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The Finger Dance

by Ken Manheimer last modified Apr 29, 2018 11:56 AM
A Contact Improvisation exercise that presents a nearly idealized experience of following the point of contact.
See Fundamental CI Skills for context


The finger dance provides a nearly idealized 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 primary 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 a few 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, but they are being asked to try to follow the little movements in their fingers. You can even tell them that this attempt fosters a way of attending to their finger's activity that's useful for the exercise.
  4. Now ask them to briefly open their eyes and touch the tips of the index finger that they're holding out to the tip of their partner's index finger, close their eyes again, and both follow the little movements of their partner's finger.
  5. Give them a minute or two for them to gradually see 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, if that would make it easier.
  6. After they've had a minute or two to explore what happens, ask the partners to let their fingers settle at a point in space and, once their, pull their finger back from touching their partner's just by an inch or so, and see if they notice any sensations in their finger that's different from before they were touching their partner's finger.
  7. After a few seconds to notice the difference, instruct them to rest their arm and thank their partner.
  8. It's very valuable to have the partners repeat the exercise with new partners. As with everything in this practice, the experience is inevitably different with different partners, and even with the same partner at different moments.


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 full-body contact. Slight Counterbalance presents a good avenue, and Fundamental Contact Improvisation Skills discusses these skills, generally.

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