CI Is An Opportunity to Play
The only permanent rule in Calvin ball is that you can't play the same way twice.
-- Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes
[Incorporate NYT Article, Relax, You'll Be More Productive.]
opportunities for engaging recreation can be key to daily well-being, and can even be crucial to support a vibrant work life. various kinds of forward-looking enterprises, from large corporations to health and education maintenance and insurance institutions, and beyond, are increasingly recognizing this.
physical activities like team and gymnasium sports, folk dancing, swimming, etc, are some antidotes to the weight of obligations in daily life. most of these activities are formulated with simple patterns, to provide easy frameworks for people to be physically active together. the convenience of clear, set structures is also a limitation - it restricts personal involvement in discovery and invention of the shape of the activities, and it can limit the range of skills involved in each activity. contact improvisation's less patterned formulation offers an interesting contrast, with both costs and benefits of less obvious structure.
like many collaborative sports and dance forms, ci offers the opportunity to engage and develop physically in cooperation with others. such involvement with others can be very inter-personally nourishing. unlike most other such passtimes, ci isn't formulated using set rules and patterns. instead, partners explore a dynamic puzzle - that of mutually following shared points of contact. there are patterns and guidelines which support the collaboration, but they are discovered in practice, and they vary dynamically from moment to moment and dance to dance. (see Contact Improv As A Way Of Moving.)
in ci's unusual formulation, the practice offers opportunities not only for greater variety of motions and dynamics than most sports and dance forms, but also for greater involvement in collaborative discovery and invention. these opportunities are both challenging and rewarding in ways that are hard to find in daily modern life. (here's what i like in CI and where i struggle.)
most extraordinary in ci is the opportunity to explore personal frontiers of movement and presence, and in immediate collaboration with others, at that. its exceptionally fun to collaboratively make choices that fit the moment, on the spur of the moment. even when the challenge is finding a solid connection with your partner, exploring the avenues to do so and happening on little discoveries together can be a marvelous thing.
that the basis for cooperation is in touch and in shared personal space is another way this practice bridges disconnections all too common in daily life. it brings the nourishment of touch to a friendly yet well-bounded situation.
contact improv is an all-too-rare opportunity, in modern daily life, for all-out engagement - of reflexes, attention, strength, wit, sensing, connection, caring, mischief, imagination, stamina, etc. the underscore provides a slightly more guided playground for contact improv and, more generally, collaborative movement-based improvisation. both reward involvement with experiences where each participant's success supports the success of their partners. for those who find joy in movement and collaboration, or are seeking it, these practices can be prime opportunities. for those who become intrigued by them, the practices get more engaging and enjoyable the further you explore them.
competition, cooperation, and the challenges of learning contact improv
competitive play situates players in opposition. clearly delineated roles simplify the formulation of goals and interactions, at the cost of limiting the ways that opposing and allied players relate. collaborative play brings people together around their skills, abilities, and interests. it can be formulated and organized in many ways.
it's more challenging to frame play based on mutual cooperation. more open interaction roles and rules can be disorienting. that underlies both the costs and the benefits: cooperative play affords the players greater discretion about their roles, with the potential for more widely ranging kinds of interaction, along with more opportunity for confusion.
contact improvisation is a form of cooperative play. with a simple formulation - mutual following of points of contact - its' framing leaves a lot of room for diverse approaches and exploration. ultimately, there are underlying ways of moving that emerge because they offer a better basis for coordination, but those ways are not defined by formulas, they are discovered. they can be elusive, and even understanding the quest for them can be elusive.
being based in cooperation means each player's success supports the success of the others players. it's an excellent example of both the range of involvement possible - with diverse physical activity being characteristic - and also the potential for uncertainty about how to engage.
part of the moment-to-moment uncertainty in ci practice is a necessary and intriguing part of improvisation. uncertainty can be a thrilling part of the practice as you develop the ability to navigate it. you need an appetite - to be willing to grapple with it - and it helps to have good conditions, particularly partners willing and able to explore with you in constructive ways. a good ongoing jam, with some people well oriented to the way of moving and intrigued to explore with others, is a wonderful thing.
some of the uncertainty, however is not necessary, but rather due to excessive vagueness in available ci guidance. i've grappled with that vagueness for years, seeking ways to look at ci that helps guide and ground my exploration of it. after a lot of searching i have found a comprehensive starting place for my questions about what i am doing, which i describe in Contact Improv As A Way Of Moving. what's seems to be essential is recognizing the distinct challenges in learning ci.
clarity about the central questions has been fundamentally useful, providing an orientation to which i can return any time i feel lost. it helps when i'm lost in questions about my own dancing and, when asked, as a basis for guiding others as they're grappling with questions of their own.
not everyone has an appetite for the kind of physical involvement and improvisatory nature of contact improv. for those that do, it can be tricky to find clear opportunities to practice and explore one's frontiers in it. a good jam situation is a precious thing - it can be hard to find opportunities in daily life as potentially rewarding, given the appetite and favorable conditions.
i'm fond of saying in my dance performance bios that, as a software developer, i find contact improv to be an antidote to the static of every-day life. by "static" i mean not only the lack of opportunities to move as much and as freely as i feel serves me, but also a counterpoint to the incessant cognitive noise inherent in our increasingly symbolic-communications based world.
for me, and others, there are big benefits in the opportunity to really dig in and play intensively, in partnership with other people, and without major time or funds overhead to gather people together and explore. i'm more than eager to foster opportunities for those who might be interested in exploring and learning to play with ci.