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Contact improvisation

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Contact Improvisation (CI) is a dance technique in which points of physical contact provide the starting point for movement improvisation and exploration. Contact Improvisation is a form of dance improvisation and is one of the best-known and most characteristic forms of postmodern dance.


Contact Improvisation was initially developed by a group of dance artists, led by Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith, as an exploration in improvised dance. Today Contact Improvisation is practiced as a dance form in its own right and is ideologically different from Paxton's early practice. It continues to evolve and be developed by practitioners around the world.

The first performance work recognised as Contact Improvisation is Steve Paxton's Magnesium (1972), and was created for students at Oberlin College. Paxton followed this with the first Contact Improvisation performance evening at the John Weber Gallery in New York City.

Practice and theory

Contact Improvisation can be practiced as concert or social dance form. In the social setting Contact Improvisation meetings are called jams in which participants can participate or watch as they want. These dance jams are similar to the practice of jazz musicians bringing themselves together and using the time to explore the limits of the form.

The longest running weekly contact improvisation jam is in Toronto, Canada. It has been going on for 30 years (2006).

Contact Improvisation is often practiced in duet form but can also be performed in groups or as a solo using physical objects (floor, walls, chair, etc...) as the point of contact. As many teachers say in introductory classes, the floor is your first partner.

Contact Improvisation techniques can include weight transfer, counter balance, rolling, falling, suspension, and lifting. CI practitioners may also draw on:

  • Alexander Technique
  • Body-Mind Centering
  • cognitive science
  • emergence
  • Feldenkrais method
  • Eutony
  • Ideokinesis
  • Laban Movement Analysis
  • martial arts, especially Aikido
  • Newton's laws of motion
  • Skinner Release technique
  • tango
  • yoga

Due to the improvised nature of CI and depending on the choreographic structure used, a CI performance may contain little physical contact.

When used as a Choreographic technique movement sequences that emerge during a jam may be adapted and set to form a part of a fixed choreographic score.


If you're dancing physics, you're dancing contact. if you're dancing chemistry, you're doing something else. - Steve Paxton (1987)
When an apple fell on his head, Newton was inspired to describe the three laws of motion, that carry his name. ... In his attempt to be objective, Newton overlooked the question of how it feels to be the apple. When we put our bodymass in motion, we raise above the law of gravity and go towards the swinging, circulating attraction of the centrifugal force. Dancers ride upon, and play with these forces. - Steve Paxton (1987)
The earth is much bigger than you are so you'd better learn to co-ordinate with it. - Nancy Stark Smith (1987)
Contact Improvisation or CI is "a contemporary game" says Steve Paxton. CI started in the US as a means to explore the physical forces imposed on the body by gravity, by the physics of momentum, falling and lifting. CI is a complex but very open form with infinite possibilities and is a dance form that is made by the dancer in the moment of dancing. - Touchdown Dance (2002)
some movement improvisation artists and theorists, (eg: Steve Paxton, Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen, Simone Forti) as specialists of the phenomenology and aesthetics of human movement have reached theoretical and practical insights about human interaction and embodiment that are closely related to the ones that are found recently in the fields of artificial intelligence (embodied robotics), cognitive science (embodied cognition) and new biology (self-organization and emergence). - Barrios Solano, M. (2004)
  • Barrios Solano, M. (2004) Posthuman Performance: Dancing within Cognitive Systems.
  • Paxton, S. (1997) in Fall After Newton. Videoda / Contact Collaborations, Inc. (video)
  • Stark Smith, N. (1987) in Fall After Newton. Videoda / Contact Collaborations, Inc. (video)
  • Touchdown Dance (2002) Contact Improvisation

See also

  • Steve Paxton
  • Nancy Stark Smith
  • Lisa Nelson
  • Nita Little
  • Grand Union
  • dance improvisation
  • Judson Dance Theater
  • Choreographic technique
  • List of dance style categories
  • choreographers

Further reading

  • Novack, C, J. (1990) Sharing the Dance: Contact Improvisation and American Culture. University of Wisconsin Press. ISBN 0-299-12444-4
  • Pallant, C. (2006) Contact Improvisation: An Introduction to a Vitalizing Dance Form. McFarland & Company, Inc. ISBN 0-7864-2647-0
  • Tufnell, M. and Vaughan, D. (1999) Body Space Image : Notes Toward Improvisation and Performance. Princeton Book Co. ISBN 1-85273-041-2

External links

  • - your online source for all CI related info, news, discussion, jam/event listings, teachers resources and products including CI related artwork, clothing, photography, and music.
  • - Global Directory of Contact Improv Groups and Classes
  • Contact Improvisation Los Angeles - Los Angeles and Southern California jams, classes, and events. Includes information and advice for those new to contact improvisation.
  • Contact Improv Ann Arbor Detroit - A group of SE Michigan Contact Improv enthusiasts promoting jams, workshops and performances.
  • Contact Improvisation with Karl Frost- A video by David Olivari of a Contact Improvisation Workshop
  • Contact Quarterly - the original CI journal, edited by Nancy Stark Smith and Lisa Nelson
  • Earthdance Retreat Center - Earthdance invites you for workshops, contact improv jams, personal and group retreats throughout the year.
  • History of Contact Improv - Anya Kamenetz, "On Balance," The Village Voice, December 4 - 10, 2002.
  • proximity - CI journal
  • "Contact improvisation comes of age" - Elizabeth Zimmer, "Contact improvisation comes of age," Dance Magazine, June 2004.
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