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Solo Contact Improv?

by Ken Manheimer last modified Mar 12, 2019 01:00 PM
Being able actively explore the CI way of moving at a jam while you're not partnering can enhance your experience, including helping with your availability and readiness for partnering. Exploring this idea over time, I've found ways to do this that evokes the state of alertness and engagement which partnering can foster. I describe how I've learned to do this, building on the tuning-in of the small dance.

I think many who practice partner dancing (of any kind) notice a kind of "waking up" process that happens when things click. I relish the sensation of being more alert and attuned to movement when this happens. It generally lasts beyond the partnering, so I can continue to enjoy feeling more tuned-in and vital to moving on my own and with others. In a way related to the "grazing" portion of the Underscore, this kind of solo-movement vitality can open up a jam not just for the person experiencing it, but also for those around them: the more that people are activated and engaged in this way, not dependent on others to be engaged in moving yet also engaged in a way that is available for connection, the more that the jam can be vital and rich for everyone.

I've been exploring how to foster this activation in solo moving - to find quiet "music" in moving on my own. Among other things, learning to find the spark in solo moving has also simplified for me questions of finding partnering - those moments being in a jam but not currently actively engaged in a connection isn't about finding a partner, but rather continuing to explore my appetite to move (or be actively still) and finding what fits in connections I encounter along the way. (I strongly feel that the DC jam's long-term practice of the Underscore has cultivated this at our jam, in general, and it has helped inform my own exploration along these lines.)

Here's one of the primary ways that I approach "solo contact improvisation". In essence, through gradual attunement to and exploration of small shifts in my balance - the small dance - each time I reacquaint myself to dancing with the momentum, kinematics, and the general dynamics of my own body in space. It often feels somehow like a kind of music.

Specifically: after some arrival time spent orienting and stretching, a substantial part of my personal warm-up involves attention to the slight shifting balance that happens when I am standing still - along the lines of Steve Paxton's small dance. As my awareness of those shifts gradually grows - at a different pace every time, I often need toto remi myself to not try to force it - I can begin to follow my own shifting balance into moving, and gradually play with the edges of balance. At some point the "edges of balance" can include some faltering, which I've come to welcome as an opportunity to yield instead of fighting, turning almost-falters into glides instead of stumbles.

That seems to be a particular point where my alertness and engagement increases, my savoring of movement becomes more clear, the way it does in and after an engaging dance with a partner. As I continue I find that I can follow the slight changes in my balance while I'm moving, as well as when I'm still. I experience the whole thing as rediscovering, each time, how to tune in and not fight myself. I generally enjoy it, once I rediscover a grasp of it.

Out of this exploration I've developed a jam warm-up, with specific instructions that can simplify tuning into and bringing shifting balance to motion and connection.

Jam Warm-Up: The Small Dance into Circulating

  • I start with suggesting a stand that is relaxed but not limp - standing straight so the top of your head is extending towards the sky. The aim is to minimize effort, using your muscles just to organize your body so your skeleton takes on the load of your weight. The aim is to notice the slight shifts in balance that only become apparent when you're at ease (Steve Paxton: "Tension masks sensation") and not preoccupied with doing other stuff.
  • After some time for people to tune in to their sensations I remark that an easy stand involves keeping your center of gravity centered over the base that your feet provide - that's what requires the least effort. I suggest a modification, noticing ways that your center might drift a little over that base, and to indulge that drifting, relaxing the vigilance to keep your center of gravity centered.
  • Eventually, I suggest allowing your center of gravity to wander to the edge of your base and sometimes beyond, which will take you into a step. The aim is to yield to the imbalance before the step becomes drastic, so that you're starting to follow your shifting weight. After such steps you can settle back into a stand, or ...
  • Eventually, continuing in this progression, find if you can follow your shifting balance as you're moving, not always settling back to a stand. Both returning to stillness and continuing to move are now both fine options. Finding what suits your trajectory in the moment is part of the attunement process.
  • Recognizing that each step is a kind of fall and rebound, you can introduce the prospect of slightly changing levels by letting the fall go a little further, and eventually allowing more or less as part of the process. Not forcing it, but taking the sense of following your shifting balance and momentum to let your dance lead you into all sorts of different dynamics, as suits your situation in each moment.
  • I often remark that there is a kind of choosing that inevitably happens, without realizing it. For example, people avoid stumbling into walls or each other. You can play with that choosing, trying to introduce some steering while continuing to respect your intuition, interacting with your trajectory rather than controlling it.
  • Eventually you can more consciously factor in the sensations that you notice in passing by others in the space, noticing if you feel like being drawn in to their wake or propelled away, and all sorts of nuances in between. As time goes and opportunity arises, you can include brief contact and then maybe extended sharing of connection and trajectory - allowing disconnection and parting ways as they arise, seeking (as above with your own trajectory) to interact with the coincidences rather than controlling them.
  • And eventually, as a connection seems to ask for continued development, sticking with it to engage with someone(s) in partnering, allowing divergences as well as convergences to be part of the partnering - with stillness also always an option. This leads to an open jamming situation, where any and all of the above options are available to explore on your own and with others.
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