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Fundamental Contact Improvisation Skills

by Ken Manheimer last modified Oct 30, 2018 12:06 PM
Learning to coordinate connected to someone else is as multi-faceted as learning to coordinate with yourself. What skills are useful?
Simply following the contact points
It's hard to resist the urge to try to "make stuff happen". Instead, receptivity - tending to what is happening, big and small, and following that - requires alertness and poses interesting challenges. It generally forms the basis of a good partnership.
  • The Finger Dance can convey how mutual following can yield interesting activity, if you and your partner can resist the temptation to lead
Sharing Balance
Investing your center of gravity so that you share it with your partner - initially, enough so that you're sharing your balance with them but not so much that you're stuck - provides your side of a connection which the two of you can follow. It depends, of course, on them mutually investing their center, and the two of you actively negotiating the investments with your bodies. That "negotiation" is a big part of the dynamic.

The above constitutes what I consider to be essential foundation for other stuff, including what comes below. As of 2018-10-31 I have specific material tested and ready but only sketched out for Relating With The Floor and Traversing Between Upright and Prone, and much to draw from for the rest.

Merging - Relating With The Floor and Other Partners
The floor is a constant partner, perpetually supportive and also unforgiving. In a way it provides an ideal opportunity to learn to be gentle, since any abuse you give it will inevitably be born by you. In particular, it's essential to learn to take paths which meet the floor obliquely, blending your weight into it rather than impacting suddenly. This merging-rather-than-colliding approach is key to meeting human partners, as well, and the skill can translate nicely.
  • Nancy Stark Smith has a incremental progression for going smoothly into the floor and back out from sitting, and it extends nicely to include going from standing though increments that take you into the floor and back to standing.
  • A parallel practice with people comes from circulating as a group - walking casually around the space - and gradually finding opportunities to converge your path with that of others. Merge your path into slight counterbalance while you're continuing to walk with this partner, then gradually diverge, parting from that partner and continuing to circulate with the group.
Traversing Between Upright and Prone
Acquaintance with sharing balance and merging provides a basis for connecting and exploring space with partners.
  • An exercise called sloughing can be a great way to explore traversing together the realms between upright and prone on the floor, while maintaining a clear but unburdensome connection.
  • You can combine this traversal of levels with the circulating exercise from the merging section, just above, to take the converged partnerships across levels and into wide-ranging dancing.
Sharing Weight
As you learn to navigate following the contact point with a partner through shared balance you can gradually play with the amount and distribution of mutually invested weight. Many CI exercises reveal ways to explore this realm, including exploration of structural supports, mounts and dismounts, reversals, and much more.
Sharing Rides
Weight is a static glimpse of the dynamic flows of momentary support that dancers can provide and receive in shared rides. Learning to take and give a ride is more about being ready for and familiar with what is easy to do than any kind of forcefulness. There are some brilliant exercises which convey a taste of the process of sharing rides - not just body surfing, Andrew Harwood has developed some step-by-step exercises that illuminate sharing centers dynamically, the key to easy shared trajectories...
Sharing Receptivity
"Following the contact points" means devoting attention to the connection between you and your partner, and tending to what is practical for you as well as respecting what is practical for them, at each moment. ! Maintaining receptivity to oneself without precluding attention to your partner is a continual and fascinating challenge, as likewise is being receptive to your partner while also continuing to notice and tend to one's own situation.
This skill - of continuing attention to both oneself and one's partner - is continually challenged and developed in cooperation through following the mutual point of contact.
At different moments you might find yourself tending more towards attention to your partner or yourself. This is natural. You might find that you overall tend more towards on or the other. That is the human condition. You have an opportunity to practice balancing the two, and through practice developing capacity for doing both, together.
Respecting Boundaries
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