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What People Do At Jams

by admin last modified Jan 16, 2019 10:58 AM
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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 gatherings where people practice together. Like CI in general, it can be difficult to describe exactly what to do. That can leave lots of room for uncertainty, about how to start, whether you're doing the right thing, etc. Uncertainty and even doubt are ok - they can lead to questioning and exploration, which actually are essential parts of this practice. Too much doubt, though, can interfere with relaxing and finding your way. That's not necessary or fun!

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. [on-time arrival helps.]

When people arrive they may shmooze 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.

In this video, how to enter a jam?, a couple of dancers describe what they do in their warmups to arrive more fully (whatever that means).

The process of finding dances can be challenging.  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 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 be ready to connect when you coincide with someone else.

The ultimate skill that I see in CI (and in ensemble improv, in general) is to be able to be able to notice what is going on with your partners while continuing to be receptive to yourself - not having either focus preclude the other. Balancing those two is an art. An art that has myriad applications... (For more about what "solo contact improv" could mean, see Contact Improv As A Way Of Moving.)

The primary thing i recommend for finding dances is to start with looking for dancing with yourself - with your balance and imbalances, momentum and (dis)coordination, sluggishness and levity, whatever is going on! Start from where you are and follow your curiosity to get into movement. If you allow yourself to go with what is there, rather than what you expect you should be doing, you'll be starting from where you are, rather than where you think you ought to be. The material you find to share with others will be what is personally engaging for you in the moment, and most within reach of where you are.

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.

Please get acquainted with Respecting Boundaries, for essential guidelines that support ensuring that everyone has choice in their dancing.

It's important to understand that there's no obligation to explore a particular connection.  Everyone chooses what they're ready to accept, how they continue, and when they're ready to be done. It's key that each of us is able to choose for themselves when to accept a dance.  You may 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. In order for everyone to be able to choose what they do and do not accept, they sometimes are unable to get the dances they request.

These suggestions are all similar to those embodied in an ensemble movement improv recipe, called The Underscore, which the Sunday jam practices 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 - part of the agreement for participating is following the form, and not starting separate scores like chatting or organizing a square dance. :-) In a regular CI jam the boundaries and agreement are less clearly set. It's a friendly situation, with room for some shmoozing. Still, it's important to put focusing on dancing ahead of other scores (like chatting) even at regular jams. The more people we keep our own focus on dancing, the more we support and strengthen each other's pursuit of it.

CI offers so much opportunity to play in so many directions, and it confronts everyone with the fundamental challenges of being present with themselves and their partners in a particular way, that it's sometimes tempting to divert oneself with incidental activities, or other forms that you already know.  The vitality of the jam, though, and general safety, depends on everyone making an earnest effort to discover and explore what it is that we're there for - CI practice.

That's the general situation. In addition to that, we have one group ritual.  We almost always have a closing circle, where people gather at 4:05 to share names, have an opportunity to talk about what they experienced, and discuss jam business and upcoming related events.  That's about it, though - otherwise, the event is a pretty grass-roots, everyone bringing themselves to the space and one another, to explore contact improv.


[on-time arrival helps.]With so much of improvisation being open-ended, having a clearly determined, regular time for us to rendezvous and pratice together is helpful, providing reliable frame of reference that we can all count on. The more that each of shows up on time, and concentrates on dancing while we are there, the stronger the jam is, as a whole.
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