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The Finger Dance

by Ken Manheimer last modified Jun 08, 2020 09:07 AM
A Contact Improvisation exercise that presents a nearly ideal opportunity to practice following a point of contact.
See Fundamental CI Skills for context

Intro

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.

Attribution

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.

Recipe

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 instruction is not expected to yield any particular change in what is happening with their finger, but to try to follow the little movements in their fingers. The finger will probably remain just as still (and just slightly un-still), but this way of focusing involves a particular, conducive way 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 feel the little movements of their partner's finger, following them.
  5. Again, nothing needs to happen, other than tuning in. Maybe eventually the fingers will move through space, maybe they won't. Even if they do move, the aim is not to keep them moving, but to continue to follow the little movements of their partner's finger, not leading with your own.
  6. 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 each of them can shift their position, adjust their arms, do whatever it takes to be comfortable while they're tuning in.)
  7. After they've had a few minutes to explore what this way of tuning in, ask the partners to let their fingers settle at a point in space.
  8. 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.
  9. After some moments to notice how their finger feels, ask them to rest their arms and thank their partners.
  10. It's 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.)

Follow-up

While the finger dance can convey how just following the point of contact can yield engaging attention and surprising pathways, 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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