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CI Group Warm-Up: The Small Dance into Circulating

by Ken Manheimer last modified Sep 06, 2023 04:19 PM
Being able actively explore the CI way of moving at a jam while you're not partnering can enhance your experience, including helping with your availability and readiness for partnering. Exploring this idea over time, I've developed a jam warm-up that builds on the tuning-in of the small dance.


Contact improv is very engaging – you're exploring coordinating in a very thorough way with another person. It wakes you up! I wonder how to find this activating demand in solo movement – not as a substitute for partnering, but to help prepare for and sustain the alacrity and musicality awakened in partnering while moving solo. I've found a few avenues for this.

The first is organized around tuning into and small movements, along the lines of Steve Paxton's framing of the small dance, cultivating that attunement and the small movements into large scale movement exploration. The second involves applying that kind of attention to falling, and redirecting falling into continuing, fluid movement.

Growing the Small Dance

After some stretching much of my personal jam warm-up starts with attention to the slight shifting balance that happens when I am standing still - along the lines of Steve Paxton's small dance. Gradually my awareness of those shifts grows and deepens, and I can begin to follow my own shifting balance into moving and playing with the line between balance and imbalance. At some point the "edges of balance" can include some faltering, which I've come to welcome as an opportunity to yield instead of fighting, turning almost-falters into glides instead of stumbles.

Out of this exploration I've developed a jam warm-up, with specific instructions that can simplify tuning into and bringing shifting balance to motion and connection.

Warm-Up: The Small Dance into Circulating

  • Start with a stand that is easy but steady, with as little extra effort as possible. Use your muscles to organize yourself so your skeleton so your skeleton bears your weight. The less unnecessary effort the more you can notice slight shifts in your balance. (Steve Paxton said it this way: "tension masks sensation".)
  • Notice that an easy stand involves keeping your center of gravity centered over the base provided by your feet. Note that your center drifts over that base, however slightly, and suggest indulging that drift, relaxing the vigilance to keep your center of gravity centered. Note that we have been trained and trained ourselves to keep centered, so it takes some time and intention to relax that vigilance.
  • Eventually suggest allowing your center of gravity to wander to the edge of your base and sometimes beyond, which will take you into a step. The aim is to yield to the imbalance before the step becomes drastic, so that you follow your shifting weight easily. After such steps settle back into a stand and find and indulge the small dance again, finding other steps.
  • Eventually suggest seeking to follow your small dance while you're still moving, not always settling back to a stand, but allowing settling to a stand to still be an option.
  • Recognizing that each step involves a small fall and rebound, you can introduce the prospect of changing levels by letting the fall go a further. That can be indulged, allowing level changing to be part of the journey. Take the sense of following your shifting balance and momentum to let your dance lead you into all sorts of different dynamics, as suits your situation and inclinations in each moment.
  • As you continue you may notice internal inclinations when passing by others, being drawn into their wake or propelled away, to varying degrees. This thing that happens is more material to play with in exploring how to follow the forces that inform your path.
  • Note that everyone tends to make some unmentioned choices that constrain their paths. For example, people avoid walking into walls or each other. Suggest relaxing that vigilance, too, to make (gentle) encounters with others and walls, etc, options on your path. Not forcing that, but allowing it.
  • 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. (Stillness also is always an option.)

When people are engaged by this progression it fosters circulating in the group, stillness, and solo dancing as part of jam activities.

"Always Falling Sometimes Up"

[I'm working on a description of my approach. It starts with repeating falls in which I first release as fully as I safely can into the fall and gradually divert the falls so I can continue them into fluid movement in all directions - following the small changes along the way. Here is a video of a presentation I did of this practice for a dance showcase sponsored by Nancy Havlik "Out From Under" at Dance Institute of Washington on April 23, 2022. Videographer: Denaise Seals.]

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