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Exploring Collaborative Movement Improv Online

by Ken Manheimer last modified Oct 17, 2023 12:45 PM
During the COVID-19 quarantine I wanted to continue to explore cooperative movement improvisation in so far as I could. I found success with several online scores. In the process of exploring and trying various things I've also learned more about what I'm looking for.


Improvising with others explores spontaneous cooperation. Whatever the mode – music, movement, theater, ... – there are worlds of interaction dynamics to discover and develop. Interacting via online facilities is different, yet you are still able to move and to correspond. I have wondered how satisfying online collaborative improvisation can be, how it can be similar to and different than in-person collaboration, and what it can reveal that illuminates and inform in-person collaboration.

I'm lucky.

I found Contact Improvisation in college, and it has been an important part of my life since then. For me it's been an opportunity to play for the sake of play, exploring the dynamics of improvised cooperation through a medium that I love, movement. It's never been completely easy. There is plenty of opportunity for the intricacies and foibles of personal and interpersonal interaction to surface. Over time these challenges have increasingly become guides and even nourishment – material of the exploration along with the physical coordination – rather than obstacles.

Of course, COVID-19 quarantine presented profound challenges to sharing such opportunities in physical presence. I wanted to see what could be found using online connection to explore collaborative movement improv. Interacting via online facilities is different, yet you are still able to move and to correspond. I found that confronting the differences sheds light not just on immediate questions about how to find inspiration in sharing movement improvisation online, but also on my in-person practice, as well. Below are descriptions of some online practices I've been enjoying, and some notes about what I find conducive.

Does online movement collaboration make sense?

There are a lot of things I like about cooperative movement improvisation – the full-person involvement and sheer physical immediacy that can be so different from so much of contemporary life. Is it possible to continue to practice this kind of thing when Coronavirus quarantine makes in-person collaboration impossible. Does it even make sense to try?

For me, it doesn't make sense to not try. Maintaining some kind of practice helps me maintain a sense of fine attunement to myself and engagement with the world around me. Much like meditating, even a simple practice that I can do on my own, like Finding Inspiration in Solo Movement..., surprises me with how much better I feel and work, if I can muster the diligence and patience to just practice. My quality of life is better when I continue to explore and challenge my abilities to move.

The prospects for sustaining a practice depend on the rewards you get from that practice. While the simple joy of moving is at the core, it has become clear to me that bringing my self to the practice and having what I do received and appreciated by others makes a big difference in my own satisfaction with it. And others being receptive to me depends in turn on my being receptive to them and to myself. While I can cultivate and revel in solo movement, it is all the more satisfying to be part of a bunch of us striving for and finding this kind of enjoyment together.

The challenge, then, is finding ways to organize online activities that is accessible enough for those involved to bring themselves as fully as they can to the exploration, while being receptive to each other. I consider these to be the crucial concerns underlying my designs of the following activities.

I owe thanks to everyone who has been joining in these explorations, including particularly Ana and Grant, the Nossa Jam folk, the people who have been exploring the twice-monthly Online Contemplative Movement sessions, and really everyone who put their hearts and heads into sharing the exploration in constructive ways.

Contemplative Movement

I relish the kind of engagement that I've been finding in an online adaptation of Barbara Dilley's Contemplative Dance Practice – "Online Contemplative Movement". For about a year starting in April of 2020 we met from 2pm to 4pm on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month. I announced the sessions on the DC Contact Improvisation mailing list and Facebook group, and have established a Google Group for notifying those outside the DC metro area who would like to participate. See the description for score details.

One of the participants at an early run-through of the above Online Contemplative Movement Score, Kara Schmidt, had the insight that the first two parts would make a fine daily practice, and hosted a Zoom room where a few of us met a few times a week to practice.

Authentic Movement

  • Authentic Movement (Wikipedia) is a score for moving in a way that is true to your internal experience of the world. The presence of a witness as well as a mover is an essential part of the process

I found this practice to be the easiest to translate to an online arrangement, though patience was needed to work through the logistical pragmatics – getting the camera setups right, factoring in awareness of being inside and outside the camera view, extending the in-person trust and appreciation to someone on the other side of the screen, etc.

My experience with Authentic Movement over the years has heightened my awareness of how much we are affected by the attention of others. It's influence is profound, and can be deeply instrumental to presence and self discovery.

Solo Practice

This is an elementary exploration of solo moving that I've been exploring for a long time. I feel it starts to convey the essence of how I (and maybe others) tune into coordination and correspondence, internal and external. I think it is particularly useful for cultivating engagement in exploration of online collaborative movement.

Online Ensemble Improv

This accumulation score builds on awareness skills that the above practices cultivate. Doing a brief solo and seeing someone doing so are both evocative, and can us that there is something to notice as we progress into collective movement. This awareness can help foster simultaneous interior and outward attention as a foundation for deeper collective engagement.

An Afterword

In the Authentic Movement entry I mentioned the importance of attention. I believe a balance of inward and outward awareness is the key to creative cooperation and to establishing conditions for enjoyable collaboration. I describe it something like this:

When you show up for something ready to share of yourself and receive others and you're well received, it can be a particular joy to participate. Conversely, if you show up fully and are not received it can be very disappointing. I've found that successful ensemble sessions, in which many feel like they were part of something special, involve people sharing of themselves while also being receptive of others. I see this as the key skill to any improvised collaboration.

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