What is Contact Improvisation?
* CONTACT IMPROVISATION AND THE ‘JAM’ *
Though Contact Improvisation practitioners at all levels of the form develop technique and skills through classes, workshops and devoted teachers, the principle learning space for the form of Contact Improvisation is the ‘jam’.
The jam is necessarily a rather wild place.
Lifted from jazz vocabulary, a ‘jam’ is simply an extended period of time in which improvisors use their skills and vocabularies to discover composition and dialogue with one another. It can serve as a place to skill-build, to develop work for choreography and performance, or simply to engage with one another as dancers. In order for Contact Improvisation (or any type of improvisation) to happen there need to be a relatively open ‘fields’ of space, and abundant time for dances to develop.
The open-ness and unstructured quality of this space is exciting and can open up enormous possibilities for new movement pathways, unexpected compositions, breathtaking falls and catches but it can also lead to some less enjoyable or even harmful things. Everything from boredom and chaos (which are not necessarily bad) to misunderstandings, injuries or negative experiences (which are not things we want) can occur inside the relative anarchy of a jam.
As improvisers we are always working to build our consciousness and awareness around our behaviors inside of these spaces both as individuals and as a group. Here are some resources we’d like to share to ‘prep’ participants, especially new arrivals, and to give you some context and tools to work with in both classes and jams:
* FIELD CENTER CI CLASS + JAM GUIDELINES *
Here in United States [eg: turtle island] we live in a complex, touch-deprived society and culture. Elements of our internal identities and external appearances including our gender, our age, our size, our race and our internal/external body image all play significant roles in how we see our bodies AND how we are seen in our bodies. We do not live in isolation – rather are constantly adjusting and navigating our self image through the contexts of our culture, our society, our upbringing and our surroundings.
The power/import of these elements shift constantly as we grow and change in relation to our bodies, as the society around us changes, as we move from environment to environment and even as our internal state changes from day to day.
It is only natural that these realities will play out inside of a form like Contact Improvisation.
It is safe to assume that we cannot know the ‘stories’ of the bodies we are encountering in a jam, no matter how well we think we know those stories or how long we have been dancing. Proceed consciously and with deep listening. Use consent-based approaches in the space. Be aware of projection.
Someone dancing alone is in solo. They are not necessarily ‘waiting’ or looking for contact and they are not in-between dances. They are dancing.
We invite people not to give impromptu lessons or to ask if someone wants to ‘learn some contact’ during the jam. Why?
Are you sure you have something to teach them and that you’re the one to teach it?
Are you sure you are getting an authentic ‘yes’ from them? (no’s are often harder than yesses)
How long does this ‘lesson’ last?
INSTEAD we encourage agency among beginners to ask for guidance from more experienced dancers. The classes also offer ample teacher-student time.
Take breaks! You can sit and watch as long as you want. Witnesses and an ‘audience’ are great for the jam and a wonderful way to learn.
Explore approaches to help you feel safe in the space ‘Say no until you feel the yes‘ ‘Say yes until you feel the no‘ (both good options)
Contact Improvisation inherently involves risks. Serious injury, though rare, is a possibility! By taking part in the Jam you acknowledge this fact and take responsibility for your own safety. Know the limits of your skill. While it’s worthwhile to take mindful risks, don’t put yourself in physical situations that your skill level does not support. You might find that doing a movement at half speed allows mind and body to cooperate better. Never assume that risk is something others you are dancing with are game for.
This Jam is NOT a place for sexual behavior, overt or implied. If you experience or witness a dance that makes you uncomfortable, you may choose to share your discomfort directly with the dancer(s), or to check out your perceptions with another person in the community including the teacher. It may turn out that you are projecting/misinterpreting, or you may be naming unacceptable behavior, but it often helps to get feedback and reflection. It is also important to accept and admit that feelings of intimacy, connection or stimulation may naturally arise during a dance and there is nothing wrong or ‘bad’ about this, we simply encourage those experiences to be discussed or unpacked elsewhere.
Unwanted sexual advances and touching are NEVER acceptable and anyone experiencing this should stop the dance immediately, tell their partner “NO” and/or share their experience with a facilitator or anyone else in the dance space that can help. Sexual propositioning IN the jam space [even on the sidelines] is not ok. The whole wide world is yours to do that on and in your own time, we are here today to train and make work inside of dance. Please take a moment to think how and whether your behaviors with class/jam particpants might effect their desire to return and take that seriously.
Below are some pictures from the 2018 West Coast Contact Improvisation Jam where women, queer folx, people of color and allies gathered to stage a sit-in during a jam to bring awareness to sexualized behaviors, non-consensual touch and predatory behavior that have led to feelings of discomfort and lack of safety for some people.
Here at the Field Center we are serious about learning the form of Contact Improvisation, while understanding the historical biases, blindspots and harm that have occurred by practitioners of the form.
We have a 2-3 strike rule around inappropriate behavior in the class/jam space. Patterns of sexual or unsafe behavior that are reported to us will be taken very seriously and can/will result in suspension or expulsion from the jam space. If you’d like to know more about this policy please reach out to a facilitator.
*Some of our wording is borrowed from the Moab Jam safety guidelines, which are wonderful: http://www.moabjam.com/sites/default/files/MoabJam_Guidelines.pdf
A brief and simple list of some helpful approaches to CI from Dance Magazine: http://www.dancemagazine.com/rules-of-contact-improv-class-2529732730.html
A wonderful article about the newcomer experience by Kathleen Rea: https://contactimprovconsentculture.com/2018/01/02/the-newcomer-experience-in-contact-dance-improvisation/
Here are some articles by Taja Will, Keith Hennessy and others that discuss intersectionality and how CI spaces can heal, harm or be implicit in the marginalization of different groups [download the pdf] https://contactquarterly.com/cq/article-gallery/view/ci-intersections.pdf
A wonderful list of articles from marginalized voices and folx interested in issues around intersectionality including gender/race/sexuality and whiteness can be found here: http://www.sharingweight.com/articles/christenson-freeing-the-mind
An article from Contact Quarterly by teacher/dancer Kristin Horrigan on gender and identity inside of the dance https://contactquarterly.com/cq/article-gallery/view/queering-contact-improvisation
More links to information on the form can be found HERE