Taking art into your own hands

Tara Ayres explores the world of contact improv, where participants combine improvisational movement and response with dance, music and physical connection.

Author’s Note: Part of what I want to accomplish by profiling local artists and arts projects is to encourage people to expand their creative lives, which they might do by going to a play, a concert or an exhibit. Or they might do it by creating art themselves. We live in a culture that makes “the arts” a consumer affair: a small, rarefied group of people creates art and the rest of us consume it. Contact improv is a perfect counter-balance to that prevailing idea of art, and it’s also just an enormous amount of fun!

Contact improvisation is a form that combines dance, circus arts, theater and music. It’s open to anyone who wants to dance. Rather than focusing on performance, the idea is to come together and move through space, connecting and being aware of yourself and of other dancers. Anyone can do it, from the newest beginner to the 50-year veteran. And both can learn from each other, dance and create community together. There’s an overlap with circus arts, aerial dance and other dance of various kinds. Some participants come from backgrounds in dance or martial arts, but many who have never danced before try contact improv. People also come from other improv backgrounds: sound, music, theater, comedy …

Madison has an active contact improv community, with two weekly jam sessions. I spoke with Kim Lasdon, one of the jam facilitators, who described why contact improv is important to her:

“It’s a chance to be present in each moment without knowing what’s coming next. Because it happens faster than my brain can analyze, it’s a way to move into that soft animal space of curiosity, and just remember that my body knows what it wants and knows how to keep itself safe. Everybody experiences it differently, but it allows me to go into the rest of my life, experiencing each interaction with each different personality as a contact improvisation. It gives me a lot of options, choice and freedom about how to interact with others from my own center.”

There are open jams on Wednesday evenings and Sunday afternoons in Madison. The Sunday jam is facilitated, and Kim recommends that beginners start there. “Someone will bring an idea or something to work on. You’ll be greeted and oriented. The facilitation rotates, and what we do varies depending on the facilitator: small dance, beginner’s class, shoulder rolls,” she explains.

The facilitator may say, “Lie on the ground and be curious about what your body is experiencing in that moment, coming to awareness in one’s body. What movements is your body calling for? If you tap your fingers on the floor, how is that different than lifting your leg and dropping it? What is it like to surrender fully into the ground; what is it like to push up and use very small force, or very large force? If you start moving on the floor, how would it be different to move in water? What would it be like to go down a hill full of sand, or in an avalanche?”

After a warm-up exercise, the facilitator gets people up and moving through the space together. Kim describes a possible scenario:

“I’d ask the dancers to make eye contact and move with each other. Notice where you are in space; expand your awareness. Be aware of the air movement. Change levels: faster, slower. Walk shoulder-to-shoulder with someone, communicating through that point of contact. You might lead an entire dance with one finger—or an elbow. People begin dancing, having established contact and connection, and might begin sharing weight or thinking about what happens if they do x or y, or what happens if they slow down.

“Dancing with people and being involved in something that’s so physically intimate can be very emotional. It makes me feel so much more grounded to have that physicality and touch. It can be very sensual, but it’s safe. It’s not like dancing in a bar, where there’s expectation attached to the touch. Everyone who is moving his or her body is a dancer. Anyone who is participating in a creative activity is an artist.”

If you’re curious about contact improv, there are many videos on youtube.com. For information about the Madison jams you can call Nataraj at 608-246-2092, or visit the Madison contact improv website at http://home.earthlink.net/~contactimprov/madison.html.

Web Editor’s Note: The class now has a Facebook Group Page instead of the Earthlink Account. You can click the link above and it will now direct you to the Facebook group. For information, contact Heather Good at (608) 239-1263 or Nataraj Hauser at (608) 246-2092.

 

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