What is Contact Improvisation?

Contact Improvisation is an evolving system of movement initiated in 1972 by American choreographer Steve Paxton. The improvised dance form is based on the communication between two moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia.
The body, in order to open to these sensations, learns to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain quality of willfulness to experience the natural flow of movement. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner.
Contact improvisations are spontaneous physical dialogues that range from stillness to highly energetic exchanges. Alertness is developed in order to work in an energetic state of physical disorientation, trusting in one's basic survival instincts. It is a free play with balance, self-correcting the wrong moves and reinforcing the right ones, bringing forth a physical/emotional truth about a shared moment of movement that leaves the participants informed, centered, and enlivened.
- Early definition by Steve Paxton & others, 1970s, CQ Vol. 5:1, Fall 1979
Patrick Crowley views Contact Improvisation through a multitude of overlapping lenses and activities:
  • Physical Training: rolls, falling, changing level, developmental movement, center, support, flying, spirals, spherical body/movement, vision, dis/re-orientation, body connections (internal, external, head-tail, initiation from each body part, pathways), integration, sensation, breath, alignment, levity, etc.
  • Physical Forces  (gravity, inertia, momentum, friction, speed, direction)
  • Scores  (including Underscore)
  • Improvisational Skills & Awareness
  • Soloing
  • Duet: Solo w/Follower, Leader w/Follower, Collaboration, 3rd Entity
  • Trios/Ensemble
  • Perception/Touch/Sound/Vision
  • Art/Composition
  • Space/Spatial Awareness
  • Changing States (Body, Mind, Movement, Energy)
  • Imagination/Image
  • Emotions/Heart/Humanness
  • Community
  • Inclusion/Consent/Democracy/Politics
  • Witnessing/Being Seen/Performance
  • Contemplative Practices
  • Somatics/Bodywork
  • Jamming/Labbing
  • CI history
  • Research/Reflection/Discussion/Articulation
  • Mystery
Contact Quarterly: About Contact Improvisation
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