A Perceptual Warm-up For Contact Improvisation Jams (2016)

For many years I’ve noticed in myself a resistance to being led through warm ups for contact improvisation jams. Very simply, one of the reasons I love jamming is that no-one is telling me what to do. Not only that but I am in the company of many other souls also free to do as they please. I am curious what will emerge from this mass enactment of free will. I value this from the moment I enter the jam space.

Nonetheless I realise the value of a warm-up as a way of bringing people together and that people are differently resourced when it comes to warming themselves up. How to reconcile this? Most especially when the responsibility for leading a warm up falls on my shoulders?

I struggle with the term warm-up. Why do we warm up for a class or a jam? As a way of preparing to move. How do we prepare to move? By moving. I think that we use the term these days more as a metaphorical placemarker. Maybe a better term would be tuning in.

Maybe a better metaphor would be something like a pre-flight check list. Can I sense the action of gravity on my body giving me the direction down? Check. Can I sense the pressure through my skin of the earth pressing on the earth/floor? Check. Can I sense which parts of my skin touch the air/space? Check. Etc, etc …

For myself, I feel that I have a long list of sensations in my checklist, and each specific sensation can be aroused or contacted by multiple activities and in a variety of positions that I know and a large number that I have yet to discover or have forgotten.

I arrive into dancing situations in different states of bodymind. Words are insufficient to described the immediate felt sense of my readiness to dance. Engaging into preparing to dance (warming up) is, by my definition, already a dancing activity. One that is precisely choreographed by the particular needs and desires perceived in the moment.

Given that the unfolding of my personal warm up is so variable and unpredictable, how then can I possibly deliver a warm up that might satisfy a room of many and diverse people?

Some years ago I stumbled on a solution that, while not perfect, has nonetheless been favourably received. My idea is not to tell anyone what to do, but instead to direct people’s attention towards a series of sensations over a period of 20-30mins while encouraging people to do exactly what they feel like they need to do in order to navigate towards jamming together.

There is in fact only one explicit movement direction which comes near the end. However, as the people attention moves it tends to influence their movement, even though they maintain complete freedom over their choice of movement. Any suggestion to play with the quality of movement is only a suggestion. For example; people tend slow down when I bring attention to the breath; people tend to move towards the floor when I mention the fluid mass.

A number of people asked me to share it. So here it is. Feel free to take it and use it.


Pre-notes on the text that follows

The text that follows is the kind of thing that I would say while of leading the warm up – it’s a skeleton text – feel free to improvise and elaborate  – I do

One way I add material in the act of delivering the warm up is to try to describe other ways that I perceive people to be working with what I am offering – variations on or perhaps entirely different modes of attending to sensation that I am suggesting

Three dots … signifies pausing to allow people to digest and work with the information just given – I usually take 20-30mins

In large room with a large group I will walk or dance my way around the room repeating the information a few times to give everyone the opportunity to hear it

Sometimes as a strategy to bring people together and get their attention I bring them into a standing circle and explain that I will guide there attention but they are free to move however they like – before beginning then I ask them to find a place in the room to begin – maybe also to consider that as a group composition – sometimes none of that is necessary


A Perceptual Warm-up For Contact Improvisation Jams

Begin your warm up however you like – our intention is to begin dancing contact improvisation together in some minutes

Begin with with whatever you feel you need right now, with whatever feels good for you, whatever you are interested in, whatever you are curious about

Maybe you have already started – maybe what you are doing right now is already enough

Maybe you are standing – sitting – lying down

Maybe you are actively moving, stretching, shaking, walking, rolling 

Maybe you are resting – being still – receiving the micro-movements of your vitality

Maybe you are alone, with another or in contact through touch with another

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now in order to prepare to dance contact improvisation together

Allow what you are doing to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing what you are doing pay some attention to what you can HEAR – sounds you make, sounds of others, sounds, inside the studio, outside the studio

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it pay some attention to what you can SEE

Do you have your eyes open or closed

If you have your eyes open can you can resist the urge to name what you see, can you simply see lines and colours?

Even if you have closed eyes then you also see something – patterns and colours – and even with the eyes closed you know where the light is coming from in the room

Try changing what you do with your eyes – it’s always an option to close your eyes or open them

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it pay some attention to what you can SMELL – yourself, others, body smells, clothes, old sweat, washing powder, perfumes, deodorants

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it pay some attention to what you can TASTE – maybe something remains of your last meal, toothpaste, coffee, a cigarette

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it pay attention to the SKIN on the inside of your nose – notice the sensation of the air as it passes in and out with your breath – do you notice a difference in temperature between the air coming in and the air going out?

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it pay attention how your are breathing

Notice any moments you hold your breath – slow the movement down just enough so you can notice your breath

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it bring your attention to the SKIN on you face and neck – can you feel the air passing across the skin of your face and neck?

Include the skin on your hands and feet – arms and legs, anywhere where you skin is exposed to the air

Notice which parts of your hands and feet are touching the air and which parts are touching the air

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it broaden your attention to include the WHOLE OF YOUR SKIN

Notice some parts of it are naked while some parts of it are covered by the material of your clothes – can you feel your clothing touching your skin?

Spend some time noticing which parts of your skin touch the floor – the earth which offers us support with the possibility to rest on it and the possibility to push into it to move ourselves through space

Spend some time noticing which parts of your skin touch the air – space which invites us to move through it

Can you track the changing sensation in the skin as parts of yourself leave the floor and come to touch touch the space

Can you track the changing sensation in the skin as parts of yourself leave the touch of the space and make contact with the floor

If you find yourself touching another, can you stay interested in the sensation at the level of your skin?

Your skin marks a boundary between your self and the world – If you find yourself meeting another, can you simply let them be part of your landscape, without engaging, letting them pass?

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

Bring you attention to the FLUID MASS of the body that is contained within your skin – try working for a while with the image of your body like a human-shaped bag full of water – if you have your eyes open then try closing them for a while if that’s okay for you – it might help sense the FLUID MASS

In fact this image of a human shaped bag full of water is close to reality – they say about 70% of our body mass is water and if you think of body fluids like blood for example – they are not 100% water – so the percentage of our body mass which is fluid is probably much higher – I imagine that the body is 90-95% fluid

Because the mass is fluid then it is soft – notice the softness of your body?

Our FLUID MASS has weight because we are on the earth – with weight comes the direction down – can you notice the action of gravity on your FLUID MASS? can you notice down?

With down comes the direction up? can you notice up?

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it broaden your attention to include the BONES – the skeleton – the internal architecture of the body that enables us to come away from the floor and move through space – to articulate our inner vitality outwards towards our environment and others

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it broaden your attention to include the SPACE JUST AROUND OUR BODIES – the kinesphere – the space around us into which we can reach with our hands and feet – our personal space

Try watching your hands and feet, elbows and knees as they move around you – try noticing the space between them and the core of yourself as they orbit around you

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

As you are doing it broaden your attention to include the PLACE that everyone is dancing in – the studio

Notice SPACE between you and the walls of the studio

Notice the PLACE where you are in the SPACE contained by the studio

Notice who is around you and what they are doing

Notice people far away and what they are doing

Notice the composition of the room and your place within that composition

Continue with whatever you are doing, with whatever you need or want right now, allowing it to change and develop as it needs to

If you’re not already doing so, start taking yourself through SPACE as you do what you do – begin to TRAVEL through space – as you JOURNEY through the space you may meet people along the way`

FADE TO JAM