CI Sharing Balance

Sharing balance with another person means cooperating in a fundamental, organic way.

Sharing balance to find dances

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

In the fundamental CI recipe, dancers follow shared points of contact to mutually discover their dance. To the degree that they are following, the partners both yield independent control - it is how they more fully participate together. Like just about everything in the dance, that involvement is constantly changing - sometimes they depend on each other thoroughly for their shifting balance, and sometimes conditions require that they are more independent. The more that the partners can engage with their shared center, whether dependent or independent, the more mutually involved and engaging is their dance.

This kind of cooperation is not unique to contact improvisation. It's inherent in most direct-contact partner dance forms. What's different about CI is that it's not organized around movement patterns - eg,  Waltz patterns vs Tango patterns vs Contradance, etc. In CI, the movement dynamics are not dictated by patterns and can range more widely. (See What Contact Improv Does for more about this.)

What's so important about balance?

Our sense of balance is how we organize our perception of our overall situation in space. It is the intrinsic accounting of our situation which integrates all of our parts. Sharing balance with a partner extends this fundamental means by which we coordinate our own body to coordinating ourselves with another person – a kind of shared priopreception.

"Sharing balance through change"?

In real life, balance is not a static thing. It's the sum of all the forces, all the changes happening at any moment. It is changing.

CI practitioners often speak of "sharing weight". This is just one aspect of sharing balance. Shared balance can entail weight shifting between the partners, shared paths through space, falling together, lifts and leaps into the air, and much more. It need not include any actual weight, or 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 or weight. (Steve Paxton's Small Dance, a core principle around which he developed Contact Improv, cultivates attention to the ever present small balance changes through which you can tune in to your body moving as a more comprehensive whole.)

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's 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.

What's different about shared balance in Contact Improv?

Coordination through a sense of shared balance is by no means unique to Contact Improvisation - it's integral to many kinds of partner dance (and solo dance, too).

Waltzing, for example, fosters elegant connection through shared balance, in a clearly delineated form. Shared balance is essential in many other practices, not only other forms of dance but also sports, martial arts, and even some meditative arts. I feel that exploration of balance-sharing dynamics is a more thorough and wider ranging focus in CI than it is in most practices, however.

Balance Sharing Principles

To organize yourself around changing balance, start by tuning in to the small, ongoing shifts in your body with your small dance. By being alert and responsive to your own situation, you can better "go where you're going", integrate and respond to how your situation changes and develops.

Coordinating with partners:

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

  • Get involved in the shared, changing center

  • Be receptive - to changes, large and small, in your partner and yourself. Insufficient attention to one or the other sacrifices integration.

    Action based on sensing keeps you present

    • Yield/release - avoid fighting yourself - "Tension masks sensation." (Steve Paxton), "Replace ambition with curiosity." (Nancy Stark Smith)
    • Coordinate with the weight cycle - respecting one's own and one's partner's rhythms enables shared trajectories and mutual rides in-the-moment.
  • Do less:

    • Seek ease - so you can do what fits the moment with more immediacy and less effort.
    • Resist the temptation to control - too much control obscures what actually fits.
    • Be willing to shift, change - to let go of prior moment's momentum, rhythm, activity dynamics, etc, so you're receptive to what's current - go where you're going, and no further.
    • Let go of formal technique, habit, so they don't distract from the 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 help foster the cooperation - with oneself, as well as with partners. Focusing on dynamic sharing of balance helps me foster the kind of involvement 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. Explicitly recognizing this element can help illuminate those exercises, orienting dancers to finding cooperation.

  1. I'm using "balance" loosely, to refer to the innate sense we have of our changing physical situation in space. This awareness is not only about gravity and momentum. It also is informed by proprioception, by which we have awareness of the parts of our body in relationship to each other. When moving in CI with another person the contact points provide a channel by which we can extend this integrated perception to incorporate our partner's situation, including signs and signals by we can mutually organize around a shared center of gravity/momentum/moment.