This is a subject that comes up every now and then between 5R teachers — many of us find it annoying when people are basically doing a different practice on the dance floor, and contact improv is the one that shows up most often. If I was leading a Christian service and someone was chanting prayers to Krishna I guess I would find that annoying too, but that would probably have some dogmatic stuff in it which isn’t really what this is about.
Actually I love dancing in contact with people sometimes; I studied contact improv when I lived in Bristol where it was a big thing in the 90s, and have countless times been glad of those skills on a 5R dance floor, but then sometimes I’m dancing with someone and I can feel them suddenly shift into ‘doing contact’. There’s a subtle rigidity I can sense in their thinking which then affects their movement. I can feel it switch on as soon as they realise I’m up for moving in touch with them. Something about expectations, so there’s a listening for certain moves that might come next out of a repertoire. The emptiness of the moment is gone, filled with something else that is more like control than meditation.
This touches into a wider question that I know many many people around the world struggle with on a 5R dance floor:
“Isn’t this about being free? And isn’t freedom just about doing what I want to do? What’s the problem?” And this is the rub: No, freedom is not just about doing what you want. That doesn’t work. It leads instead to moving in small circles within what’s familiar, trapped in your own ego.
Part of my job is to care for the whole field in the room. By caring for it, I mean to keep opening doors and tending to edges so that it expands as wide and deep as possible whilst staying focussed within the moment. This creates a space that facilitates connection: for each dancer within themselves, with each other, and with the One that moves us all. As individual dancers we all get into our shadows, caught by our own ego trips, and I’m as fallible as anyone so I’m not casting stones. But as group leader for the day, I take it as my responsibility to sometimes attend to a dancer individually if they’ve got caught. Partly to help them personally, but also because each individual’s consciousness affects the whole.
What I often see in contact improv dancers on 5R floors is a subtle pride, and a performance, mixed in with a whole lot of control. It’s a kind of shadow Lyrical dance masquerading as freedom, and it’s a drag; a sort of psychic lump in the room. Lumps in the room are not the end of the world, but… Added to which it’s physically dangerous — I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard of someone getting whacked by a stray leg of a CI dancer on a 5R floor. They don’t go together on a physical level or on the level of consciousness. So please don’t do it. Go do contact improv in a space where that’s the clear intent and beautiful practice which it is. Or even, allow your contact skills to soften and become less programmed so that you’re not ‘doing contact improv’ but rather letting that technique dissolve in the emptiness, then dance in contact with others by all means, attentive to the unfolding moment that is always calling to us through the unknown, quiet as a whisper.