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What People Do At Jams

by admin last modified Aug 28, 2023 04:16 PM
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Here are some touch-points that may help in finding your way at Contact Improv jams.

Contact Improvisation jams are loosely structured events for people to gather and practice together. Like CI in general, it can be difficult to describe exactly what to do. That leaves room for uncertainty about how to start, whether you're doing the right thing, and so on. Uncertainty is ok. It can lead to questioning and exploration, which are essential and often fun aspects of this practice. But uncertainty can be daunting. We can't prevent that – it's an intrinsic to improvisation – but we can offer some perspective on the jam process, to try to reduce unnecessary uncertainty and support finding your way in.


For our 2:00 to 4:30 pm Sunday jam, people typically arrive between 2:00 and 3:00. It varies a lot — some days a lot of people (10 to 15) are there by 2:30, some days people are still trickling in at 4:00. Like many aspects of the jam, it's hard to predict exactly how it will go each day, but things tend to work better the more people make the effort to be there near the start.

Some dance students describe what they do to arrive.

When people arrive they may chat a bit or they may go straight into their personal warm-ups, transitioning at their own pace from the busy-ness of daily life and activating their bodies and attention for moving. It's important to give yourself whatever time you need to notice how you are in the moment, and what it takes for you to arrive and be ready to dance. If you're inclined to chat, realize that some of the people around you might need quiet space for themselves. Please don't get carried away with it — we're there to dance! (-:

Our insurance requires that everyone sign a DC Jam Liability Waiver - we'll have some there, but bringing a signed one helps...

Finding Dances

The process of finding dances is, itself, an improvisation. There's a lot of opportunity to wonder what you're supposed to be doing about connecting with others, and no cut-and-dried guidelines. It's good to know that there's not a lot that you must do. If you can tune into how you're influenced by stuff within and around you, you can have plenty to do just moving on your own and in response to what's happening around you. The ability to be receptive to what's happening within you and also what's happening around you is really key. As you and others get into this mode, connections start to happen...

Find more about "solo contact improv" in Contact Improv As A Way Of Moving.
It can be doubly challenging to notice both what's happening within your self and also what's happening around you, and not have either focus preclude the other. Balancing these two is an art, and can ultimately be very engaging, if you're willing to give it a try.

The way I generally like to start is by seeking the dance I have with myself, at the moment. That could involve exploring the edges between balance and imbalance, momentum and (dis)coordination, sluggishness and levity. It may be different for you — the idea is to try things that lead to tuning in to yourself. Start with what you find in yourself at the moment, rather than what you expect you should be doing. The material you find will be what is personally engaging for you, and will be something that works for you in sharing with others - it will be most within reach of where you are.

Sampling connections, got a name, early in CI practice — "Grazing". Nancy Stark Smith included it as a full element of her CI-based ensemble improvisation recipe - see The DC Sunday Jam's Monthly Underscore for more about this.

Connecting with others can happen accidentally, when your sphere of attention overlaps with someone else, or it can happen by choice — seeking out someone doing something that interests you, or vice versa, or practicing a familiar warm-up with a friend. It can be nice to sample connections, dabbling in various interactions on before sticking with any one, or just dive in to an exploration with someone.

Yes *And* No — Respecting Boundaries

We can't stress this enough: Contact Improvisation is based on mutual cooperation rather than control. Good dances as well as general jam safety and vitality depend on Respecting Boundaries - please read.

It's essential to understand that there's no obligation to explore or stay with a particular connection. (Of course, watch for everyone's safety when exiting from a connection.) In order for everyone to have their choice about what they accept, how they continue, and when they're ready to be done, they must be able to turn down offers as well as to accept them. You might find yourself ready to join a dance but your prospective partner isn't, or vice-versa, you might not be ready, and it's fine to refuse the dance, or part as soon as you are ready to do so.

Connection with The Underscore

These suggestions are all similar to those embodied in an ensemble movement improv recipe called The Underscore↗︎. The Underscore was and continues to be developed by Nancy Stark Smith, joined by many around the world who have taken it up as a practice — including the DC Sunday jam. The Sunday jam Underscore happens on the first Sunday of each month. The added structure of the Underscore can help express what goes on at the less explicitly structured open jams.

In the underscore, participants agree to follow a shared progression, making it easy to identify activities that are separate from the score. In a regular CI jam the boundaries and agreement are less clearly set. It's a friendly situation, with room for some chatting. Still, the more that each of us focuses on dancing, the more we support and strengthen each other's pursuit of it.

Closing Circle

We conclude each Sunday jam as a group in the last half hour, gathering in a circle to with time to hear from those who have reflections they wish to share on their experience – part of making the transition together to wherever we're heading next.

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