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The Finger Dance

by Ken Manheimer last modified May 24, 2022 04:08 PM
A Contact Improvisation exercise that presents a kind of idealized opportunity to practice following a point of contact.
See Fundamental CI Skills for context


The finger dance provides an opportunity to experience how just following the contact point can result in engaging activity. It is helped by carefully tuning into small movements.


This exercise is adapted from something one of Contact Improvisation's main proponents and developers, Nancy Stark Smith, did to demonstrate when asked at a party about contact improvisation, in the early days. (I actually asked Nancy about this and she confirmed it, but I don't remember more details.)


(First tuning in to the small movements happening in one's own finger, step #2, tends to make a big difference in how this exploration works.)

  1. Have partners sit or stand facing each other, about an arm's length apart, each holding an index finger in front of them not touching anything. For this to work their arms should not be not resting on anything.
  2. Invite them to notice the little movements in their own finger, and give several moments to gradually do so. I mention that I don't expect the motion of their fingers to change, though it might, but it can change the way that they tune in to their motion. Suggest that closing their eyes can help tune in.
  3. Now ask them to touch the tips of their extended index finger to the tip of their partner's index finger (briefly opening their eyes, if they were closed), and follow the movements of their partner's finger so the partners are mutually following each other's finger motions, seeing what if anything happens.
  4. Nothing big 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 movements of their partner's finger, not leading with their own but respecting their own limits and ease.
  5. Give a minute or three for them to gradually feel what happens in continuing to tune in and 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.)
  6. After they've had a few minutes to explore what this way of tuning in, ask the partners to let their fingers settle, still at a point in space except for the little movements that never stop.
  7. Ask them to then move their finger back from their partner's a little and notice how their finger feels now.
  8. After some moments to notice how their finger feels, ask them to rest their arms and thank their partners.
  9. It's valuable to have the partners repeat the exercise with new partners, and see how the experience varies from partner to partner and moment to moment.
    • (Becoming aware of how things can vary with different partners helps surface what there is to discover and explore.)


While the finger dance can convey how just following the point of contact can yield engaging attention and activity without leading, it can be unclear how to translate this experience to contact involving the whole body, with the intricate pragmatics that involves. Slight Counterbalance helps get acquainted with a way to engage with the whole body that's conducive to lively connection. Fundamental Contact Improvisation Skills discusses these skills, generally.

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