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.


Invitation to Be

Welcome to Body & Being! I’m honored that you are visiting. How did I come to author a blog on embodiment and spirituality?

Many streams of life experience feed into this project: my mom sitting on my bed telling third-grade me that if I wanted to fall asleep, I should think about my belly button; receiving a What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls on my twelfth birthday from my dad, and feeling slightly mortified; dancing to Justin Timberlake and Sean Paul (I feel slightly mortified mentioning that now) on my high school drill team in small town Texas; leading young girls and college students at my church through workshops that explored worship and movement.

The most recent circumstances that have compelled this blog are some health issues that I’ve been struggling with for a couple years. You’ll hear more about that in later posts. Never before has the disconnect between having a body and being a body been so pronounced for me. If my body is part of who I am, does this mean that I am less whole than I was before my health issues started? I sure feel that way sometimes. But this cannot be – Christ tells us that we are a new creation in Him. How does the reality of this new gospel life touch the reality of our life in/as bodies that decay and die? Certainly it does not mean that we neglect our current bodies and live disembodied existences geared only toward our resurrected lives and bodies. Our bodies are important now. They have something to tell us about God, about life, about who we are as broken yet redeemed people. What that is – what our bodies tell us – is the question I want to explore. Read more on the heart of this blog here.

I can’t promise too many answers. What I do promise is an honest and thought-provoking excursion into the thicket of questions. I envision weaving personal stories, theological reflection, and cultural critique into these posts, covering topics like bodies in worship, praying with the body, Chinese and American attitudes toward the body, illness and healing, pregnant bodies, medical practice, etc.

I invite you to sit back, grab a cup of tea or a piece of chocolate (whatever gets you in the mood for good conversation) and join me in venturing deeper into the paradox of body & being. I also welcome your comments. Dialogue is always preferable to monologue.