Learning Contact Improvisation
Explaining how to do CI is like explaining how to walk or swim or surf or ride a bike – these kinds of things are learned by doing. Guidance about how to participate can provide orientation so you can find what works.
Contact improv is organized differently than most partner dance, as a kind of question: how do I mutually follow shared points of contact with someone? I and many others have found that exploring this question teaches a very engaging kind of movement cooperation.
Nobody can tell you exactly how to answer that question, just as nobody can tell you exactly how to ride a bike or surf or even walk. However, experienced explorers can share guidance about how to participate with greater ease and orientation. In this section I share exercises and principles that I have found useful in my CI learning and teaching, starting with my perspective on what and how contact improvisation practice teaches in What Contact Improvisation Does.
- What Contact Improvisation Does
- In Contact Improv partners practice moving cooperatively in a way that can approach the immediacy and depth of cooperating with oneself. Telling someone how to do CI is no more revealing than telling someone how to ride a bike or swim or surf, but we can provide guidance to participate in a way that invites what the practice teaches.
- Exercise: The Finger Dance
- A CI exercise that presents an uncomplicated opportunity to practice mutually following a point of contact.
- Exercise: Slight Counterbalance
- An exercise for developing your ability to share balancing with someone.
- Exercise: Rising and Descending Together
- Explore using slight counterbalance to traverse levels together.
- Exercise: Angel and Traveler
- Gradually and deliberately tune in and engage with someone's movement with offers of slight support.
- Simplifying Selecting Partners
- The CI exercises I describe involve group members repeatedly selecting partners. Trying the exercises with different partners is often illuminating. I like to use a kind of non-competitive "musical chairs" approach to simplify and foster ease in the partner selection process.
- Grazing and "Solo Contact Improvisation"
- Cultivating movement from attention to small movements provides a way to tune in and participate that enables you to balance internal and external focus, bringing yourself to connections and to moving on your own.
- Warm-up: Small Inspirations into Grazing
- "Warm-up" typically means pushing your body to get the juices flowing. While that can be useful, you often don't have to push in order to open your senses and notice inspiration in your own movement and in what's happening around you. This warm-up offers a simple progression to gradually notice and increasingly engage with small movement inspirations.
- Warm-Up: The Small Dance Into Grazing
- Awareness of your bodies small movements can be a way to embracing rather than fighting imbalance and deepening your cooperation with yourself and where you are going. This exercise gradual develops this premise as a group warm-up into "grazing" – exploring small interaction with yourself and others.
- Steve Paxton: The Initiation of Contact Improvisation
- On the 50th anniversary of contact Improv's development, the guy who initiated CI reflects on where it started for him. This is copied from an openly available Contact Quarterly article . I include it here because I feel it reveals where we all can discover contact improv.
- Steve Paxton's Small Dance Notes
- Notes taken from Steve Paxton's class in February 1977, during ReUnion’s teaching/performing tour of Contact Improvisation on the West Coast. Throughout the tour, the members of the 1977 ReUnion (Nita Little, Lisa Nelson, Steve Paxton, Curt Siddall, Nancy Stark Smith, and David Woodberry) transcribed each others’ classes, as close to verbatim as possible. What follows is a section from one of Steve’s classes, provided to me by the Contact Quarterly as part of the CI36 satellite events web presence.
- What People Do At Jams
- CI jams are gatherings for practicing contact improv. They're loosely structured because improvisation informs so many aspects of what we do. That's different than typical activity-oriented gatherings, so It can be hard to imagine how it might go if you're not yet acquainted with them. Here's some observations that might help inform you.
- CI Like and Unlike Other Partner Dance
- I came up with this while preparing to teach CI to people who practice other kinds of partner dance, at a large dance festival. I wanted to get them ready for CI's different approach.