What is “Contact Improv”? Find Out Firsthand on Saturday

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Contact Improv NL is hosting an introductory workshop for anyone interested in learning about contact dance. Experienced contact dancer Ryan Davis is leading the workshop at the Arts and Culture Centre on Saturday October 14th from 1:00-5:00pm.

“The first time I saw the dance was in a video, and I saw this incredible unpredictability, there was chaos between these two dancers but they managed to pull it off in a way that looked interesting and beautiful,” Davis said.

Davis explained that Contact Improvisation is a dance form that originated in the ‘70s, drawing heavily on the martial art Aikido. It’s a partnered dance usually done at ‘jams’ where two dancers improvise movements together in an open space and others watch from the periphery.

“You’re in contact with someone else and you sort of react to the situation and to the person or people you’re moving with,” Davis said. “It’s not really an aesthetic dance form, its more of a felt dance form. It can be quite acrobatic or it can be quite soft and slow moving.”

One of the things Davis loves about Contact Improv is how it disrupts our understanding of gender by eliminating the roles of ‘lead’ and ‘follow’ that define most partnered dances.

“You’ve got two people negotiating how to move together in a non-verbal way and there’s all these questions about who’s going to dictate the leading and what kind of relationships are born out of this experiment between two people. I find that very interesting,” Davis said.

There are no set scores or steps to learn in Contact Improv, as an instructor Davis focuses on helping students get in the zone and do the dance safely. On Saturday, he’ll lead workshop participants through exercises designed to help them fall safely, avoiding damage to knees and other vulnerable body parts, as well as exercises on being aware of their physicality.

“It’s often an off-balance dance where you’re sort of pouring your weight towards or away from somebody, I teach stuff about learning to navigate that off-balance space with somebody,” Davis said. “…Contact improv is really about listening with the body or sensing with the body, so there are exercises I like to do to get you into that frame of mind.”

Workshop participants don’t need to be dancers or know anything about Contact Improv to attend. Davis says in most dances an experienced dancer doesn’t learn much from dancing with a novice but he’s witnessed lots of Contact jams where skilled dancers partnered with beginners and both parties were surprised and delighted by the dance they created together.

“Even if you’re an experienced contact dancer there’s going to be something unexpected about dancing with someone who’s just starting out and there’s still going to be a richness to the dance,” Davis said. “There’s no such thing as a good or bad dance in Contact, it’s just about endless curiosity and the opportunity to be present, your skill level doesn’t really matter.”

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Eva Crocker

Eva Crocker is a writer from St. John's, her short story collection, Barrelling Forward, was published by House of Anansi Press in Spring of 2017.

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