Friday, April 23, 2021

Contact improvisation is a consensual space

The space of contact improvisation is intrinsically a space of consent - not unlike any social space that expects certain norms of conduct of its participants.

The participants consent to the conduct and the social space enforces it - typically in a gentle, civilized manner.

In a space like a symphony concert the norm is for the audience to take seats and be quiet when the music begins - and offer applause afterwards.

What is different and unusual of the CI space is what the expected norm is. Here, the norm is the dance of physical contact.

Normalization of physical contact is the main feature of contact improvisation.

When we say that CI normalizes physical contact it means that within CI we can and should determine what normal physical contact is. I propose these answers:

1. Point of contact

Contact anywhere, where the pressure of the body can be felt, - up to the weight due to gravity - is normal. This excludes certain places - such as mouth and eyes - because they lack musculature and cannot take pressure. During contact we avoid genitals and sensitive joints such as ankles. This is based on the principle of ability to take pressure rather than on social norms extraneous to CI. The whole body is basically available.

I am not using the term "touch" as it conveys the idea of variety of sensation to be explored. Of course, sensation due to touch and proximity will occur but CI sees that experience as one of many outcomes of the practice occurring between dancing bodies. Likewise, whether pleasure or pain occurs is left outside the effort of normalization.

2. Non-insistence of contact

Contact is not insistent - it can be stopped or changed at any moment. The dancer-participant can, at any moment, desist from the type of contact, or any activity, happening. The dancer is not trying to achieve a goal. The exception here may occur when engaging in protective activity.

3. Non-inquisitiveness of contact

Contact is not inquisitive, not an examination aimed at knowledge of the other body as an object. Participant is not to engage in the functions of doctor or physical therapist who is finding out about the structure of another's body (or one's own). The body is treated as a body of movement and an integral faculty of physical contact and not as an anatomical or technical puzzle.

4. Protectiveness

Contact is protective - of one's own body and of the body of the other. It is not a fight. Contact dance is about helping and facilitating one's own and the other's movement. As much as we can we protect one another - also, and particularly, against the insistent force of gravity. Protectiveness makes the CI space safe.

Let me point out that contact that is non-inquisitive and non-insistent minimizes or even rules out sexual conduct or erotic interest from being brought into the space of normal CI. This principle also applies to extreme acrobatics. Non-inquisitiveness makes CI genderless.

It is moving outside the norm that requires specific consent negotiation, whereas normal CI practice, within the guidelines above, would enable consent through normalization of physical contact.

What is the goal of the dance of CI? The goal is the revelation of one's body in the presence of another and using the other body - through physical contact, as much as the other body consensually permits, - to facilitate that revelation. The main mental problem of human being is the awareness of not being able to see oneself. This problem is counteracted in the practice of CI which makes it a healing practice.

I am writing this out of concern that the CI movement is trying to go beyond the healing that it is naturally capable of addressing and to burden itself with socio-political issues of social justice. To me, it is beyond the scope of what can be addressed within a practice of dance. If CI tries to go that way it will probably fail and that failure may destroy its future.

Of course, we recognize that individuals join the CI practice while bringing concerns of sociopolitical and personal nature. In my view, they should try not to inject their extraneous concerns into the practice of the dance, but rather benefit from the gift of the practice as a healing gift.