Essentials: Basic CI Principles & Practices: Falling

By Martin Keogh

We live with a continuous invitation to fall due to our inseparable relationship with gravity. Dancing in a contact duet, one key element of the improvisation is the amount of control and release we apply to the ongoing fall.

Below is one sequence of exercises I use during workshop.

Falling Alone:

It’s said that when you learn contact improvisation you leave with at least one new friend: the floor.

To establish your fundamental rapport with falling, start with the smallest falls possible. Lie on the floor noticing the tug of gravity. Let your awareness arrive into the rise and fall of your breath. As you awaken to any unconscious holding in your body, feel your tissue release and descend.

Sink towards the support of the floor and with that support begin to find ways to rise. Roll up to your side and then fall the short distance to your back or front. Begin to distinguish the difference between pouring your weight to the floor like pancake batter spreading, and tumbling to the floor maintaining more body tone and extension, which invites momentum.

Begin to find the ways that the momentum down can bring you back up. Don’t let the weight die at the bottom of the fall—find the source for rising in the falling. The act of following through gives you more surface area to soften at the floor, and can give you the impulse to rise.

Now, from standing, lets distinguish between three styles of falling:

  • Creasing down like a scarf folding into the floor.
  • Increasing the body’s tone to maintain shape that can fall and roll like a ball.
  • Extending to meet the floor along some elongated surface of the body—like letting a banana fall down along its long edge.

Falling Together:

Once the body understands these solo pathways to the floor, you are ready to fall through space with a partner.

Stand in pairs and collapse your weight onto each other so you can’t remain standing without the support of the other. As if napping, heavily roll the compressed tissue against tissue.

Separate and rejoin, this time with the intention to lean rather than collapse. Be in contact from the hips up through the shoulders and find a combined center of balance. While sharing this mutual plumb line, allow the contact to be only slightly weighted. Now when you roll the point of contact you will find yourselves more mobile.

Separate and return. This time, rather than thinking of leaning, focus on reading the floor through your partner’s feet. This change of intention—from the physical, to one of extended awareness—creates yet more possible dynamics. As if you have pooled your nerves together, and become a four-legged body—allow your partner to draw you through the room and vice versa.

As trust develops, it becomes easier to relinquish control of your individual centers to the mutual balance. Now invite your common plumb line to fall off balance through the space. In this ongoing fall towards and around each other and the floor, you will discover that instability leads to greater mobility.

The exercise transitions into a dance.

Falling Into Dancing:

By mutually organizing the nuance of tone and release during the fall you find yourself in a reflexive dance where falling becomes the continual source of the next impulse. From stillness or from motion, you don’t have to figure out what comes next—simply bring your awareness to your rapport with gravity. Through falling, one movement becomes the seed of the next, and you find yourselves in the spontaneous acrobatics that can arise as you improvise with this material.

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Dancing Deeper Still:
The Practice of Contact Improvisation