Contact Improvisation – teaching the unteachable?

I recently attended a Contact Improvisation jam in Brighton, and I must admit it was my first real experience of contact improv without being in university. It was a noticeably different experience, one that provoked thoughts of how this particular dance should be arrived at.

I began to take regular contact classes at MA level, having previously learnt it as part of other improvisation workshops but never as its own entity, I found it an exciting but challenging skill to develop.
For me, classes were fraught with a tension that I could never really get past; that of apparently having the freedom to let go of the idea of “right or wrong” movements, but still being aware that I was being marked and assessed on technical ability. I always felt like I was just missing out on some tantalising, deep discovery that the form seemed to promise.

Skipping forward what feels like a horribly long time, I finally find myself in a room where all participants are here to enjoy the practice for what it is: a playful, relaxing and energising dance that emphasises the importance of caring and looking after one another, and not just in the confines of the studio.
I went with a friend and fellow dancer, Hannah, and the jam allowed us to explore our first real contact duet together. As well as being a space to get to know how our bodies move together (answer: on that particular day, lots of jumping on each other and falling over), it was a way of communicating and just enjoying each others’ company. This element of contact improv was really highlighted by the presence of a mother and son (aged around four), who had never done any contact before but came as it seemed like a nice Sunday afternoon activity! Everyone welcomed this young member of the group and he spent a lot of time being thrown in the air – not quite literally – and brought a feeling of warmth and a lot of giggling to the session.

This combination of a supportive atmosphere and the opportunity to see the session through a child’s perspective made me think that, despite my own occasionally stressful experience of contact classes, it is a practice that would be welcomed in education much earlier than university. Contact improvisation can be seen as a conversation where listening and responding to each other is of vital importance. We all need to be cared for and carried once in a while; why not introduce this as an everyday activity in education? A lunchtime jam with optional jam sandwiches. I definitely think that when a dance can be so much fun, it’s a shame to save it for university when every action is taken with the words continual assessment in the back of everyone’s minds. Or was that just me…

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