Aesthetics of Contact Improvisation – thoughts from a Jam experience

In this Jam yesterday, in my perfectionist and very alive flow I was also the one who created the most ‘bumps’, landing with ungraceful noise. Interesting moments.

Yesterday I went to my favourite Jam in Berlin, Wednesdays from 1-3:30 pm at PhynixTanzt. We all start and end together. A very focussed energy with people who are confident to look after themselves and a high percentage of very skilled contacters.

In this Jam I noticed – and also shared in the final circle – how much I enjoy living in this body. Movements feel very delicious from the inside, I feel connected in my body but also to what happens around. Every thing is pretty smooth. I love the detailed, subtle but still very clear communication with others. These conversations through movement, touch and weight feel delightfully intelligent.

This is the ‘Finnish style’ to dance Contact Improvisation I feel very attracted to. Everything is very smooth and fluent. A lot of commitment in the touch, dynamics and balances without hooking. There is a desire for technical perfection and through that a certain sense of beauty. It can easily include a subtle energy of showing off, making less experienced Contacters feel ‘not good enough’. All very human.

In this Jam yesterday, in my perfectionist and very alive flow I was also the one who created the most ‘bumps’, landing with ungraceful noise. Interesting moments. It disturbs the space. It is a reminder that we are not entirely safe. For a second most people hold their breath, fall out of the flow. Some multilayered contraction patterns in body and mind get triggered. It happened four times in that Jam. Me and my dance partners were always save though. I don’t really understand why these landings created such a noise, doesn’t really matter. What matters is that I felt somehow ashamed and apologetic. I had failed in my unconscious attachment to technical perfection. And I cut the flow of other people.

Talks I had with Christine Mauch, a good friend and Contact teacher, were resonating in the counter direction. Contact Improvisation had a very different starting point or attitude. It was much more about survival in unknown territory. ‘What happens if …?’ was a core question and the answer was unknown, so people had to try out. Risk taking in an intelligent way was essential for the practice. Christine said once: ‘I miss these bumps, this sense of clumsiness and non-perfection.’

In my teaching I encourage people sometimes to do ‘stupid things’, to follow weird impulses, to try to do things ‘wrong’, especially when I feel there is too much trying to do it ‘right’ in the space, which easily kills sources of aliveness and also undermines healthy reflexes.

At the Jam yesterday I was refreshingly confused in those bumpy moments. The feeling of failure and embarrassment on the one hand and on the other a pride to follow the original spirit of Contact Improvisation and to put a spark of that into the space.

Frederic Holzwarth – a former student of mine, a collegue now – shared an observation from a 3-weeks-Intensive with Nancy Starck-Smith, the most active person from the co-founder group of this dance form. Something like: ‘Nancy is bouncing and jumping a lot. A little bit crazy and unpredictable. She seems very much non-attached to perfect technique and harmonic movement flow with a dance partner.’

I am happily confused. I don’t need a solution. I just appreciate a lot some kind of awareness of my unconscious preferences and judgements, giving some smile into my delightful narrowness, which might open more options and aliveness.