Dancing on the Edge

As I mentioned in my post on Monday, I went to a Contact Improv workshop/jam on Saturday.

Contact improv is a form of movement improvisation where 2 or more people dance together and use a point of contact between their bodies to shape the dance. As far as I can tell, the only rules are to take care of your own body (don’t let yourself get hurt) and to be as generous as you can to your partner (support them as much as you can) while still abiding by the first rule.

For a brief idea of what it can look like, check out this video:

(If you can’t see the video, click here: http://youtu.be/S23AXtFW6qs)

Or this one:

(If you can’t see the video, click here: http://youtu.be/zQRF2sLK1vY)

Or this one:

(If you can’t see the video, click here: http://youtu.be/ED8hNoulZv4)

Or this one:

(If you can’t see the video, click here: http://youtu.be/zkreiRt8GEY)

I could keep going indefinitely. There’s no single way to do contact improv, no definitive “this is how it should look.” In fact, I get the feeling that no two sessions will be the same: the energy you bring to the practice will change, the way you experience the physical sensations will change, and these elements will affect the movement. Even if you danced with the same partner day in and day out, you would both bring new things to the table every single time.

It’s a practice that I find simultaneously fascinating and terrifying.

Much like the dance I’ve been exploring and teaching in my classes, contact improv isn’t something you can do “right” or “wrong.” It’s experience-focused, not appearance-focused (although, I have to say, it looks really cool too). The point isn’t to “get it right,” the point is to be fully embodied and aware of the play of sensation and emotion as you move through the practice.

As our teacher, Sara Coffin, told us in class on Saturday, if you’re asking yourself “am I getting this?” you’re actually putting up a roadblock to your own progress. Instead, ask yourself how the practice feels in the moment, and allow your emotional and physical experience to be expressed in the dance.

It gave me chills, because she nailed exactly what I was asking myself…even though it’s exactly what I tell people NOT to do in my own classes. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but outside my own discipline…not so much.

As you can see from the videos, contact improv is very much about connection and trust—trust in yourself and trust in your partner(s). And it’s also about unspoken communication—sensing your partner’s energy and intention and honouring it, while simultaneously shaping the dance with your own energy and intention.

It’s the unspoken interaction that fascinates me. The requisite release of control—how you can’t make a decision to do something and force your partner to go along with it, but need to create a new path that honours both of you. The way you need to trust yourself as well as your partner. The way you really need to release into the flow of movement, without holding back. The way you need to keep from over-thinking because the body knows better than the mind.

These things are also what scare me. The practice brought me face to face with my own issues: my tensed-up, frightened need to control things, my reluctance to release into the care of another, my fear that my body wouldn’t be strong or flexible enough to support me, my self-consciousness about being bigger than the other dancers (when I dance solo, this is SO not an issue. Dancing with a partner really brought this out for me).

It was not a comfortable 2 hours.

But it was a necessary 2 hours. It was an awakening for me, this foreign-but-familiar, fascinating-but-terrifying dance. It had me walking my edge with a vengeance

and that’s a good thing. Beyond that edge I sense the possibility of experiences I didn’t know existed. The possibility of freedom from these limiting beliefs I didn’t know I carried. The possibility of connection and play and release and flow and lightness. Strength and trust and confidence. More than ever before.

In the past six years, I’ve broken through many boundaries, healed many wounds, walked many edges, leaped and been caught, trusted and tried and learned. For some reason, I thought I was done the bulk of it. But of course I wasn’t.

I’m beginning to see that we’re never done. There’s always another edge to walk. We find a new one and glimpse a life that’s bigger than we knew was possible. And that’s amazing, because it means that we can keep evolving and growing and healing and getting ourselves further and further into the flow of things.

There’s always another edge to walk, another inner landscape to explore. Saturday’s workshop showed me mine, and it’s a major one. If you need me, I’ll be hanging out here, dancing on the edge, peering over the edge of my comfort zone, and staring at the magical possibilities that await me.

Image by Peer Lawther (Flickr.com)

20 thoughts on “Dancing on the Edge”

  1. That’s really cool! So NOT something I’d ever be comfortable doing with strangers, but it’s pretty neat.

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone too, but I can already see how it would be possible to get into the flow. It’s a VERY different way of interacting—I can’t decide if it’s animal-like or child-like or both. I notice that Xander really responds if I interact with him in a contact-improv-y kind of way…it’s interesting.

    1. HEHE! I KNOW, RIGHT?!

      It was massively transformative in that “I don’t love this yet, but I know it’s deeply necessary and I WILL love it eventually and be grateful I tried it” kind of way. 😀

  2. Wow, Meg. This looks amazing. I have only just discovered in the last year or so that I really love to move when movement is called dance. I have no formal training whatsoever but will put on some big band or a Gabrielle Roth DVD or go English Country dancing and have myself a grand old time. (I got Zumba DVDs for Christmas but am not quite up to them endurance-wise, and am intrigued by Nia but haven’t tried it out yet.)

    I’m a big fan of theatrical improv and even the written forms improv can take. There’s something about letting go and just flowing with the moment that’s absolutely magical, whether you’re doing it in a “formal” environment or just in the privacy of your own house. I’ve never seen anything like contact improv before, but I’d absolutely be interested in trying it. Is there a clearinghouse to help people find it locally?

    1. Hi Nancy!
      I can so relate! Putting on some music and just dancing it up is pretty much my favourite thing to do EVER. And I am DYING to try Nia…unfortunately, it looks like the teacher who used to run classes locally has moved or stopped teaching. Boo.

      I checked online, and there are directories at http://www.contactimprov.com and http://www.contactimprov.net/jams. I don’t know where in NJ you’re located, but it looks like there’s a regular jam in Princeton. Also, if you’re in southern NJ, you should check out http://flowtationdevices.com. Jennifer lives in southern NJ, and she goes to a lot of regular 5Rhythms dance events as well as other workshops. She’d be a good person to contact about possible websites/venues to check out.

  3. Ooh! I’m just outside Princeton, so that would work well–though that info doesn’t look like it’s been updated in a few years. I’ll have to zap an email off, or else go look for Nia instead. Thanks for the links! 🙂

        1. Excellent! I wasn’t sure if you two were in similar areas. I’m glad you could connect!

          Nancy, if you do go to one of the events, I would love to hear about your experience!

  4. Thanks for sharing, Meg. Watching the videos and reading this post made me realise how much I miss dancing and need to get going with it again. It’s very much apart of who I am. Love & Blessings, Lisa

  5. Turns out I do a lot of Contact Improv already in 5Rhythms classes, especially with people I’ve danced with for a while. I’ve had some really beautiful moments during Lyrical and Stillness, my body draped over another’s. My only fear in doing a full class of it is my stupid hip; I have to be really mindful of it, which I’ve found is a bit challenging during improvisational movement. Sometimes you have to be ready to just roll or jump or kick out of the other person’s way, and if I move my leg the wrong way…yelp!

    Also, this is off topic, but your posts are coming through my Google Reader in chunks. There will be days with nothing, and then tonight 3 new ones rolled in. Are you posting differently??

    1. I see what you mean. I had general body fear because I’ve been really creaky lately, but a specific sore spot would heighten that even more.

      I’m not posting any differently, although I’ve posted more often (very) recently. If it’s a brand new thing you’re noticing, it could be that Google Reader stopped checking every day when I was posting more rarely, and hasn’t started again (I don’t know if it works that way, though…I’m just guessing).

  6. Wow! I really love this form of dance. Contact dance reminds me so much of process painting, where the paint brush is your partner and the focus is on the present. As you said “if you’re asking yourself “am I getting this?” you’re actually putting up a roadblock to your own progress. ”
    Thanks for sharing the videos!

  7. How incredible! I never knew this existed before… it’s just mindblowing and amazing. How brave of you to try it and to let go and express yourself in this way- truly inspiring!

    1. Right?! It’s really cool! And it was so fun to find the videos…there’s so much great stuff out there!

  8. Wow, that is really cool……out of my comfort zone too although I would probably give it a shot…..and would have to warm up my body quite a bit, lol…..love, love, love the last one with the child in it……..what a great way to interact with your child while at the same time both body’s getting such a nice movement workout……..thx for sharing!

Leave a Reply