This week I attended another London Embodiment Circle, a meet up for different styles of body based professionals which includes people who practice yoga, marshal arts, somatic experiencing and dance. This months theme was on Contact Improvisations.
The session was led by Jan Lee who teaches contact improviastion and movement presence. Jan says:
“I am a dancer, musician and somatic educator. My work is situated in the spaces in-between things, in the movements of transition and translation between different known worlds. I work to piece back together pathways that were forgotten, or forge new connections that want to be imagined”http://janlee.org/about/
We began the session by moving around the room, experimenting with different speeds and directions. We then began to interact with people we met as we moved and have some contact. This is when the session really began to come alive.
In pairs we experimented with pushing against each other, first with hands then with other body parts such as back to back or side to side. We began rolling against our partners pushing with just enough force to balance out their weight of push back so that as a pair we could move together. Leaning against each others backs as we slowly, with control, moved to a sitting position.
Next we experimented with pulling creating mini tug of wars between pairs of hands. In this exercise I began to imagine the character, perhaps this was a teenager trying to pull away or maybe it was much younger, a two year old having a tantrum as they try to escape or resist going where the parent wants them to.
We then put the two forces together and added two more options – pushing, pulling, pausing and filling (where one person would fill in a space left by the other person. In pairs we began a physical theatre dance around the space. Sometimes playful, sometimes graceful, sometimes forceful (with control to protect the partners physical safety).
Jan spoke about touch and consent during the exploration, if someone touches you somewhere that you are not comfortable then you can move their hand to somewhere else. She also encouraged us to be aware of what parts of our bodies made the contact, perhaps sliding across someones body making contact with the back of your hand is more acceptable than using your hand for the same contact.
Contact Improvisation requires trust between the partners; trust that the partner is not going to suddenly drop you as you push or pull or lean against them. It also requires trust in your own body to be able to take the weight and force of another person. There are ways that a small person can use their bodies to physically support the weight of a much larger person and part of contact improvisation is exploring that – making the firm base and trusting your own strength. In return the other partner must trust that you can take their weight but also control how much they let go or at what speed to ensure they do not overwhelm the support.
Touch is sensual. It is not often that we experiment with slipping and sliding our hands over the hands of a stranger. What is it like to feel the touch of another. There are so many sense receptors in our hands that they are one of our most sensitive areas. Experimenting with touch in this way can open up a lot, how is it to feel another person, can I receive the gentleness of touch from another, how much will I seek out that touch when invited to explore and how much will I avoid it. Is it easier to feel someone touch your hand or to take control and touch their hand. I thought about some of my clients who have had very negative experiences with touch and wondered how they might respond to this invitation to touch a hand. I was reminded of the sculpture of the two inner children trying to make contact in the cage of the adults who do not touch. Somewhere inside all of us is that need to connect, that newborn baby who needed to be held to feel comfort, the child who sought physical reassurance when they fell and hurt their knee.