Learning Contact Improvisation
I have been teaching contact improvisation since 1996 and during this time my approach has changed considerably. Less and less I find myself teaching ready-made skills, techniques or tricks. More and more I trust the form to reveal itself as those dancing it explore its possibilities. I offer the workshops below in which I share this approach, some open level class and some for more experienced CI dancers only.
Read more about Contact Improvisation: history, jamming, safety and how to learn it
Read more about Malcolm’s approach to teaching CI in the article On teaching Contact Improvisation
The Language Of Sensation
An open-level Contact Improvisation workshop
A workshop for those who love to dance contact improvisation and are interested in exploring somatic approaches to expand the possibilities of their dancing. We will move between exercises aiming to clarify the sensations which lie at the heart of CI and exploring scores that point towards different types of CI vocabulary.
The idea of this approach is to minimise the teaching of set material (moves, tricks, etc) and instead to maximise the opportunities of participants to discover material for themselves through their own research and exploration.
Very simply, I set up calm and simple experiments in which we can experience a range of sensations without any demand to move very much. And then we dance a lot. Often there are unusual rules for the dances. Sometimes there are none and you can improvise freely.
While the workshop aims to support the development of our CI movement vocabulary, it does so through enriching the sensory skills that enable us to improvise with each other.
Expanding into space : finding spatial support in CI
An open-level Contact Improvisation workshop
Support can come from orientation to space as well as from the earth. Spatial support brings lightness and expansiveness to dancing CI. It’s the key to all the flying skills and a sense of freedom and independence in dancing with another
In this workshop, we’ll study the relationship between structural and spatial support as well as bring our awareness to a number of different ways of relating to the space around and between us.
We will apply what we can bring from that into our practice of a range of different technical contact improvisation skills. We’ll also explore what this expanded awareness of space and spatial relationship can bring to open dancing together; how developing spatial awareness can also be a key skill in how to jam together.
Improvising Contact Improvisation
A study lab-like workshop for teachers and experienced CI dancers (3+ years)
When are am I truly improvising CI? Sometimes I feel like I’m caught in an endlessly repeating loop of familiar patterns and pathways. Sound familiar? As we become more experienced and skilled in dancing CI, how can we keep our dancing fresh and improvisational? One route I’ve actively pursued has to been to explore somatic movement practices such as Feldenkrais and Body Mind Centering to enhance my ability to perceive movement. The other, and the focus here, has been to work with what I call “restricted choice scores” as a way to interrupt the familiar.
I first identified this category of scores among common exercises used to teach CI: head-to-head, light touch, rolling point of contact, the armpit dance, etc. I always really liked these scores as ways to learn and teach CI since, while they direct us towards particular vocabulary, it is revealed through our own exploration rather than given as ready made tricks and moves to be learned. And they still have the capacity to surprise me.
I started to invent my own “restricted choice scores” (probably reinventing the wheel in many cases). Some, like “horizontal weight sharing only” I teach to beginners as a way to introduce sharing weight in CI without the stress of giving or receiving weight from above or below. It can also be great to explore with more experienced dancers since it directly interrupts patterns of weight exchange and forces us to find new routes around each other.
Other scores can substitute for teaching of forms. For example, instead of teaching “lifts” now, I encourage the exploration of a “centre-to-centre only” score – less work for me and more fun for students. My teaching input in such a class is now focused on helping each student to discover their belly centre before attempting the score. The vocabulary reveals itself.
I’ve explored scores that range from the obvious to the esoteric, awkward and downright weird. What I’ve found is that besides revealing vocabulary particular to each score, their exploration in general promotes a state of being where I’m asked to bring all my resources to bear on solving the puzzle of the present moment. This to me has the character of contact improvisational mind. One particular flavour of it at least.
We will begin this advanced intensive through an exploration of the simple head-to-head dance. From here, I’ll introduce some scores that I’ve discovered and enjoy. In doing so, I hope to clarify how I’ve been working with and thinking about these scores. As the intensive progresses, it will increasingly assume more the character of a lab where you’ll be invited to experiment with creating your own scores. Throughout, we’ll be watching each other dancing and dialoguing on the improvisational nature of CI as revealed through our exploration of these “restricted choice scores”.
During workshops, the exploration of scores will be directed toward the question of improvisation in CI. My experience is that they are interesting to watch and also open up strategies for performing CI. It can be nice also to find an opportunity to show some of the scores we’ve been working with to an audience..
Chaotic Choreographies : Navigating The Jam Space
An open-level workshop
Technical skills to improvise in contact with others is one part of the big CI picture. A whole other layer of challenge presents itself in jamming. How do we negotiate our way through a room full of people with different bodies, histories, backgrounds, cultures and interests, all moving together?
The jumping off point for us will be Nancy Stark Smith’s Underscore. I’ll share my personal perspective and exercises developed from 21 years of working with the score in its various incarnations: forever interrogating it, reformulating it, adapting it, playing with it, twisting it, infusing it with my own interests.
I’m particularly interested in how group intelligence manifests itself as we practice jamming as a group. We’ll work on cultivating the ability to recognise and follow our own interests while staying connected and open to what’s happening the for others.
Through sharing our insights and interests, we’ll develop our jamming as a rich and safe container to integrate out CI skills, explore ourselves and meet others through dancing together.
Read more about Malcolm’s teaching in the article On Teaching Contact Improvisation