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Exploring Collaborative Movement Improv Online

by Ken Manheimer last modified Sep 03, 2023 10:29 AM
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.

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 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 interpersonal cooperation 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.

Challenges of coordinating with others were greater in the time of the COVID-19 quarantine, when we had much fewer opportunities to play in physical presence. I wanted to see what could be found in corresponding with others mediated by online connection. It's not going to be the same as in-person presence, yet some of the challenges and opportunities are related. I found that confronting them 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 the online practices I've been finding to be the most conducive, and some notes about what I think is essential to create conditions conducive to people getting involved.

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". We've been meeting from 2pm to 4pm on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of each month since April of 2020 (as of September, 2020). I announce 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.
To be notified about the sessions and get details for meeting access, visit the Google Group and submit a subscription request – look for the "Ask to join group" link on the page, and include a little about what interest you, so we know you're not a spammer. We post a message with meeting info during the week before each session to members of the group.
One of the participants at an early run-through of the above Contemplative Movement Score, Kara Schmidt, had the insight that the first two parts would make a fine daily practice, and has been hosting a Zoom room where a few of us meet a few times a week to practice. To make it easy for others to join I'm establishing an ongoing Zoom room and a Google Group for group coordination. See the description for more details.
To see the details for joining the meeting, visit the Google Group and submit a subscription request – look for the "Ask to join group" link on the page, and include a little about what interest you, so we know you're not a spammer. The group's thread listing has an announcement pinned to the top with the current meeting details. We'll occasionally send messages to group members when logistical details change.

Authentic Movement

  • Authentic Movement is a score for moving in search of how you want to move, in the presence of a witness
I've found this practice to be the easiest to translate to an online arrangement, provided we have the patience 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 is one of the most influential factors for full and satisfying involvement in the world.

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 with myself and others. I think it is particularly useful for cultivating engagement in exploration of online collaborative movement.

Online Ensemble Improv

This accumulation score builds on the sensitization to being attentive that the above practices cultivate. Seeing someone doing a brief solo is inherently evocative, and can remind those watching that there is something to notice as we progress into collective movement. This awareness can help foster simultaneous inward 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 it's essential to establishing welcoming conditions for collaborative improvisation in general. Here is how I like to describe it:

When you really show up for something, bringing yourself fully to participate, it can be a particular joy to be received and to receive others. Conversely, if you really show up and are not received, it can be very disappointing; crushing, even. I've found that successful ensemble sessions, in which many feel like they were part of something special, involve people really showing up and really receiving each other.

Any time we explore together, the more of us who recognize this principle, the more likely we will enjoy something worthwhile, together, in that collaboration.

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