Warm-Up: The Small Dance Into Grazing

Awareness of your bodies small movements can be a way to embracing rather than fighting imbalance and deepening your cooperation with yourself and where you are going. This exercise gradual develops this premise as a group warm-up into "grazing" – exploring small interaction with yourself and others.


For me, arriving and being ready to participate often takes some time and attention. When getting ready to be active in a jam I typically spend time paying attention to the slight shifting balance that happens when I am standing still, along the lines of Steve Paxton's small dance. This way of arriving can be a basis for a grazing warm-up full of alertness and receptivity when practiced with a group.


Start by settling into a easy, steady stand. The aim is to notice the what's happening in your body when we're not doing anything but standing. Unnecessary tension gets in the way of that – as Steve Paxton says, "tension masks sensation". Think about arranging your skeleton so it bears the load.

Once you've settled in an easy stand take some time to notice what's happening in your body. You might notice some slight shifts caused by breathing and even your heartbeat.

  • An easy stand involves keeping the mass of your body centered over the base provided by your feet. Keeping your body centered minimizes your effort. However, slight drifting enables different sets of your muscles to take turns regulating your stand and resting.
  • Take time to notice how the location of your center drifts ever so slightly now and then. Closing your eyes might make it easier to notice. The aim is not to force this movement to happen but notice what is happening, however slight, and to allow it, indulge it.

Begin to allow that drifting to get further from your center of balance.

This can take time and patience. We learn to keep our body centered while standing because it takes less effort than being off-center. The purpose at the moment is different than usual, to explore where the small movements go if we allow them to grow.

As you are able to increasingly indulge the wandering of your center of gravity, look for opportunities to let it wander to the edge of your base – the edge of your balance. can you continue to follow your small dance at the edge of balance? Let your center of gravity wander just slightly beyond your edge balance, taking you into a small step.

  • To develop a feel for this allowing beyond the limit of balance you might first deliberately go a little too far, and then get a feel finding it less deliberately, more as something you notice rather than do.
  • When you go beyond the edge of balance, the aim is to yield to it as soon as you are able rather than resisting. The more you resist the more drastic the action will be when it happens. We're looking to follow in every moment rather than fight in most moments in order to eventually be taken over in one spectacular moment.

After you've taken a step you can follow your momentum until it plays out and you wind up back in a stand. Repeat the process.

As you get experience finding and going beyond your edge of balance into a step, look for ways to continue to notice your small dance while you are moving, and seek to follow it even before you settle back into a stand. You can still settle back into a stand, but you have more options to follow changes while you are moving and you are still.

Notice that every step involves a small fall and rebound. By sinking further into the fall you can include level changes in your dynamics. Take the sense of following your shifting balance and momentum to let your dance lead you into all sorts of different dynamics.

Notice too that most of us tend to make some implicit choices, like avoiding walking into walls or each other. Maybe you can slightly relax that vigilance, too, to allow encounters with others and walls, etc. (as gently as the circumstances require). Or maybe you notice yourself being drawn into the wake of someone passing by. All of is more material, like the small, with which you can play (or is it that the material is playing with you?)

Eventually, when some interaction with someone along the way seems to ask for continued development, stick with it and allowing divergences as well as convergences to be part of the partnering. As you get a feel for all this you will discover that you can move solo, in partnership and everything in between.


By starting with time and attention to the small activity within myself, my awareness of what is happening within and around me grows and deepens I find opportunities to follow my own shifting balance into moving, playing with the line between balance and imbalance. At this "edge of balance" I practice yielding to imbalance before it becomes precarious. Doing this I gradually get an increasing sense of "going where I am going", embracing rather than fighting imbalance. It is a way of cooperating with myself more fully, and being more ready to cooperate with others.

See Also

Steve Paxton's description of where contact improvisation started for him for more about the small dance, and see Warm-Up: Following Small Inspirations Into Grazing for another grazing warm-up with a more general focus, and see Grazing and "Solo Contact Improvisation" for more general context.