The other night, when I was feeling lost and panicky and completely out of touch with myself, Matthew sat me down and gave me a challenge: Before I spent any more time envisioning the future, making plans (and despairing about how to carry them out), I was to look in my bag of fireflies.
How he came up with that image doesn’t matter (it made sense at the time, I promise). His point was that I needed to sift through my creations and experiences before anything else. And I agreed with him. I have a very short memory—I forget I’ve done things almost immediately after the glow fades.
So I’m sifting through my bag of fireflies, seeing what’s there. I’m reading old word processing documents: blog post drafts, class notes, write-ups. I’m being reminded of who I am, who I’ve been, and who I want to become.
And as firefly after firefly shines out from my bag, I see how they form a path that leads me forward…and how I may have wandered here and there, but I’ve (almost) always been heading in the right direction.
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:
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.
Well, it’s official: I made it to all of the workshops I mentioned in my not-Portland post! Hooray!
Last weekend I went to yoga and to Barefoot Ecstatic Dance, and they were incredible. And on Saturday I went to a Contact Improv workshop taught by Mocean Dance Interim Artistic Director, Sara Coffin. It was scary and challenging and intriguing, and it brought up a lot of my “stuff.” It could be life-changing.
I’m going to have a lot to say about the workshop soon, I promise. But before I even start, I want to take some time to celebrate the fact that I did these things. It’s a Big Deal! I spent so long (YEARS) staying at home and not exploring the community around me. And then I finally stepped out my front door (instead of driving to Maine) and I discovered new communities, met amazing people, challenged myself, and learned SO MUCH.
I was right. I didn’t need to cross the border or even leave the city to find new experiences and learn new things. In fact, I think I challenged myself more by staying here. I didn’t realize how much I was resisting going out and meeting people in Halifax. People at workshops in other cities or countries? You never (or rarely) see them again. But people in Halifax? Way scarier to me. What if they didn’t like me? Or laughed at me? What if they thought I was too big or weak or awkward or scared?
(Yes, I have these fears too. I didn’t realize how strong they still were until this past weekend).
But (and here’s the key) I went out and took the classes anyway. And nothing bad happened. Everyone was amazing. I had fun…and even when I didn’t have fun, I learned a LOT.
And, best of all, now that I’ve opened up to the possibility of exploring Halifax’s community, new opportunities keep showing up.
There’s another Barefoot Ecstatic Dance on Saturday, and at least 2 of my friends are going with me. There’s going to be another one at the end of July with live music. Sara Coffin is planning at least one more Contact Improv jam before the end of the summer, and there was even talk of making it a weekly thing. And there is a series of contemporary dance performances scheduled in Halifax in the fall that I am DYING to go to. There’s more out there, too…a lot more.
I’m so glad I stayed in Halifax. It’s like spreading the joy and growth of a $1000 trip to Maine through the whole year…for 1/5th of the price, and with the added bonus of finding my own place in the community and learning about myself through that process. I feel like a kid in a candy store…I can’t wait to see what happens next!
Is there a class or event that you’ve been meaning to get to? Go. Trust me. Go. You never know what will come of it.
I was. Last winter, I promised myself that I would go to the Authentic Movement workshop that’s happening there this weekend. Matthew and Xander were going to come too (to Portland, not the workshop). Friends of ours were going to come along for the trip. It was going to be an awesome vacation and, for me, a big, splashy return to the world of dancing with new people and learning new things “out there.”
And then life happened.
My husband left his office job (and his regular paycheque). We cut expenses drastically. I started actually doing all the business-y stuff I talked about doing before he left the office.
And then it was the end of April, and there was just no way in hell it was happening.
So, there it is. The Authentic Movement workshop will happen (technically, it’s happening right now, since there was a Friday night session), without me.
But you know what? That’s OK.
It would have been a really cool experience. But it would have cost well over $1000 (probably $1500 or higher) between transportation and accommodation and everything else. And, frankly, I would rather take that money and use it to cover bills and buy myself some time in which I can focus completely on building my business. I’ve already started, and it’s been fabulous.
Plus, there are a lot of opportunities right here.
Next weekend there’s a Barefoot Ecstatic Dance (which I’ve meant to go to since Xander turned 2, and STILL haven’t made it to). There’s also an open house at a local yoga studio, and that means free yoga classes (which I’ve meant to go to since Xander turned 2 and STILL haven’t made it to). And the weekend after next, there’s a contact improv workshop at the studio space where I teach DansKinetics (the idea of going terrifies me, but in that good “walking my edge” kind of way).
I can go to all three for $25, plus bus/cab fare if necessary. I’ll be walking my edge, challenging myself in the best possible way. And I’ll be making connections and learning and growing in the community where I live. There’s something to be said for that.
I feel like I had to not-go to the workshop in Maine in order to truly appreciate all the possibilities there are right here. I’ll be keeping my eyes open from now on, making an effort to get out to events and experience new things here in Halifax…and I’ll let you know how it goes.
I’m looking forward to having new movement experiences to blog about 🙂
Two of my favourite things in the world are dancing and writing.
When I dance, I love the feeling of my body moving through space, the stretch of my muscles, the flow of my breath. When I am grounded, centred, and completely IN my body, I feel connected not only to my deepest core, but to the whole of the Universe. My cells dance in time to the rhythm of creation as I express my soul through movement.
When I’m writing, I can get to a place of similar flow and connection. Words I didn’t know I contained flow through my hands and appear on the screen. Images and phrases that delight and astonish me suddenly appear unbidden. My story emerges, dancing with the rhythms of life.
Sometimes, dance and writing collide. While reading a written piece out loud, I come across a word that I particularly enjoy. I take a moment to feel the shape of the word, to roll it around my mouth and appreciate the dance of speaking. Or, while dancing, a word will come to mind and shape my dance with its meaning.
There’s the dance of the written (or spoken) word…and words that shape the dance.
Below is a list of 16 of my favourite dancing words. These words dance as they are spoken…and they shape the dance I do. Today, I invite you to take a minute to fully appreciate these words. Read them aloud to yourself and appreciate the way your mouth moves to produce the sounds they make.
Feel the texture and rhythm of the sounds—the crisp report of a P or a T, for example, or the soft hiss of a “Sh”—and notice how they feel. Appreciate the marvel of a mouth that can form these sounds, the wonder of language.
(Feel free to download the picture so you can play with it whenever you want)
And then take another minute to dance your way down the list.
How does it feel to twirl? How is it different from oozing or striking? Move your way through the words and see how they translate into your body.
There is no wrong way to do this…no “good” or “bad.” There is only you, your breath, your body. Give yourself the gift of exploring and enjoying them today.
I wanted to see what would happen if I did an entire video focused only on my feet. I started with bare feet. But then I thought to myself, “hey, what about my Doctor Who sneakers?” and then, “I bet my Docs would be fun!” and then “Hey, how about my wedding shoes?” and finally, “Slippers! Just because!”
I wanted to see if my footwear would change the way I danced. And it did, for sure. Bare feet and slippers were my favourite. They were the most comfortable to dance in and they opened up the most scope for movement. My sneakers made me feel goofy. My boots made me stompy. My heels made me feel like a salsa dancer (with sore feet). It was an interesting experiment.
I had fun playing around with my feet and footwear. But I also found it really challenging.
I’m an upper body dancer. My upper body is my comfort zone. To do this dance, I had to focus entirely on my feet. And that was HARD. It made me so grateful for the rest of my body and my ability to dance with every inch of me. I would do this again to another piece of music just to see if I could do it differently, but I think the next few videos are going to feature ALL of me.
“I don’t know what I am, what I am, But I’m not a category…”