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What's So Special About Contact Improvisation?

[This is a rough draft that I am developing.]

I help keep the DC weekly and ECJ biannual Contact Improvisation (CI) jams going, in order to be able to continue regular CI practice. I frequently find myself musing (and mentioning to others (-: ) that I don't want to do without it - I don't think there's anything comparably satisfying. I'm also someone who finds it helpful to be able to describe what's essential in order to do something well, and I've been working on doing that with CI for years. I think I've finally got the basics of a description that's adequate - that contains the essential aspects. I'm releasing this draft before being quite done with it in the interest of sharing it and getting input that might help me move it forwards - open sourcing it.

Here's my framing:

  • CI is a game where you explore and develop the extent to which you can move cooperatively with others

What's so good about that?

  • As our daily lives continue to become increasingly specialized, with less opportunities for widely ranging movement, we increasingly lack opportunities to use and develop our abilities to move. Yet we're animals, we need to move and develop those abilities, to be satisfied.
    • It's physically nourishing. It's about fulfilling our range of motion, range of ability - using more of what we've got in physical articulation, and in the process developing more of what we've got.
  • Moving cooperatively with others is fundamentally challenging in a way that is able to more closely fit and challenge our abilities than any other kind of movement challenge. It's emotionally nourishing.
    • In it we learn/develop cooperation with ourselves as well as with others. Both are big things.
  • It's wider ranging than other forms of cooperative movement.
    • Conventional partner dance, one-on-one and team competitive sports and martial arts, solo movement challenges like climbing, running, swimming, etc, all present a limited frame within which you explore movement and cooperation (and competition).
    • In some the frame is more diverse than others - Tango vs. Waltz, for instance - but the frame is provided for you. The advantage of that is it reduces the uncertainties, established an agreement so that you and your partners know what you're doing together. 
    • The disadvantage is that it limits the degree to which you and your partners can expand and change the frame. It's a classic tradeoff, of structure vs. freedom.
    • In CI, finding and developing, varying, exploring the limits of the frames you can find is part of the practice. This greater freedom is challenging - it makes it harder to feel confident that you know what you're doing or supposed to be doing in CI. But it means greater opportunity for greater range of exploration and discovery.
I can't say enough about that last point - exploring and experimenting with and developing the ability to find and vary frames is crucial in times of increasing specialization, where the opportunities for creatively exploring and expanding our boundaries, are frontiers, is intensely constrained. The opportunity to explore movement and cooperation with others, to play with the limits of the frames we discover and thereby expand our abilities to discover and explore, be surprised and be equipped to deal well with the surprises, is what I do not want to do without.

Another interesting issue, challenging to describe, is how it is that CI can work, considering the unusual degree of freedom in the frame. That's for another post...

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