Contact Improv

A few years ago I was part of a clowning show in my college theatre about the life of King David. Yes, we did some silly things, like juggle, make faces, and walk on stilts. But we also created very meaningful art. One of my favorite things we experimented with is called Contact Improvisation.

There is one basic rule to Contact Improv – you must always keep one part of your body touching the other person(s) you are improving with. It doesn’t have to be the same part. You just always have to be touching at some continuous point. Other than that, you can move, you can jump, you can slither, you can crawl. Whatever.

But – you have to be mindful of the other person. Which direction is she moving? Will we still be able to keep going if I roll down to her foot on my belly? Where do we go from here? How do we get off the ground and still remain in contact? Of course, you’re not really thinking all of that. You are just…flowing. I found it much easier to do Contact Improv if I just let my body go somewhat limp at the point of contact. I pictured my partner and I holding a ball between ourselves and rolling it from surface to surface.

This is all much easier to understand when you see it in motion. Click on the images in this post to watch a couple YouTube videos of Contact Improv (the first is about 30 seconds and the second is  a longer piece set to music).

When two people get comfortable enough with each other, Contact Improvisation becomes a beautiful dance. Two bodies find a shared rhythm around a single center of gravity. It’s hard to tell where one body ends and the other begins. Four legs, four arms, two heads, and two torsos move as one unit.

I loved Contact Improv because it forced me to be in tune not just with my own body, but someone else’s as well. Nothing (well, almost nothing) was off limits. Head touched thigh touched neck touched hip touched chest. I love that you can let people into your “personal” space and accept them there as other living, moving bodies. I also love that this close contact doesn’t have to be “weird” or “gross” or sexual. It just is. It is two people being bodies together, maybe even delighting in it and creating something beautiful out of it.