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Paul Langland Dance

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body-Mind Disciplines
Nancy Allison, CMA
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Experiencing Contact Improvisation

Students work with one another, learning to establish connection through light physical touch and to move together in a shared kinesphere. A kinesphere may be pictured as a bubble of space in which the body moves. It is usually envisioned as the 360 degrees of space encircling an individual, but in contact improvisation the kinesphere is the joint creation of dancers who become adept at falling and rolling together, sliding off each other, spiraling around, and leaning into each other. They learn to find "tables" or body surfaces on one partner that can support the balanced weight of the other. The structure of a class in contact improvisation depends on the teacher's particular interests and on the needs and abilities of individual students. Beginning-level classes concentrate on the basic skills for performing duet and group improvisation. Exercises in touch increase the skin's ability to register information about the speed and angle of movement. Other exercises help the body to release and become receptive. Students learn to roll and slide on the floor and on each other with ease; to use the body's surfaces for support; to flow with the momentum of movement; to reverse and invert the body's orientation; and to circle and spiral in space. More complex duet and group improvisation is the focus of classes at the intermediate and advanced levels. Mastery of an exercise known as "flying" is often the last skill to be taught. The dancers vault in the air, are caught by their partners, and perch momentarily over the head of their partner. Gender equality is valued at this as at all levels of training: men lift women and vice versa.

A portion of each class is generally reserved for free-form dancing by students. The action is likely to begin in a "round robin." Some members of the group improvise while the others form a circle around them. As the dancing proceeds, the organization of the "round robin" becomes increasingly fluid. People join and leave the dancing at will, improvise with various partners, or dance alone.

The Risks and Benefits of Contact Improvisation

Though injuries are rare in contact improvisation, it is a strenuous activity and many participants take the precaution of wearing kneepads. It is also advisable to review one's personal boundaries before taking up contact improvisation. Those with a history of trauma or abuse may find it disturbing.
Advocates regard contact improvisation as a unique blend of sport, art, and meditation and credit it with numerous health benefits. It can release tension, promote an overall sense of well-being and ease, boost vitality, and aid concentration. Further, as a non-sexual form of intimacy, it affords a safe way to sort through volatile issues of gender, trust, bonding, control, and spontaneity in human relationships. Some proponents would add that contact improvisation is most effective and complete when experienced as a metaphor for the movement and change pervading all aspects of late twentieth-century life.

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--Paul Langland