The universe spins in ecstasy
All the atoms dance
enchanted by the sun
I jump through space, flying horizontally to alight on your chest. Rather than stand there and catch me, you jump to join me, pivoting my flying body in the air and we turn inside out as we fall soundlessly to the ever-waiting ground.
A few years ago, I attended my first contact improvisation class. I’d seen people dance this way before — looking on from the side with admiration, I watched their fluid movements stretch across the space, filled with brave vulnerability. Small people lifted big people, seamlessly spinning in circles, while others bled into strangers’ bodies like ink from felt-tipped markers, saturating the wooden floor below as colorful energy spread throughout.
Strength in mindfulness
Physical strength has never been my strong point, no matter which sport I’m doing: whether swimming, dancing, running, or skiing, I try to direct my focus toward executing my movements with grace, rather than using forceful power to push beyond what my body’s naturally capable of. At some point, perhaps I’ll find a way to merge the two.
Nevertheless, I was pretty intimidated when I entered my first contact improvisation class — I didn’t know whether I’d be able to communicate “no” through my body, if I were to find myself in a physically distressing situation. Contact improvisation can get intense; confidently upholding our boundaries is essential for having a safe, enjoyable time.
The class turned out to be fun, albeit slightly awkward. My movements were — and still are! — shaky; I don’t yet know how to interact with my fellow dancers using the elegant flow that many of the long-time dancers so effortlessly exude. But, this is the point of the practice: to me, contact improvisation is a long-term learning experience, a progressive journey in learning to communicate through our bodies.
I dance contact with you to feel like an animal, to lose all thought, to stop plotting the future. To live in what this moment brings, to be in the hunt, the adrenals at full throttle here in the Savannah, the lion having just come into view.
A friend of mine recently had this to say about her first experience with contact improvisation:
“I was not sure what to expect, only that I had seen some other dancers do this technique. During this class, I was delighted to find the beauty of allowing, embracing, and accepting the flow and rhythm of interconnection. It was amazing, one of the most intuitive dances I have ever experienced.”
During the class, she made a poignant remark about body intelligence. In the West, we focus a lot on cultivating mental intelligence, often to the detriment of our physical selves. The reality is that there is much to be learned, and experienced, from being fully present in our bodies; our bodies hold their own sense of intelligence — one that is actually more powerful than any amount of cerebral knowledge we might have.
For example, many emotional traumas are not able to be healed without an accompanying physical component. Our bodies need to be involved on a very basic level in order for us to mentally and emotionally move through situations effectively. Intuition, or our inner guide, plays a large role in honing body intelligence; getting in touch with how we’re feeling on an instinctual, gut level is key to personal growth.
The art of falling and rising
From my experience so far with contact improvisation, I’ve learned how the practice relates to being able to live everyday life with more healthy, open energy: in class, or during dance jams, we learn to go with the flow; set boundaries; pay attention to our emotions in the moment; balance; and connection with both ourselves, others, and the space around us. In part two of this series, I’ll explore each of these lessons in greater detail, explaining how we can use the teachings from contact improvisation as life-enhancing tips for day-to-day living.
Contact improvisation is only one of numerous forms of physical expression that contains parallels to life beyond the dance floor. From dance meditation to 5 Rhythms, capoeira, and Bellyfit, there are countless styles of mindful movement practices that help us connect our inner world with our outer world. Nurturing our bodies’ intuitive intelligence, and being more present in our bodies on a daily basis, creates a fertile ground for growing expansively in other areas of lives.
Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.
– Samuel Beckett