What are the Qualities of an Advanced Contact Improvisation Dancer? Part one

Recently some of the organizers of my “advanced” workshops have turned away students for not having enough of the fundamentals of C.I. to join the group.

In Barcelona this past July the organizers and I asked two people to not continue because we didn’t feel it was safe for them or fair to the group because of the realms we were about to enter.

While it is hard to turn people away, taking these actions allowed the groups to work in the deep end of the pool without having to rework basic skills. This made the experience more satisfying for the students and for me as a teacher.

But the question of what is ‘advanced’ is extremely subjective.

How do you tackle this question? How do you articulate what is advanced and how do you create a selection process for your workshops?

I’m going to write more about this soon. But for now, for the benefit of all of us, I would appreciate any thoughts you have – be you a teacher or student- to be shared below.

35 thoughts on “What are the Qualities of an Advanced Contact Improvisation Dancer? Part one

  1. katharine

    in mind and spirit i am perhaps leaning toward an advanced state…I feel i will not be able to be there physically anymore…I’m not sure I ever was…but hopefully there will still be “deep dancing” for me in the CI world maybe even with the “advanced ones”! ; ) i stand fully prepared to be one with my beginners mind forever.

  2. claudia

    I am coming from the perspective of argentine tango, as a student and more recently a teaching assistant , and as someone with a little contact experience. It seems, from my experience, that there is often the desire to seem much more advanced than you are, to rush to attain -which seems to me a real block to learning…a hefty dose of self doubt and questioning, or searching seems necessary to actually be able to ‘advance’ in the first place. And whilst being careful not to knock emerging confidence, I think it is helpful to make quite clear what /how much there is still to learn or what the requirements are to join with an advanced class-perhaps by choosing one of the more difficult ideas/moves, or describing the infinite complexities of a simple idea/move and asking people whether they are really very comfortable with that. And possibly a time frame of sorts sometimes, though naturally not always, helps…Some people may feel advanced having been learning for two years for example – but putting that into the context of people that have been learning and living the movement intensively for much longer. At least I would prefer that -it saves a lot of frustration,and/or wondering and worrying why you are finding everything so hard. In the end it’s a very hard call but I applaud you for having taken the decision to ask some people to leave rather than possibly compromising the experience of the rest.

  3. Richard

    Thank you for the article. This interests me as I am involved with organising events. I see advanced as far too subjective and could possibly suggest an attained level based on a criteria set by some person at some time, I see there as beginner, experienced & matured practitioners. The difference I see between experienced and matured is an ability to be connected to the beginner again. I understand the difficulty in organising events which are not suitable for beginners where a selection process needs to happen through some form, which again is subjective to a given persons criteria standard. I feel there is little one can do at the selection stage other than trust peoples interests if they meet the required criteria but I would also feel it very appropriate to have statement that clear states if you are found to be not suitable by the teacher on the grounds of safety, skill or group dynamics you may be be asked to leave the workshop in light of creating a solid learning platform. If everyone knows this in advance then it helps to ease that process if necessary. I feel inspired that you ask someone to leave the workshop on this grounds. Where it is hard is that we can all take things far too personally, I know that I am guilty of this myself, one day if we evolve to move beyond that state all this will be far far simpler. Best wishes x

  4. Adrienne Tybjerg

    As someone who is both mentally earth-bound and also into contact dancing on and off again, I’d say some sort of system, Beginner, Intermediate, Advance I, II, II, etc. might help. The division of skill levels needs to be childishly simple to understand.

    But, the real problem may lie in that the differences often may only seen by those who have already mastered the new skills, as in some spiritual practices. In other words, self selection might always be a problem and at higher levels teachers might need to be prepared either to screen before the class, or during when it is a little more embarrassing to both. Some people will always think they are better, while some will always think they are worse – even when they might be of the same skill level. By the same token, not all teachers perceive things or teach in the same way. I feel that only the teacher can say who has the appropriate skill set for their class. Other professions or careers require prerequisites, and I don’t see why high-level dancing should be any different. Making the first class a dance-off for the teacher to watch or scheduling individual dances with the teacher (maybe during that first class time) might seem awkward at first, but it is in the dancer’s interest too. If you want to press the edges of what is physically possible, you need to know they can handle it.

  5. kenmanheimer

    1. Ability to share changing balance with partners, through a broad range of dynamics. (“Share changing balance” sorta equals “share center”, but I think is more illuminating.)
    2. Ability to be receptive to what’s going on both inside and around oneself, without letting one preclude the other. Ie, able to engage with others without losing a sense of self, and vice versa.

    I feel strongly that these two things are crucial, but also recognize that they’re a matter of degree. They might not, therefore, seem so useful to distinguish advanced from not-advanced. The important thing is not the status of “advanced”, it’s what are necessary foundation for an unimpeded inquiry. I feel that until someone has a sense of them they’re missing the essential orientation to the form.

    As or more important than these elements, themselves, though: I think there’s a serious danger, in addressing such questions, of mistaking issues of status and authority for the useful illumination that responses to the actual question can bring. I think this kind of question tends to place too much emphasis on status an authority, and strongly needs to be counterbalanced somehow. Please be careful with it!

    [More about 1. here: http://myriadicity.net/contact-improvisation/contact-improv-as-a-way-of-moving/ci-sharing-balance
    More about 2. here: http://myriadicity.net/contact-improvisation/ensemble-improvisations-essential-ingredients ]


  6. kenmanheimer

    I think this is a good way to help avoid some of the pitfalls that assumption of status and authority involve. Like the blindness that can come from stopping questioning some things – choices, ways of doing things – that still deserve questioning!

  7. Mariela Singer

    (I copy here too…) yo no sé si hablaría de “avanzado/as”, comparto el rechazo que tuvieron cierto/as maestro/as a hacerlo aquí en Argentina, tendría en cuenta que hay distintas experiencias y tiempos recorridos en la práctica, no invitaría a nadie a irse y sí recomendaría generar una situación igualitaria -no declarando homogeneidad, que no tiene que ver con igualdad, sino- donde puedan contemplarse las diferencias, quizá recomendando hacer los ejercicios entre quienes tienen recorridos similares para aprovechar esas diferentes experiencias transitadas… abrazo

  8. Steve Batts

    Hi Martin and everyone else.

    A perennial issue!

    I suppose it really depends on what the value system and interests of the teacher/leader are. He or she is the one proposing the category “advanced”. If the leader is interested in, for example, acrobatics and athletics then “advanced” will be measured on a different scale than if the interest is in, for example, the complexities of phrasing or the way that actions emerge from intentions and intentions emerge from attentions.

    Contact Improvisation isn’t one thing with one scale of value. There are many and various, perhaps even innumerable scales with which to measure ability. These can address completely different aspects of the processes involved in dancing together, without a plan, in close proximity. Part of the process of improvisation and exploration is to discover, create and refine evaluation criteria.

    There are plenty of people who have done lots of Contact Improvisation classes and jams, and who have substantial skills, that I would consider to be not “advanced” on some of the “scales” that I use for measurement.

    On the other hand as a “practitioner”/teacher of many years experience, I always want to know something about the approach, methods and material being proposed in a class or workshop described as “advanced” in order to get an idea about whether it would be appropriate for me to award myself that status in that particular context.

    Personally, my own fundamental interest (evaluation criterium) is to be able to dance well with anyone who is interested whatever they bring and whoever they are. This implies that the “advanced” condition for me is one of embodied understanding of the poetic movement processes of the other. Generally when I teach I try to encourage people to understand my interest in this perspective so there is a natural tendency towards inclusiveness. The expectation of someone who proposes themselves as “advanced” is that they should dance well with a wider range of people with a variety of experience, interest and self-evaluation.

    This doesn’t preclude, as a teacher/director, giving particular indications of what background, interest and experience participants should have if they want to participate in a project, class or workshop with a “specialist” focus, but it does place the particularity of a specific interest in a fundamentally inclusive wider frame.

    There is an interesting discussion to be had about what we mean by “beginners mind” in the context of developed knowledge and ability.

    It is also worth reflecting on the beautiful gift of necessity given to the imagination when one has to find teaching methods that address interesting and important issues in dancing together that will be inclusive for people with very different patterns of experience and ability.

    Best wishes

  9. Pau

    I guess when we talk about minumum achivments to be standarized as an at least “Advanced Contact Improvisation Dancer”, (in the contest of taking part in course), that means you have gone beyond the basic skills, such as safty codes, a certein level of listening, hability to fall, suport reasanble wehights… let’s say you have integreted skills enough to go to explore your limits with others (and their limits) withgood chances of succes; and even you can loose control -a little bit, came on!- without being remarkably dangerous for others and yourself.

    What comes out of the question is that we can’t really say what makes anyone an advanced dancer as there are no standards in contact.
    To defin an advanced dancer is impossible; But jam, this term has no meaning. Magic and free will makes everything flow in the real and natural way. Advanced for me could mean enjoyable to dance with… But what we are looking for here is ways to make groups with people able to match as a team, to work in a certain level.

    And one more random thought… I think self spontaneous regulation is the only way… a good idea to make it work is that teachers and organizers are clear about what thay expect from the students that may be interested in taking part in the courses.
    And to inform that the possibility of not being accepted in the course if they don’t meet the organizers expectations exist.
    Just to name a level – like advanced contact dancer- is not enough. No matter how many levels you define, that may lead to missunderstanding, delusion and hard decissions by teachers and organizers. However that’s much better than other burocrathic- standarizing solutions.
    An as clear as possible explanation of the skills needed to take part in a course is a great idea. Only good comunication betewen participants and organizers can make things work better
    In golf they do it with something called handicap… but the differences betwen golf and contact impro are enormous and we will have to be more creative.

    Salutations Martin! I’m sure you’ll find a good way to deal with conflicts in comunication because you know where to look for the answer, in this beautiful big piece of meat you have bombing on your chest.

  10. Heather Snow

    There is always the “beginning”…yea, yea, beginners mind and all that…..I know from experience that dancing CI with someone who has done it for at least 2 years…once a week or more……is very different from the person who has just been introduced…dance history or not. Some are more natural at it than others, but I think one must make a base list of accomplishments which make a beginner. ie…ability to give and take weight on the back…hands and knee work, rolling on the floor….keeping the point of contact….ect. I think you can make a set of criteria for each stage. it’s regretable in a way, but safer in another. and then you’ll always have to deal with the ones who think they are one level or another…oh brother…great conversation!

  11. Isa Leal

    We were just having this conversation in regards to workshop requiring advanced dancers and the application process. I think its important to continually glance at the purpose and initiation of this form as a non-codified non-hierarchical experiment. If we want a form that, as it has done, comes with the implications of infinite possibilities, beginning to label moves or abilities in modes that are clearly hierarchical seems counter revolutionary and just plain boring. Are we trying to be a ‘dance form’ like all the rest? It seems to me the way at finding out where someone is at with there study of Contact Improvisation is similar to asking someone where they are at with idea of spirituality. What answers they provide about there own practice and there experiments with in that form is a clear articulation of their compatibility with other researchers. If the workshop is about skill that is one thing, but what about the action of inviting experimentation both as a movement form and really a philosophy of what it means to be open to communication both in dialogue with your partner and your environment. Where are these questions in relation to what an advanced contact improviser is? More simply put if someone writes about their cool tricks and not the layers of listening involved to be able to execute with ease what challenges an IMPROVISATION might provide, then they like all of us probably need more practice.

  12. Richard

    Seems to me you could ask 10 experienced CI dancers their thoughts on what constitutes an advanced practitioner and you might get 10 different answers – I think EXPERIENCED practitioner would be a better term in the context of advertising for a class – I know another subjective term; but I think one that people might more easily judge themselves by – you could ask for how many years and or how regularly an individual has practiced etc – also if it’s a movement class aimed at advanced practitioners and there aren’t any official guidelines to determine what advanced in the form actually means. Being explicit about your own definitions of advanced would be useful to anyone wanting to join as would a detailed class description – for me as a teacher it’s far less important that the student is able to do all things advanced in an advanced way even in a so called advanced class – it’s more about how the student is able to function within a group of (depending on the class situation) beginners,intermediate,experienced or mixed practitioners – for instance to be in your body, knowing your limits and boundaries and being open to having them challenged, being aware of yours and others energy levels, having the ability to remain focused, to contribute toward and support what’s happening, and to have the intention to find out for oneself, also the little but very important things like punctuality and respecting the space go along way + advanced practitioner won’t always = good student –

  13. Po Shu Wang

    Yeah! What is the Quality of an Advanced Contact Dancer? That seems not to be a very meaningful question. Because, all the levels standards and teachers are self proclaimed. Each to his/her own internally consistent logic mixed with his/her emotional needs for positioning. And yes Contact Improvisation, I love it. Just like the wisdom from an IKEA advertisement: ‘There is something for everyone.’ Very democratic indeed.
    Just a few years back, heard Steve saying that he was still wondering what the hell this Contact Improvisation is? Well, maybe he did not exactly use the word ‘hell.’ But anyway, Advanced Contact Improvisation? Take it easy! Levels? No idea what that might be! Let’s dance.

  14. Gallardo alain

    Rolling, pivoting, sliding point(s) of contact.
    3 motions at the contact point(s) that can be,expressed separately and/or in some combination.
    Safety skills, meaning knowing how to receive weight at any joint, in any position, particularly when practicing in trios or with more partners.
    For that, practice + specific exercises = technical basis for evolutive experience.
    Then keeping the beginner mind…

  15. Lee

    Advanced dancer will be an expert at falling and crashing, without pain. Will not force an idea or skill. An advanced dancer is not afraid of landing on their head, and have the appropriate landing gear/technique to deal with such an act. An advanced dancer knows how to manipulate their shoulders and elbows to enhance the fluidity of the rolling point of contact. That bounce! That floaty bounce when you and your partner know that you both rock! The advanced dancer can find that bounce and recoil. That yield and push, that reach to pull.

    Most importantly an advanced dancer can dance with the floor, as fluidly as they can dance with a partner.

  16. Jadi Carboni

    Hello dear Martin and everybody ,
    thank you to bring out this question!
    It is a very good topic i feel and in many situations it is a big issue.
    I believe deeply that a part all the skills that we can develop through the CI practice, the listening is the main tool and ability to develop. From it everything else grows in a much more harmonic way, rather then if we try to learn or practice a form without have been informed by its content.
    I think that and advanced CI dancer is a very sensitive “silent talker”: she/he has learned the art of waiting, perceiving the small shifts, forecast greater force shifting, able to respond “yes or no” clearly and change his/her mind if the wind changes direction.
    All the best to all of you

  17. Congle

    I agree with many of the posters on the blog. I’m not a CI teacher but the idea of an “advanced” CI workshop is a very strange idea to me, and highly subjective. We might say, “experienced” instead of “advanced”, that at least means something more clear, like number of hours of dancing CI, but even that could be misleading. The idea of “advanced” is an uncomfortable and elitist feeling notion for me in the context of Contact Improvisation. To even discuss someone’s CI dancing as advanced feels like the whole point of this dance experience has been lost. I suppose I could understand listing certain requirements related to safety and strength and experience such as “ability to fall from awkward positions”, “strong core strength and fluidity from regular dancing”, “experience with weight-sharing”, etc. and perhaps these things could be assessed by a “teacher” who wants to have a certain type of dancer in their class which they want to be more acrobatic or something. But why not just call it improvisational acrobatics or something? Then you can have your “advancement”.

  18. Walter Weiler

    Hello Martin & everybody. Thanks for the blog and thoughts. Here are mine.

    Contact Improvisation was defined in the initial phase, what it is, but just to give to the form an identity, and not finally. That is a challenge.

    What an advanced Contact Improvisation dancer is resp what her/his qualities are, I think it is not the point, and reminds me a little to the question what a good resp advanced dance is. You end up in the bushes.

    In my eyes it would make more sense to begin defining from the other side, if at all. What are the Basic Skills, and which elementary knowledge and body experience it takes to play the instrument enough, to go for example to a Jam? Which is the ground, you have to be familiar with, upon which you can build and develop CI further? It’s the learning process, to increase from fundamental principles to more complexity.

    It would be helpful for beginners too, if they knew what the Fundamentals are.

    Greetings from Switzerland.

  19. Rene Alvarez

    I think for a complex form like CI, terms such as “advanced” and “experienced” are almost meaningless. It is better to speak specifically about skills and techniques, patterns, habits and pathways. A mover may be great at listening and flying people, but then doesn’t know how to take flight; may be great at flying, but is stuck with habitual ground rolls that cause a disconnection of shared balance; may be great at managing weight and staying sensitive, yet makes a loud thud whenever they come off a hand stand.
    What I am saying is everyone progress in different trajectories, at different times. So being specific about which ones you are talking about is essential. Unfortunately many dancers aren’t used to verbalizing what the skills and techniques of CI are.
    For a review of what I consider to be some of the essential abilities and techniques of CI please see the following essay


  20. Lee

    In teaching contact I have found that students respond more the way you want them to with gentle improvised scores. I watch them sequence their spines and bodies far better than if I tell them what to do step by step. Curiosity for discovery of movement, and new movement, is a teacher to everyone. The body knows. It is our own journey to find beautiful movement that we are all capable of.

    I would like to comment on the last two posts. Firstly I would like to say the further I have dove into contact improv, the further I have found that I end up with just improv dance; or, authentic movement. Both value awareness as a teacher. I feel like advanced might be a place where teachers ask for more awareness of ones body when dancers are entering “improv acrobatics” or, teachers and facilitators could want more awareness of space where scores are practiced. Awareness in this form only comes form experience. Creativity is exciting, awareness can be a meditation of creativity……

    I love “improv acrobatics” and am a firm believer that one needs to be able to fall safely if they practice it. Falling is an art-form that children are masters of, many of us forget as we grow older. I believe that “always knowing which way is down” is important for those who are interested in the fantastic elevations of contact improv.

    Basic skills of Slufing/sliding/rolling point of contact:

    One can spend a day working on these skills, I’m still learning from them after 15 years. They are some of the most basic skills. I can think of many exercises that teach these skills. They are important, contact without them can be jarring and uncomfortable as the body loses sensation to the tension created from their absence. This is because these are safety tools as well as dance tools. Intimacy is also created, by being able to find your partners direction communicated within your touch together.

    Advanced may be a harsh word for some people. This dance form is so young and has space to grow exponentially, both technically and choreographically. From circus to meditation contact improv has been influential. It is the beauty of its creation. Advanced or experienced classes have an aim to grow the form by building from a platform of expected experience and skill-sets. Saying that this practice is elitist, is the same as saying the people who locked themselves in Judson church for three months were elitist. Its simple, learning from a student/beginner is a valuable skill and experience. Learning from a student/peer has a larger opportunity for growth of a skill-set or idea furthering the depth of the form.

    Greetings From Canada


  21. Moti Zemelman

    Quite a zen koan you have asked of us here Martin! It’s kind of like asking what is an advanced meditator. Fewer thoughts, more awareness… I sometimes like to jokingly say to my students that they will get their black-belt in Contact when they finish my series of classes.

    I have to agree with what Isa Leal mentioned in this thread regarding the non-hierarchical nature of CI being a key element in answering this question. Someone who has been doing this form for 30 years can learn as much from a complete beginner as they could from dancing with Steve Paxton himself. One could also compare this to the question of whether there is such a thing as an advanced conversationalist. Well the answer is yes and no. Their is a skill to listening which we cultivate in contact and in conversation. One can be a better listener, and yet here is the paradox – if I am a better listener then I can dance or talk with anyone of any level and be learning invaluable new skills and information – talking less, listening more… If I am a poor listener with advanced acrobatic skills I may have very “impressive” looking dances but may remain a caricature of these skills instead of a master of dialogue.

    There is a reason why Contact still takes cues from Aikido. In Aikido classes there are often many levels together in one class and the beginners will just as often be paired with the advanced. Beginners will often do things that the advanced practitioners do not expect because they don’t have any of the conditioning. This spontaneity and expecting the unexpected is exactly what keeps both Aikido and Contact Improv fresh and exciting. This is what makes CI revolutionary. Why revolutionary? Because in these times we live in it is outside or beyond established norms to create the sort of contexts that offer nonhierarchical learning. I would love to see more schools stop separating the “advanced” students from the “dumb” students and start implementing more holistic approaches that foster communal learning. While we’re at it how about government structures, the environment, etc… Man remains deceptively above nature because he thinks he is more advanced.

    Now the question of what makes a “Safe” dancer is a slightly different matter but still very connected. I would have no problem talking to someone who I deemed physically or emotionally unsafe and asking them to stop the unsafe behavior or if necessary asking them to leave the class/jam. It is generally true to me that if you listen well in the dance that you will be safe for yourself and others. There is definitely something to be said for both the physical and emotional skills involved in CI. Basic emotional skills are often but not always present in the types of people drawn to this form. My experience is that those who don’t show quick improvement in any emotional deficit here are quickly weeded out of the community – often by feeling their own social aversion in a place that demands emotional maturity or very occasionally the community will ask someone immature to leave. With physical skills the form is more forgiving and has many windows into learning skills such as falling, lifting, and weight sharing. I tell my students that the specific moves or sequences of movement that I teach are not “contact improv” in and of themselves but offer examples of the principles of contact which can then be applied to many spontaneous moments. To learn a move and repeat it in the dance is not advanced to me and in fact can easily become unsafe. I see this at jams when people try to do lifts that they have seen or “learned” which become dangerous agendas. What is advanced is integrating the principle into an improvisation.

    So it is not to say that one cannot teach skills that take more physical prowess and I definitely do it myself in some workshops, but to me this is not the essence of CI. Nancy Stark-Smith says “replace ambition with curiosity”. A lift can often become an ambition which takes us away from presence and the curiosity of what is actually happening. So when I teach more advanced lifts I do so with this understanding always bringing it back to being curious about the physical principles at work, breath, center, and presence. If anything though, my own research over the last few years has taken me deeper into the emotional and communication aspects of the form. Above I said that basic emotional skills are often present, but I would venture to say that there is an advanced emotional frontier that we could explore much more of. To me that is the wild west of CI right now.

    In Motion,

  22. Pen Hassmann

    Hey Martin, Long time no dance…
    Just a quick thought now about the difference between ‘advanced’ and ‘experienced’ definition…
    Experienced to me implies how long you have been dancing – I have known people who have danced CI for ten years or more and still not been what I would call ‘advanced’. On the other hand I have danced with people who are complete beginners who I would not necessarily call ‘advanced’ at that point, but are certainly more ‘advanced’ than the people who have danced for ten years…
    I would say ultimately those who can couple the necessary physical abilities for dealing with anything with the listening/beginners mind stuff. Or at least those who recognise and know their physical limitations and still incorporate the listening/mental aspects to enable their dances.
    Totally subjective of course…

  23. Ken Manheimer

    [My first posting in this thread was there for a while, and then disappeared. A small remark I made as a reply is still there – perhaps we’re allowed only one comment? If so, please accept this instead of the other item – I’d really like to contribute these thoughts!]

    I have a response that’s pretty simple: as with any kind of collaborative play, I think the key to advanced practice is the ability to share.

    Perhaps the intricacy is in what I specifically mean by “the ability to share” – two skills necessary to be an “advanced” contact improviser:

    – The ability to share balance (which contact improvisers often refer to as “sharing center”), together with

    – the ability to share attention: to be receptive to oneself while also being receptive to others, and vice versa, to be able to be receptive to what others are doing without having it get in the way of noticing what’s happening with oneself.

    Until someone is attuned to these principles, they’re going to be shooting in the dark in their learning to engage fully.

    For example, if you’re unable to share balance – share your center – they you’re unable to fully engage in the dance. We’ve all had experiences with people who keep people at arms distance, actually using their arms or not. Maybe we’ve even noticed when we’ve done that, ourselves!

    Conversely, if you give your center without understanding that you have to continue to take care of it, at any moment take charge of it, then you’ve shut off half of the awareness necessary to be a sensible, sufficiently aware partner.

    But once someone is able to share their center, and bring and maintain their sense of self in connection, then I know that their CI potential is unlimited.

    How well developed do these skills need to be to be considered “advanced”? I tend to consider that having a clear sense of them, and _some_ real experience grappling with them in practice, and you will have something to offer to most explorations, and be clueful enough to not get in the way. That tends to be what convinces me whether or not someone is ready for challenging, risky material.


  24. Margaret

    I think it’s an idea that may have been said already, but I believe an “advanced” contact improvisor is one who can dance with anyone.
    In other words, I don’t believe in leveling CI. against the basic tenants in my opinion.

    yet I understand the need/desire for leveling if you are focused on teaching skills.
    however, advanced in skills/tricks is different than advanced CI dancer/practitioner.

    and skills do not a dance make.

  25. Ken Manheimer

    That’s well put, Margaret.

    I’m fascinated by the divide of opinions between emphasizing skills, on one hand, and emphasizing abilities to find enjoyment in each dance, on the other.

    Because open jamming has been the avenue available to me to practice CI, I feel it was inevitable that my long-term satisfaction depended on the ability to find dances I enjoy wherever possible. While this may have been a slower path to developing purely physical adeptness, I’m pretty confident that it’s lead to a deeper appreciation for nuance, inter-personal and internal aesthetic, …, than I would have had if I kept my focus limited to the edge of my physical skills. I feel it has pragmatically lead to a deeper and more enjoyable practice.

    There was a particular framing that became my guide, in this light – very similar to your description of an advanced contact improvisor: “a good dancer is someone who tends to have enjoyable dances”.

    As time has gone by, I see a crucial beauty in this: the more closely you look at an enjoyable dance, the harder it is to attribute its quality to just one dancer or the other. Both have a part in making it enjoyable (whether or not the dancers enjoy it equally!)

    Handily, this an antidote to getting a big head – each dance depends on all partners, even if you were the more experienced one.

    Even more, it represents the essential challenge and benefit of the form – the ability to collaborate. The ultimate purpose to any of the skills is to support sharing connection – I like to think of it as cooperating with someone else in a way that’s increasingly similar to how the parts of your own body cooperate with each other. The payoff comes not in one or the other partner controlling the dance, but in sharing control, participating together more fully.

  26. Lee

    Dear Moti,

    I understand that contact takes cues from Akido, I value this and have studied the form. The most accessible and transferable skill is falling. Unfortunately I have attended many contact classes where falling without a partner is not studied at all. I find it strange that you did not mention this in your discussion of what a “safe” dancer is. When entering a Akido class for the first time you are watched closely and assisted in your falling technique by the entire class. This is for your, and everyone’s safety. In an Akido class your skill is regularly admired or criticized for the purpose of improvement so that everyone can grow. Now I would question to everyone is style of Akido class a “non-hierarchical” practice?

    Without the many valuable skills I learned in Akido class I would find dances with beginners difficult. Without these skills I would not be able to dodge and redirect a beginners energy when they are moving with gusto. I could be injured without these skills when dancing with a complete beginner. Through time I have had the pleasure of dancing with some martial artists in a jamspace; and, sometimes it almost became like sparing, without my Akido experience I would have not been able to enjoy these dances and would have been injured.

    I am staying with the CI teaching of “you are untimely responsible for yourself”. This is my area of curiosity. What kind of dance do I want, who do I want to dance with. How through the process of my own safety do I find new movement patterns.

    I am in motion not emotion. Please be careful when exploring emotion, dance can all but disappear as we come out of our bodied and into our thought. The emotion that we feel in a dance is just for that dance. It’s a dance, it does not have to be group therapy. It is unfortunate that many organizers are exploring this “advanced emotional frontier” of CI without proper study of what the skills are to run a group therapy session. It is greatly beneficial to study our interests outside of CI rather than bring them into CI because they excite us. Use that curiosity to learn outside of CI, then slowly integrate.

    The moment that we say, “I am good enough” or “I know that I am talented” is the moment that we stop learning. Using your curiosity is the best way to learn. Being in a group that shares the experience of your curiosity is where magic can be made.


  27. Heather Snow

    I really appreciate this comment, especially the part about being safe, and how it is dealt with in an Aikido class. CI could be approached the same way. A beginner needs certain skills…see it as “skills”. Without these, he/she is a danger to themselves and others. I remember dancing with a beginner when I was intermediate, and they threw themselves on me causing us to collapse….not fall gracefully. Ultimately, I injured my knee requiring surgery.. If I had been more advanced, I might have been able to assess his skills and be more careful. In the old days, we didn’t have any criteria for this. I think this is a very important discussion.Thank you for getting it going.

  28. Manuel

    Salut Martin~ Thanks for sprouting the subject.
    Here are a few characteristics I consider part of an “Advxperienced contact improvisation dancer”
    The theme/subject taught is definitely a decisive factor to what characteristics are needed for the class.

    ~READINESS to respond to a wide variety of physical inputs from dancers, at any time.
    ~Continuously Aware of body/self in momentum through space which brings coherency and safety to the dance floor.
    ~Having embodied weight sharing and being able to reposition self and partner while sharing weight.
    ~Agile at 4 levels: ground, mid, standing, air.
    ~Equally Over-dancer/ Under Dancer(considering physical strength or injuries and working with them)

    ~ Being able to research a mind state as opposed to a physical achievement. An advexperienced CI dancer is able to embody the abstract, philosophical, metaphorical.
    ~Being able, physically and emotionally, to SUSTAIN a dance to its full expression.

    ~Knows of the basic verbal vocabulary of contact impro, like: “point of rolling contact, centre to centre, tonus, gravity, invitation, table top, threading, spiralling, reaching, pulling-pushing, counterbalance” and any other verbal basics the teacher might not want to have to explain
    ~ Knows basic anatomy.

    ~Being able to recognize partner’s boundaries quickly.
    ~Willingness to engage in the unknown and/or the awkward.
    ~Knows clearly when to disengage
    ~Non-Judgmental of sex, age, weight, ethnicity, dance experience. Engage with anyone.
    ~Sexually aware

    With some of these characteristics, we can’t perceive (sometime even the dancer does not know) if they are present in the dancer before the class starts,
    but they get to be uncovered as the dance relation/history evolve.
    With all that said I had numerous amazing dances with dancers who did not own any of these characteristics and I believe these were gifts sent to humble me.

    peace in

  29. wasswasswass

    Advanced…maybe knowing what your abilities are and having a reasonably good idea of what the consequences of your actions might be and, if those consequences are outside of your expectations, being able to deal with them.

    (Also, wearing the right pants!)


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