Contact improvisation, although considered a modern dance technique, has no real rules. The only defining characteristics are that there are two or more people participating, they are moving and at various points they make physical contact. But really, I hesitate to even define it. For me, improvisational dance is the simplest form of expression, and contact improv allows dancers to communicate with each other with selflessness and sincerity. Contact improv is a gift that forces me to stay present. I have learned that it is vital during contact improv to always be connected to my partner—and not necessarily just physically connected. If not by touch, then by sight; if not by breath, then with emotion.
Contact improvisation is an art, and it is a process. I have had the great pleasure of participating in contact improv with fellow dancer and choreographer, Adán Aguilar, for the past five months. While dancing together we have learned so much useful information about each other. Simply by moving together, we started to naturally pick up on various elements of each other’s movement characteristics, for example: quality, shifts in dynamics, habits with patterns, how we use space, how we use our own bodies, and especially what movement inspires the other person.
These are three things that always happen when Adán and I dance:
- During our improvisation, I will accidentally whack him in the face at least twice.
- Adán will ask me to try a seemingly impossible movement or lift that causes my eyebrows to furrow, my arms to cross and my right foot to stomp the floor.... And then we try it.
- After an amazing and completely connected phrase together, we will stop and say, “What did we just do!?” and then realize we can’t remember. It is lost; it was just meant for that moment.
What I love the most about contact improvisation with Adán is that I must trust him and myself. It is imperative to let go of fear. Fear is crippling in dance, just as it is in life. Releasing fear from dancing has led to a huge shift from where we started. Our movement vocabulary and ability to communicate has flourished. Our stronger connection and understanding of each other has allowed our “conversation” to be more exciting, interesting and fluid.
The video in this article captures the final contact improvisation between Adán and me. Nothing in this video was planned. It was purely organic. We walked into the studio, warmed up and started to dance. The name of this video is “Ephemeral,” which means simply “lasting for a very short time.” This name was chosen because Adán and I knew we would have this time together and that it would be short-lived. I am grateful for the opportunity to learn from a mover as intelligent and dynamic as Adán and to have captured this final improvisation together.
In the paragraphs that follow, I’ve attempted to recreate my experience dancing with Adán. It includes my observations as well as my inner dialogue:
We start with a breath, a handshake and a hug. We shift weight. My senses are heightened. I say to myself, Let go. I move; we move. What is our tone? What is this moment? Follow his lead. Stay connected. Take initiative.
It is an investigation of our selves. It is an investigation of each other. Invite him in. Breathe. Feel him; he constantly moves to support me. The sensation of touching another brings up a lot: a sense of vulnerability, the feeling of being nourished. The music brings up more: unclear sensations from my past.
Use your breath. Find opposition. Don’t get stuck in the same movement. Travel somewhere new. We are strength; we support each other. We are light; we find air. To confront frustration, or to just let it be and smile? He smiles. Yes, smile.
The music is everything. It leads us. When we connect, it feels beautiful. And then we miss, bump, trip, fall. Don’t resist. Just keep moving. As much as I want to think, to plan, there is no time. We find the next path. We are grateful to feel so alive and free. We speak through movement and learn it is enough.
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