top of page

Dance experiment 2: contact improvisation

Yingying Lean

6 min read

Apr 22

0

0

In dance, weight is one of the main factors that make up the shape of movement (along with space, body, and time). Modern dance pioneers Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey primarily explored how these forces could be brought to bear on individual dancers to achieve low levels of dance without resistance. When two dancers combine these forces, they form contact improvisation, [Nancy Stark Smith, "Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas."] This is America A concept developed by dancer Steve Paxton in the 1970s. Dancers can work in pairs without music; the classes emphasize touching, falling, lifting, leaning, sliding, balancing and supporting each other's weight, further challenging their ability to trust each other.



According to the book "An introduction to a vitalizing dance from contact improvisation" published in 2006 by Cheryl Pallant, the author can summarize the four core elements of contact improvisation: physical contact, improvisation, path as goal and listening action. These elements together constitute the essence of contact improvisational dance, and physical contact is the key variable in contact improvisational dance. It is not just a simple interaction between the body parts of two or more participants, but also an in-depth communication and interaction. platform. Since the American postmodern dancer Steve Paxton first made "contact improvisation" public as a unique dance creation technique in 1972, this dance form has attracted more and more people with its unique charm. . Contact improvisational dance relies primarily on a biological model of stimulus-response, emphasizing purely physical experience [Nancy Stark Smith, "Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas."]. In dance, dancers use their center of gravity as a medium to provide immediate feedback to the body contact of other improvising dancers. This feedback is not only physical, but also spiritual. Dancers share experiences through dynamically changing touch points (as shown in Figure 3.8). Whether it is shoulder-to-shoulder contact or hip-to-hip contact, dancers are provided with rich interactive possibilities. During this process, messages about weight, energy, strength, balance and sensitivity are passed between the dancers, achieving non-verbal communication through close body weight and skin contact. This method of communication not only has extremely high artistic value, but also helps to enhance the tacit understanding and trust between dancers. In contact improvisational dance, the centrality of physical contact cannot be ignored.


In addition to physical contact, improvisation is another distinctive feature of contact improvisational dance. Dancers need to react instantaneously to each other's movements and contacts, which requires a high degree of sensitivity and creativity. Not only do they need to understand their own bodies, but they also need to understand each other's bodies and movements in order to coordinate and improvise. This kind of improvisation not only tests the dancers' physical skills, but also challenges their creativity and imagination. In contact improvisational dance, the concept of "the path is the goal" is fully realized. Rather than just pursuing a specific goal or movement, dancers are constantly exploring and discovering new paths and possibilities. Their dance journey is full of unknowns and surprises, and is a process of constant development and change. This exploration and pursuit of the unknown makes contact improvisational dance full of infinite possibilities and charm. Listening to movement is crucial to approaching improvisational dance. Dancers need to listen carefully to the movements and rhythms of their own and each other's bodies to achieve coordination and create a more harmonious dance. This kind of listening is not limited to hearing, but also a kind of physical and spiritual perception and understanding. By listening to movement, dancers are able to better understand each other's intentions and emotional states, resulting in a more tacit and coordinated performance in dance. The interweaving and mutual promotion of the four core elements of physical contact, improvisation, path as goal, and listening movements demonstrate the unique charm and value of contact improvisational dance. Through continuous practice and exploration, dancers can find their own expression and creativity in contact improvisational dance, achieving richer and deeper expressions. Regarding the training methods of contact improvisational dance, the following are




some specific suggestions provided by the author:

First, do body awareness exercises. Dancers can close their eyes and focus on feeling the weight, strength and balance of the body to increase sensitivity and control over various parts of the body. Such exercises help dancers more accurately perceive changes in body contact and feedback during dance.

Secondly, train in body contact patterns. It is necessary to design a series of diverse contact methods, such as palm touching, shoulder supporting, back pressing, etc., for dancers to practice. Based on these contact patterns, we distilled some key basic training movements, including back-to-back rolls, low tables, high tables, reverse standing hip raises, lifts to chest, and side raises. These movements emphasize the close collaboration and cooperation between the two people, involving the interaction of the two roles of the lifter (base) and the person being lifted (flyer). The lifter needs to be firmly supported, while the person being lifted needs to demonstrate excellent balance and flexibility. In contact improvisational dance, these basic training movements are crucial to improving a dancer's technique and coordination. They require dancers not only to execute each movement with precision, but also to build trust in each other during the interaction. Next, we’ll explore these foundational training moves in detail and their importance in contact improvisational dance.

① Back-to-back rolling: Two dancers sit back-to-back and stand up together. During this process, the dancer needs to keep the back straight and ensure that the pelvic area is in close contact (Figure 3.9). This training helps to cultivate tacit understanding and balance among dancers and improve the stability of cooperation.


② Low table and high table: These are two common postures in contact improvisation. In low table exercises (Figure 3.10), the lifter supports his body with his hands and knees to form a stable platform, and the person being lifted performs various movements on this platform. Lifters need to make sure their hands are shoulder-width apart, their knees are aligned with their hips, and they maintain stability through their core. The person being lifted needs to simulate rolling on the floor and ensure that the hands and feet are close to the ground. High table exercises (Figure 3.11) require the lifter to cross the knees over the feet, keep the lower back flat, use core strength to maintain stability and mobility, and lower the center of gravity below the person being lifted. The person being lifted needs to stretch their body, raise their center of gravity, and use their hands and feet to find the ground.


③ Reverse standing hip raise: In this action, the person being lifted needs to move the center of gravity to a lower position than the lifter (as shown in Figure 3.12), and at the same time move closer to the lifter so that the center of gravity is higher than the lifter. This movement requires a high degree of trust and precise coordination among the dancers, involving body balance and distribution of force.

④ Lift to chest and side raise: In the lift to chest exercise (as shown in Figure 3.13), the person being lifted lifts one leg close to the lifter, steps upward instead of jumping, and turns the legs toward the chest of the lifter. as close to its body axis as possible. This action places high demands on the core strength and balance ability of the person being lifted. In lateral lift exercises (as shown in Figure 3.14), the lifter needs to lower the pelvic position and use the power of the legs in contact with the person being lifted to push sideward and upward. The person being lifted keeps their center of gravity higher than the lifter and raises their arms so that more of the weight falls on the side of the lifter. This exercise not only tests the dancer's strength and balance, but also requires excellent coordination and flexibility.




In addition, dynamic balance exercises are an integral part of contact improvisational dance. Dancers need to perform dynamic movements, turns and other actions based on body contact to maintain stable body balance. Such exercises help improve dancers' physical coordination and flexibility, allowing them to more freely respond to various changes in improvisation.

In short, physical contact, as one of the core elements in contact improvisational dance, plays a crucial role in improving dancers' skills and creative performance. Through exercises and practices focused on body awareness, body contact patterns, emotional communication, dynamic balance, and emotional resonance, dancers will be able to better understand and master contact improvisational dance.


The following is a detailed overview of classroom practice for the MA in Contact Improvisation in Creative Dance at the University of Chester, UK:

First of all, dancers need to fully prepare their body and mind to ensure full concentration in order to lay a solid foundation for the subsequent dance practice. This process is called "body awareness." In addition, there is a session called "Finger Dialogue", which mainly explores the possibility of non-verbal communication, that is, whether dancers can effectively convey information through their fingers only and be keenly aware of other people's subtle signals. In the "Body Dialogue" session, dancers will learn how to use gravity to deepen their understanding and use of the body through sliding, rolling and other movements. The next "Carry a Little Weight" exercise will help dancers through a series of structured training, including back-to-back rolls, low tables, high tables, reverse standing hip raises, lifts to chest and side raises. Master the skills of support and weight exchange in dance, thereby improving the coordination and balance between the body. Finally, the "Double Dance" session will focus on the practice of contact improvisational dance, and deeply explore the endless possibilities of dance through physical contact and interaction between two people.




Yingying Lean

6 min read

Apr 22

0

0

bottom of page