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The Finger Dance

by Ken Manheimer last modified Nov 08, 2018 04:52 PM
A Contact Improvisation exercise that presents a nearly ideal opportunity to practice following a point of contact.
See Fundamental CI Skills for context


The finger dance provides a nearly ideal opportunity to see how just following the contact point can result in engaging activity. It is helped by a combination of relaxation and careful attention.


This little gem was spontaneously invented by one of Contact Improvisation's main developers, Nancy Stark Smith, when asked at a party about CI. Nancy has confirmed this, but I don't remember the exact details.


The preliminary steps are crucial to making it work. (This set of instructions is inevitably different, probably in many ways, from what Nancy initially did.)

  1. Partners sit or stand facing each other, about an arm's length apart, each holding an index finger in front of them, with their eyes closed, their arms not resting on anything, and their index finger not (yet) touching anything.
  2. They are asked to notice the little movements in their fingers, and given several moments to gradually do so.
  3. They are then told that this next instruction is not expected to yield any change in their actual movement, and to try to follow the little movements in their fingers. Tell them that this fosters a conducive way to attend to what's happening in their finger, to tune in.
  4. Now ask them to briefly open their eyes and touch the tips of their extended index finger to the tip of their partner's index finger, close their eyes again, and based on feeling the movements of their partner's finger, follow their partner's finger.
  5. Give them a minute or two or three for them to gradually feel what happens in continuing to follow the movements of their partner's finger, as the partner follows their movements.
    • At some point you can add that they can move how they're positioned, and adjust their arms, to be comfortable.
  6. After they've had a few minutes to explore what happens, ask the partners to let their fingers settle at a point in space. Tell them to then move their finger back from their partner's just by an inch or so, and notice how their finger feels now.
  7. After some moments to notice how their finger feels, ask them to rest their arms and thank their partners.
  8. It's very valuable to have the partners repeat the exercise with new partners. As with everything in this practice, the experience is generally different with different partners, and even with the same partner at different moments. Acquaintance with a range of partners enables discovery what's vital.


While the finger dance can convey how just following the point of contact can yield engaging activity (though it's not guaranteed - careful attention to the preliminary steps can help), it can be unclear how to translate this experience to contact involving the whole body, and all the intricate pragmatics that involves. Slight Counterbalance helps get acquainted with a way to engage with the whole body that's particularly conducive to lively and revealing connection. Fundamental Contact Improvisation Skills discusses these skills, generally.

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