories and mutual rides in-the-moment
  • "doing less" - avoiding unnecessary holding-on, by:

    • not attempting to control your partner - or self; excessive control interferes with ability of both to respect what the moment actually requires
    • finding dynamic ease - doing less that's unnecessary, so you can handle what's necessary with less effort. continuously falling, down and up.
    • avoiding excessive attachment to prior moment's direction (momentum, rhythm, situation, etc) and plans, to avoid distracting from directions of current moment - going where you're going, and no further
    • avoiding excessive attachment to technique, to avoid habit distracting from actual situation in the moment

how is this useful?

i am not describing how to do contact improvisation. instead, i am suggesting a focus and principles that can be useful in cooperatively pursuing CI dances. focusing on dynamic sharing of balance helps me foster the kind of cooperation that i relish.

how the dancers do that balance sharing is the subject of many CI skills and exercises, which i don't begin to cover here. (the above list of principles underlie many of the exercises, though.) explicitly recognizing this principle element can help illuminate those exercises orienting dancers to finding cooperation without prescribing or prohibiting whatever else might fit.


[emergent] what happens in a CI dance can be elusive because some essential qualities are "emergent" - they result from the partner's engagement with one another, rather than specific things that any partner can independently do or control. that doesn't mean that finding your way there has to be complicated - it can be a matter of focusing on the elements which underlie the dynamics, like momentum, weight, trajectory, rhythm, and the practical kinematics that make it all possible. that's what i'm trying to describe.
[situation] (12)

i'm using "balance" loosely, as shorthand referring to all of the senses by which we are aware of and navigate our situation in space. this ongoing awareness includes not only balance and other basic outwards-directed senses like sight, but also proprioception - an interior-focused sense by which we have awareness of the parts of our body in relationship to each other.

when moving with another person, touch provides a conduit, a basis for engagement, by which we can extend this sensing to incorporate their situation, including the signs and signals by we can organize around a shared center of gravity/momentum/moment.

[solo-balance] the dynamics of shared balance can also be explored in solo movement, at the edge of one's own balance and in the nuances throughout. it's fun to explore, and illuminating.
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Ken Manheimer says:
Jun 03, 2014 02:50 PM
I've just noticed this video, Core Connection / Sharing Balance in Contact Improv - by René Alvarez - which shows much of the framing that I describe above, described and embodied in some class exercises. Nice!
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