Why I do Contact Improv

What fascinates me about CI, 20yrs later, is the exploration of the other senses. What other senses? That sense of being watched for instance.

There are people who crave attention and others who shun attention. Essentially, attention is energy. It is a commodity. We pay attention. We give attention. We give more attention to those who are more deserving. My dog wants my attention, even more so when I am giving my attention to the cat. Interesting thing about attention is we do not understand through which sense we are perceiving it.

Science would like us to believe that there are only 5 senses. Clearly, there are others. Proprioception is regarded as a sense by many. It is the awareness of where my body is in space. For instance, with eyes closed can I bring my outstretched hand to my nose without poking myself in the eye? That awareness has nothing to do with touch, sound, smell, taste or sight.

Everyone has had the experience of looking over their should to find someone staring at them. The question is, why did you look? What precognition was there. My experience is to look without awareness in a specific direction to then find that I am being watched. I did not consciously wonder, ‘what is that?’ I just looked. And of course, there is the subsequent recognition, ‘oh, yes, I was being watched.’ I just can’t label the sense that directed me to look. I am sure I could develop it to a level in which I know, prior to looking, with certainty, ‘I am being watched,’ and then choose to not look.

What else am I aware of? Once, while falling off my dance partners shoulders, I was falling head first to the floor. There was nothing to break my fall. I wasn’t going to get my hands out in front of me in time. So, instead my hand grabbed my partners wrist and held on for dear life. His wrist was not in my field of view. I didn’t consciously know where his wrist was but my hand seemed to know. It knew with exactitude. My hand reacted faster than my conscious mind could think, ‘what to do in this instance, now, because I am going to get seriously hurt otherwise…’ I asked the master what sense directed my hand, his response was a question, “Does the skin have eyes?”

It is in these moments of ‘letting the body figure it out’ that fascinate me about the practice of Contact Improvisation. If you can get out of thinking what you are doing and what you will do, get into a spontaneous movement practice, you may not notice the movements you make to keep from being harmed, but others will. Once, while improv dancing in a quartet, we were swimming and moving in and around each other. It was fast and frenetic. I was told afterwards that I ducked my head just in time before a heel was going to clip me across the back of the head. I had no awareness that I ducked, nor that a heel was going to kick me hard. I was just improvising, in the moment, following the impulses of my body.

This is the great gift of Contact Improvisation that Steve Paxton gave us. This dance form asks us to follow the impulses of our body not make our body follow our minds plan. ‘Don’t move until you feel moved.’ We practise stillness, tuning into micro-movements, feeling what is there, not making something happen, not moving to the music because usually there is no music. From a practice of stillness, alone, we join another to feel their micro-movements. We tune into our partner. Experienced dancers can feel it in an instant whether their partner is trained to this level just by touching forearm to forearm. It takes less than a second to know that your partner is on your skill level. I just had this conversation two days ago with a new friend and dance partner from a different continent. We both knew the moment we touched that we could lift, fly and be flown. We both knew each others skill level instantly.

I do not know for certain how to attain this skill level but I believe it lies in vipassana meditation, the practise of Tai Chi, The Stand and concentrated effort at Contact Improvisation. If any of these words resonate with you, then please join me for a longer training session. This is why I built Leviathan Studio.

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