Both Contact Improvisation and the Feldenkrais Method have historical connections to the art of Judo. This particular explanation of the essence of Judo speaks to a way of dancing I find in contact improvisation. When the center is clear and a dancer moves with a fluid sense of spherical space falling and flying come to have a similar nature.
Early contact improvisation training involved developing dancers comfort in spherical space largely borrowing from aikido and gymnastics. A useful and commonly used exercise in contact improvisation is learning to fall and role in many directions.
Moshe Feldenkrais developed numerous Awareness Through Movement lessons based on movement patterns from Judo. A current interest of mine at this moment in transmitting skills for contact improvisation is the study of these possible ways of rising, descending and rolling with Feldenkrais lessons. The Feldenkrais lessons are particularly interesting in how they function on multiple levels. On one level they familiarize people with the pathways of orientation in a spherical space, opening pathways of movement and perception that they may not have discovered yet. On another level Feldenkrais lessons explore the relationship between attention, effort, imagination, perception and ease. Not only is a more clear center and spherical sense of space developed but also a sense of ease, comfort and freedom in that space.
When I began studying Taiji Chuan my teachers would often refer to the dantien, an energetic and physical center residing in the area of the lower abdomen, near the center of gravity. Teachers said that proper engagement of the dantien is key to the practice of Taiji Chuan. At the same time, it was said that the practice of Taiji Chuan would build potency in the dantien. I worked with an idea of the dantien for years of practicing Taiji Chuan, but ended up stoping my practice. The practice had many benefits, so why stop? I felt more calm and energetic with a global feeling of being more unified or “centered”, but I found that after Taiji practice my knees would ache.
Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, developer of The Feldenkrais Method®, pointed out a very important aspect of humans. In comparison to most animals, which are able to walk or even run just after birth, humans are learning animals. We take a long time to develop our ways of moving. Our development follows basic patterns, but our way of moving is always idiosyncratic. Our ways of moving may work pretty well, but they are rarely close to optimal. Essentially we learn a habitual way of doing things that comes to feel normal and natural even when these familiar habits of how we move cause pain or predispose us to injury.
Dr. Feldenkrais proposed a method to help people learn how they move, to unlearn habits and to develop a wider and more functional repertoire of movement. A key concept that he elaborated was the self-image. When we engage in any activity, we organize our movement to enact this particular image of how we are constructed and how our parts relate to each other and to the environment. The inaccuracy of the self-image leads to wear and tear on our tissues and limitations in how we relate to our environment. Take an example of someone who does not relate the movement of the torso and the arms to the mobility of the pelvis in the hip joints, they may consistently bend forward to reach for things by flexing the spine. Over time they begin to have pain in their back and feel less capable in their everyday life. Or in my case a conception of my dantien, that stressed my knees.
Following from this principle of clarifying the self-image, I have come back to the idea of the dantian through the Feldenkrais Method and further studies of Qigong, a close relative to Taiji Chuan. This is an integrated approach that engages both the local anatomy of the pelvic region and a holistic understanding of the dantien. It also uses the center as a unifying concept, which can knit together relationships between the pelvic region, breathing, the mind and functional movement of the whole person. While this article will give some “exercises”, my root intention is to transmit some of the foundational principles, and learning methods that elaborate how we can work with ourselves and with our students.
Despite their different histories Qigong and the Feldenkrais Method share a lot of common ground. Fundamentally, they are somatic approaches that develop qualities of inner harmony as well as harmony with the world.
Feldnekrais and Qigong use the attention and imagination in similar ways. While moving outwardly, we orient our attention to sense inwardly the aspects of ourselves involved in movement. In this processes we are implicitly using an image of our selves to both move and to localize our attention. As sensation is produced and consciously felt, we are able to clarify the image of our selves we are in the processes of enacting. The process of identifying, differentiating and relating are key to these methods of improving the harmonious, functional integration of ourselves with our environment.
Qigong and the Feldenkrais Method both rely on an attitude of self-observation that is present, discerning and accepting. While identifying that one thing is different from another, even that one sensation is more pleasant then another, we are asked to accept these observations with a degree of detachment and curiosity. This is integral to the work, it is a human function that plays an important role in learning. This is similar to the attitude found in the sciences with regard to the observation of external phenomena and in the practice of the Feldenkrais Method and Qigong we apply this attitude to inward first person observation. The importance of how we engage in these practices cannot be understated, it is integral to the practice. This attitude extends in to the practice in the qualities of gentleness and non-forcefulness. In these methods the learning and transformation takes place through a progressive gentle processes.
In these methods, intention, attitude, attention, curiosity, consciousness, equanimity, awareness, movement, sensation and our environment are all at play. You must bring them together in your practice. Moshe Feldenkrais emphasized in his teaching the clear difference between mechanically performing an “exercise,” which he argued was of very limited usefulness in terms of human development, and engaging in an activity with our human presence, curiosity and ingenuity. Dr. Feldenkrais rejected theoretically and in practice the separate functioning of the mind and body. Similarly Qigong derives from cultural traditions in which the categories of mind-body dualism were never posed in the way familiar to European cultures. This is important for teachers and therapists, especially those coming from a medical background, to take into account if they want to study and transmit the material presented in this article.
There are some distinctions between Qigong and the Feldenkrais Method, which are instructive, and may help clarify, by method of comparison, other methods readers are familiar with.
Qigong traditionally uses imagery that is rooted in Chinese histories of philosophy, medicine, art, religion and other forms of practice. Its imagery relates the microcosm of the human to the macrocosm of the universe. The principles evoked, which knit together the human being with the ways of the universe are by their nature holistic and we might say spiritual in nature. In my understanding of Shengzhen Qigong, which is translated as the Qigong of Unconditional Love, poetic imagery, breathing, movement and the intention of cultivating unconditional love, are used to stimulate and reorganize the processes of human being. The effectiveness of these images is highly dependent on how individuals understand, accept and embody them. Imagery and a felt sense can blend together. There is a premise that the practice of these images and principles in the human being are transformative in physical, psychological and spiritual dimensions. In this article, I present images that are more easily accessible to a medically trained audience, with the underlying premise that multiple dimensions of the human being are inherently involved in the practice.
Most forms of qigong are taught using methods that mix imitation of a visual model (the teacher), guidance through touch and verbal instructions about what to imagine, do or feel. This differs from the Feldenkrais Method, which does not use external visual models and imitation. In the group Awareness Through Movement® classes teachers use verbal instructions that direct students to explore movements on their own. Through the highly structured explorations, students make discoveries about their own individual habits, and begin to clarify and enact more of their potential. The other method used in Feldenkrais is touch, which is used in the one on one Functional Integration® lessons. In this part of the method the teacher engages the persons curiosity and capacity to learn through a highly skilled, gentle and explorative contact. This is a complex method, which requires extensive training. In this article I will only present Awareness Through Movement.
In Qigong students are expected to practice the same series of movements regularly for years on a daily basis and over time the practice transforms the processes of being. It is the repetition at regular intervals that shapes life’s dynamic balance.
In the Feldenkrais Method there is a greater focus on novelty then in Qigong practice. There are well over a thousand different recorded lessons Moshe Feldenkrais taught during his lifetime, which systematically elaborate the method. At the same time there are underlying lessons that are being elaborated by all of the variations. Perhaps the underlying lesson is singular. While this article gives extra attention to the pelvic floor. The underlying method is not interested in isolating out parts of our self and fixing them. While we can learn something about a problematic area and improve it, the meta-processes of self-regulation, whole person integration and human liberty, are most important to the method. Feldenkrais argued that a systematic refinement of the self-image was a far more effective means of improving action then the piecemeal improvement of separate actions. He used the metaphor of tuning an instrument being far more effective then trying to relearn how to play each note on a poorly tuned instrument.
Qigong Breathing Meditation Using Anatomical Imagery
Breathing is one of the most essential human functions. Practices relating the breath and attention to the pelvic and abdominal region are foundational aspects of Qigong training.
In this leson you will systematically direct your attention using anatomical imagery to establish a clearer felt sense of the Dantien or “energetic center,” which is closely related to the pelvic region.
To begin look at an image of the pelvic and abdominal region and explore locating the various structures you see in the pictures in your own body through auto-palpation.
Sit in a position with sit bones posed clearly on a flat chair. Make sure the knees are level or slightly lower then the pelvis. Sit on the front of the chair with the back free. The pelvis is slightly tilted forward and the spine is upright without being stiff. The feet are at least hip width apart resting evenly on the floor.
Bring the attention to follow the movement of breath in your abdominal and pelvic region.
Bring attention to your perennial body, it is the point between your anus and your genitals. Simply feel it from the inside.
Locate your two ischial tuberosities and feel their distance from the one another.
Imagine or feel the bony ridge that goes anterior and medial from the sit bones to join at the pubic symphysis just superior and anterior to the genitals. Sense/imagine the triangle that forms the anterior portion of the pelvic floor, which includes the genitals. It is formed by the line between the two sit bones and the two lines going from each sit bone to the pubic symphysis. Rest with the attention there to feel the movement of the respiration in this area.
Locate the back triangle of the pelvic floor in a similar manner. Sensing the coccyx and lower parts of the sacrum and imagining a line from each sit bone to the coccyx. Sense this back triangle and the movement of the breath there.
Sense the whole diamond of the pelvic floor. What is the sensation of the respiration there? There is no need to change the respiration or force it to go there. Just let the attention rest there.
Continue with your lower abdomen in the front. Locate in your mind key anatomical landmarks, which outline the area including the anterior iliac spine, the pubic symphysis and the belly button. Rest the attention there and sense the movement and changing sensations in this area related to your breath.
Sense the right half of your pelvis near the side, including your right hip joint area and the inner surface of the ilium, wrapping back toward sacrum. Expand the zone by feeling your lower ribs area and the space between your lower ribs and your ilium. Add the area just above your pelvis on the right side. Rest the attention in this whole right side of your pelvis and lower abdomen.
Pause and notice how you feel the two sides of your self.
Repeat with the left side of your pelvis and lower abdomen.
Sense the area of your sacrum and your lower back and the movement of breath there.
You can repeat this processes using adjacent structures to localize, clarify and distinguish the different zones. Use the areas you sense clearly to locate the less clear zones in between them.
Sense the whole area of your pelvis, lower back and abdomen. Feel the breath in this area expanding in all directions with the inhale and shrinking on the exhale. Or does it? What is your experience?
How do you feel your different zones (pelvic floor, front, back, sides) differently?
Come to stand and walk around a bit. How do you feel your legs and pelvic region, how do you feel globally. Notice in the period following this activity how you engage with your environment and your everyday activities.
Repeat this practice regularly for one week and notice the effects.
In this practice we can see how clarifying our felt sense of the breath in the pelvic area, and lower abdomen may change our experience of this area as well as of our global experience of being. The effects and their value are for you to determine through direct experience.
One may have noticed in this practice that some areas are easier or clearer to sense then others. The intention in this first practice was to simply move the attention and not to consciously make any movements or manipulate the breath. It can help establish the basic notion of internal sensing and our image of our pelvic region. It can challenge us to observe with an accepting and discerning attitude while resisting the temptation to manipulate.
Alternating Forms of Breathing to Expand Awareness and Possibilities
In this second lesson we will use intentional movement as well as the movement of attention. Like other Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons, we use movement to progressively develop our awareness and with it our range of easily available possibilities.
Using a mat or blanket, lay on your back.
Feel your contact with the floor. Is it the same on the left and the right sides of your self?
Bring attention to the breath rhythm. How long is the inhale and how long is the exhale?
Where do you sense the movements related to breathing?
Bend the knees so the soles of your feet rest on the floor close to the pelvis.
Make approximately 15 movements of strongly and rapidly drawing the abdomen in as you exhale out the nose (belly button comes toward the spine). Don’t worry about the inhale, just let it happen in the background. Just emphasize the rapid strong exhale.
Pause for a rest.
Repeat this cycle a couple of times.
Rest with the legs long.
Bend the Knees so the soles of your feet rest on the floor again.
Repeat approximately 10 strong exhales through the nose, pulling in the abdomen; use power.
Rest and observe the breath, let the abdomen go in slowly with the out breath.
Again around 5 times push air out by bringing the abdomen in. Make it clear and powerful at whatever speed feels clear. The intentional action is the out breath, let the in breath just happen.
Rest with the legs long.
Bend the knees so the soles of your feet rest on the floor, place your hands on the lower belly.
Approximately 15 times, expand your belly pushing down to powerfully exhale, don’t worry about inhale, let it happen. The lower belly pushes out into your hands. Be careful not to arch your low back away from the floor. It is the inter abdominal expansion which pushes out as you powerfully exhale.
Rest either with your legs bent or long and sense your state of being.
Bend the knees so the soles of your feet rest on the floor.
Approximately 5 times alternate between once an inward movement of the belly and once an outward movement of the belly as you exhale. Both the inward and outward movement are coordinated with an exhale. Let the inhale happen in the back ground.
Take a short rest
Repeat the movements strongly and quickly 30 times, alternating between pulling in and pushing out as you exhale
Bend the knees so the soles of your feet rest on the floor.
This time slowly and gently, alternate between pulling in and pushing out as you exhale.
Rest and notice if it calms you.
Lay on your right side with the knees bent comfortably.
Approximately 10 times, make a powerful movement of drawing your abdomen in on the exhale.
Notice what happens in your ribs, back, pelvic floor and contact with the floor.
Use a hand to feel what happens on the two sides of the abdomen. Notice how it is different in this relationship to gravity.
Rest on your back
Lay again on your right side.
Approximately 10 times, powerfully push down and out with your belly as you exhale.
Attend to what parts of the abdomen and ribs are working. Use your hands if you like.
Approximately 20 times, alternate between pushing out and pulling in your abdomen on the exhale.
Gently and slowly, alternate between pushing out and pulling in your abdomen on the exhale.
Rest on your back
Lay on your left side
Approximately 20 times, rapidly and powerfully alternate between of expanding and contracting the abdomen as you exhale.
Gently and slowly, alternate between pushing out and pulling in the abdomen on the exhale
Rest on your back and observe breath how the breath is shaped now? How is your contact with the floor now? How and where do sense the movement of the breath?
Slowly come to standing and feel the effects in standing and in walking.
While the pelvic floor is not explicitly called on to engage in this lesson, the movements inherently activate this whole region in various ways. This indirect method is a common one in the Feldenkrais Method. We use a series of movement instructions, which clarify our range of possibilities and develop a greater awareness of the aspects of our whole self involved in an action, such as breathing.
Linking Contractions of the Pelvic Floor to Larger Patterns of Movement.
In the next lesson we will explore the engagement of the pelvic floor muscles as is done in Kegel exercises, while linking them to larger functional movements. The Feldenkrais Trainer and Physical Therapist Deborah Bowes developed this strategy. This lesson assumes some familiarity with the basic exercise of contracting the pelvic floor as in a Kegel exercise and uses it as part of a Feldenkrais lesson.
Begin by laying on your back on a mat or blanket
Scan your contact with the floor to sense for differences between the left and right sides of yourself.
Contract the pelvic floor muscles a couple of times to feel how it is for you.
Let breath move freely in the background.
Bend the knees so the soles of the feet rest on the floor.
Slowly tilt the legs to the right, not as far as you can, but an easy distance. Then bring them back to the center slowly with attention.
Repeat this movement a number of times giving attention to the different aspects of yourself involved in the movement:
The shift of weight in the feet and the changing surfaces of the foot in contact with the floor.
The shifting weight of the pelvis on the floor and its trajectory.
How the movement travels up the torso bringing the right side of the back and ribs closer to the floor and the left side away.
Does one shoulder get a little lighter and the other have more contact?
What happens to the head? Is it passively moved by the legs tilting to the right?
Let the head role a little to the right with knees pelvis and torso.
Feel how everything roles to the right following the knees and comes back to the center together.
Rest with your legs long and feel the difference between how the Left and Right sides of your self feel now.
Bend the knees so the soles of the feet rest on the floor.
Tilt the legs to the right again, and bring them back to center, this time adding in a contraction of pelvic floor. It is the contraction of the pelvic floor which initiates the movement of bringing the knees back to the center
Completely relax the pelvic floor in the center, take a breath there.
Repeat 6-8 times.
Rest again and scan your contact with the floor looking for differences between the two sides of yourself.
Bend the knees so the soles of the feet rest on the floor.
Slowly tilt the legs to the left, not as far as you can but an easy distance. Then bring them back to the center slowly with attention.
Repeat this movement a number of times giving attention to the different aspects of your self involved in the movement as you did on the right side.
Rest with your legs long.
Bend the knees so the soles of the feet rest on the floor.
Tilt the legs to the left again, and bring them back to center, this time adding in a contraction of pelvic floor
Relax the pelvic floor in the center, and take a breath.
Repeat 6-8 times.
Rest with the hands on belly and feel the breath moving the lower abdomen.
Bend the right leg so the sole of the right foot is on the ground near the pelvis and leave the left leg long on the floor.
Let the right leg tilt to the right and come back to the center.
Repeat this several times.
With each repetition we move slowly and sense the changing contact with floor and how the movement happens also in the pelvis, torso and head.
Continue 6-8 repetitions, but now initiate the brining back of the right leg to center with a contraction of the pelvic floor.
The movement can be very small.
Rest with the legs long and visualize and sense the breath near the right hip joint.
Changing to the other side, bend the left leg so the sole of the left foot is on the ground near the pelvis and leave the right leg long on the floor.
Let the left leg tilt to the right and come back to the center.
Repeat this several times spreading attention through your self
Continue 6-8 repetitions, but now initiate the brining back of the right leg to center with a contraction of the pelvic floor.
Rest with the legs long, feeling the hip joints and the movement of the breath.
Bend both the knees so the soles of the feet rest on the floor.
The right leg tilts to the right and the left leg tilts to the left. So the knees move away from each other and then back toward each other in the neutral position.
Repeat this a couple of times
Now repeat 6-8 times bring the knees back toward each other with a contraction of the pelvic floor.
Rest with the legs long and feel how you are contacting the floor
Contract the pelvic floor a number of times to test how it feels now after the session. Is it more clear? Can you differentiate between the left and right sides of the pelvic floor?
Come to stand and feel your feet on the ground. How are you balanced over you feet? Walk to feel the effects of the lesson while walking.
In this lesson we posed more commonly practiced pelvic floor exercises in the larger context of functional movement. All of us participates in the practice, connecting and enriching the felt sense of ourselves in action.
The essential argument presented here is to broaden our perspective to include more of ourselves, while enriching functional capacity related to a specific zone. This also includes a destabilizing of mind-body dualism in our practice and in our learning. We must engage with a particular challenge when working with ourselves and other people. On the one hand there is a specific pathology, structure or understanding, and on the other hand we are an ongoing living experience. The pelvic floor is not alone and can be central to our human well being if we put more of our human being into relationship.
This is a draft of an article I’m working on that discusses one of the themes I have been working with for many years. I would greatly appreciate your feedback.
Restorative Contact Improvisation is most closely related to Contact Improvisation. I see it as a style of dancing, or implicit score, which has been developing with Contact Improvisation at Jams and in classes, though rarely in performances. And while it is part of Contact Improvisation it challenges some of the often-assumed “rules” of Contact Improvisation.
Contact Improvisation involves relational principles, some of which are consciously chosen and some of which seem to be taken on by a community implicitly. For instance CI is often built on the idea of both partners “listening” to the other through opening the senses to the other, especially the sensation of touch and other kinesthetic senses. Unlike most forms of social partner dancing, there isn’t a fixed leader or follower in contact improvisation. Both partners initiate and respond to movement. A common habit of Contact Improvisation is also that we respond actively to the touch of the other.
So what is particular about Restorative Contact Improvisation? To begin developing the idea we could call it “improvised forms of simultaneous, mutual self-cultivation and bodywork.” It is based on the idea that all humans have an innate capacity to move themselves toward wellbeing, balance, development, etc. . . and that this can be facilitated through a synergistic relationship with other people. It is something we can learn, but I think it is also part of our innate wisdom. So first off, we follow that inner wisdom. In what I have been calling the “Open Restorative Contact Improvisation Score”, we are invited to bring elements of bodywork and self-cultivation into contact improvisation. Participants are given permission to move toward and indulge in what is restorative and for their wellbeing. This could mean moving more toward stillness, it could be more active. It could mean giving massage or bodywork to someone. It could mean receiving the touch of another in a more absorbing, passive way. It could mean responding actively to touch. Hands are invited to give and receive information. It could mean rolling someone on to you to let his or her weight deeply massage you. It could mean draping over someone as you stretch and open. Everybody is encouraged to take responsibility for their own safety and to expand this into taking responsibility for following their own wisdom of what is going to cultivate wellbeing.
A key to this score is that there is no obligation of reciprocity. Sometimes this takes a bit of de-habituation. If one person gives to the other, the other is not obliged to receive or to give back. It is a contact improvisation dance. It is based on the idea that everybody follows there guiding wisdom in the moment. Sometimes our wisdom of what is restorative and balancing is about giving to others. Not because we will get the same back later, but because it is what our wisdom guides us to do in the moment. So in this score differentiated roles of passive/active, giver/receiver, are welcomed to arise and disappear.
One thing that seems to make this possible is the sense that there is plenty of time. When there is plenty of time, people seem to be able rest into the present. You can stay with your state, role, non-role, etc . . . until it organically transforms into something else. You don’t need to push it. And you don’t need to stick with it either. Just because you started to give somebody some bodywork doesn’t mean that in the next moment you have to stay in that role. And similarly if in one moment you are moving more with your partner in the next you might become very still, or more oriented toward your own movement.
Teaching the building blocks of this this score involves exploring different roles and polarities in dancing. It also helps to delineate some of the fields from which this practice is pieced together.
The principles of Restorative Contact Improvisation can be thought of as the combination of (1) self-cultivation practices, (2) bodywork , and (3)Contact Improvisation. These fields are very diverse , as are the people who engage in them, so I will focus on how each contributes something different to Restorative Contact Improvisation. I will then talk about some of there commonalities, which are also highlighted in Restorative Contact Improvisation. These ideas, and definition of practices are offered as a stimulus for people to work with in there own ways. In the open spirit of Contact Improvisation, this is not about what is “the” practice, but a conceptual framework and questions to explore openly with curiosity. The name alone “Restorative Contact Improvisation” might help clarify something for you to work with.
Further more, I didn’t invent this practice, I’m naming something that I do and observe people doing, the naming has helped in developing teaching and deepening research. If you are experienced with contact improvisation, we might evoke images of the softer lower to floor styles of dancing that people often engage in, especially in warming up and warming down. Or perhaps we might imagine passive-active scores given in a class. People do it in their own ways, we can’t help it, we all have different histories. In any case, something seems to be happening in the CI world, which involves mixing at least three general domains of practice. What gets mixed in depends on the background of the people involved, amongst other factors.
Self-cultivation practices: in particular somatic practices like yoga, qigong, awareness through movement® (Feldenkrais Method®), dance training, physical training, Pilates, auto-massage, improvised unwinding and stretching, etc. . . This category of practices involves engaging in an activity that balances, and develops ones self and brings it in to union or harmony with the environment. They usually involve a mixing of sensing oneself, and an activity or movement. For the sake of elaborating the idea of Restorative Contact Improvisation we will highlight that in these practices the self moves the self and a substantial portion of attention is internally-oriented. (Even if these self cultivation practices follow verbal guidance, traditional sequences, group practices and have a theory or end directed toward merging in harmony with the universe and transcending the self. This aspect of “the self moves the self and self “will become more clear as it is compared to the other two practices we combine it with.) Many people involved in Contact Improvisation have explored many practices we could put in this category.
Bodywork: This includes activates such as massage, shiatsu, thai massage, and hands-on somatic education methods such as Functional Integration® (Feldenkrais Method®), Alexander Technique®, and Body-Mind Centering®. The characteristics of these practices to highlight are that they involve two people working together in different roles. While there is an element in all of these practices of self-movement, these forms are fundamentally based on relationship and touch. In particular in the context of Bodywork there is one person who gives more of their attention to the other. It is generally based on the dichotomy of giver and receiver. (While many of these practices, especially in somatic education, speak about these roles being less clear in practice, they are there in some form.) Another aspect, which is important to note, is that the giver usually moves the receiver, or stimulates and guides the movement of the receiver. In some forms of bodywork this is more manipulative in orientation, in other forms the orientation is more educational. (perhaps we might also include in this section Authentic Movement Practice in which there is not hands on contact but we have a dyad structure that involves different roles)
Contact Improvisation: What we can highlight about Contact Improvisation is that it involves two or more people touching, communicating and moving together with fluidly changing or non-existent roles. In contact Improvisation people move themselves, move the other and are moved by the other. Moving with the other involves both physical forces that are transmitted between the partners through touch, as well as communication involving a mutual signaling and reading of direction and organization of movement. Other notable elements that are emphasized in Contact Improvisation are that it is improvised and participants are encouraged to assume responsibility for taking care of themselves.
Now to speak some about the commonalities between these practices: One is that they have a somatic orientation. (They are all concerned with the “body as experienced from within,” which Thomas Hanna usefully defined as the soma (For more on soma, and the somatic orientation see, http://somatics.org/library/htl-wis1 .) Another, is the intention is to realize our capacity to move in harmony with nature. This is understood in various ways such as working with gravity, or optimizing the function of our physiological/anatomical being, or re-harmonizing the micro-cosmos of the person with the cosmos as a whole. Other intentions for these practices include: to be present; to cultivate balance, ease, comfort and capacity; and to appropriately tonify/relax different aspects of ourselves. There are more you can elaborate in your imagination and practice.
Many of these common intentions are used as guiding principles for practicing “restorative Contact Improvisation. Giving permission to direct the dance toward these intentions is largely what we are doing. It is usually, but not always, a departure from the fast paced disorienting situations of contact improvisation, which pose immediate questions in the body related to orienting and navigating our survival. (see “Contact Improvisation: A Question” by: Daniel Lepkoff, June 2008 ) And yet this restorative mode poses related questions. While many contact improvisers avoid immediate trauma while dancing there are many who experience repetitive strain injuries or recurrent inflammation from dancing. For our long term survival and wellbeing how do we orient ourselves in relationship to those we are in contact with? This does not need to be an abstract question posed verbally, it is a question that can be posed at the level of sensation and movement. Interestingly, while it does not seem to pose the same kind of physical risk as some practices of contact improvisation. It does seem to pose social and relational risks. An example can be seen in how it differs from bodywork for instance.
Unlike most bodywork practices there are no designated roles of giver and receiver or teacher and student. These might not be definable at all in some moments and if they do arise they are unstable because they can change at any instant. If you think about, it would be awkward if you went to receive a massage at a massage center and at a certain point in the massage you started giving massage to the massage therapist. It would go against the implicit (and in some US states legally explicit) relational dynamics. Different then massage, but more similar to Somatic education, such as the Feldenkrais Method® and Body-Mind Centering®, in Restorative Contact Improvisation people are free to respond to touch actively and on a large scale. And this activity is not directed delineated by the “giver/teacher.” In both of these ways the implicit social contract is different and is more closely related to contact improvisation. (For more on this see Cynthia Novack’s book Sharing the Dance on Contact Improvisation and American Culture.)
It is also interesting to compare this restorative style of contact Improvisation to sexually oriented activity. There is a great potential for intimacy in slower, gentler movement, passive reception of touch, an orientation toward pleasure and other elements common to Restorative Contact Improvisation. Because of the openness of the situation, it gives a great deal of responsibility to participants to orient and negotiate boundaries and consent. (This element of intimacy also appears to push it to the margins in some Jams and classes. Spatially to the edges of the room, or temporally to the beginnings and ends. This slower restorative contact also seems more easily accessed when trust is built through more athletic and risky dancing.)
The depth of experience in the domains of bodywork, self-cultivation and contact improvisation inform how people practice Restorative Contact Improvisation and how it is differentiated or integrated with sexuality and sensuality. Our training and experience inherently orient and bias our activity and perceptions. Those whose experience of touch has primarily involved sexual relationships often take some time to learn to expand their modes of touch. The other realms of experience also have their biases. Those more experienced with massage methods based on an active giver using the hands to give to a highly passive receiver often take time to learn to engage more of themselves in the dance and to balance on the edge of self and other orientation. Those more experienced with Contact Improvisation sometimes take time to unwind the habit of needing to respond actively to touch or to give touch with the hands. When teaching I observe these habits as they come out in the different interpretations of an exploration. Fundamentally there is isn’t anything wrong with this diversity. In teaching I focus on respecting the different experiences and ways of doing, while proposing further options to expand peoples repertoires. In addition, the particular modes of accumulated somatic wisdom are shared directly between dancers.
Some of the other methods others and I have been using in teaching this work seem to fit into two general categories. One is creating scores or exercises where different polarities and modes of relationship are combined and sequenced in various ways. For my self the elaboration of this idea of developing harmony through polarities is related to the philosophy and practices associated with Shiatsu, qigong, and elements of Chinese philosophy and somatic practices. Here is a list of some of those relational polarities, which can be used in scores:
Focusing on sensing another
Focus on internal sensation of self
Actively responding with movement
Passively receiving by letting go of activity, and allowing to be moved
Near the floor
Yin surfaces of body
Yang surfaces of Body
Eyes to witness
Touch to witness
Relational tendency to match
Relational tendency to polarize
These polarities are reference marks on a spectrum of gradients between the two ends. In practice we can explore all of the gradients in-between and also how we can combine and intermix the polarities.
Here are some scores that sequence through these different roles and work with the gradients between modes of action. I won’t go into detail to explain what these all mean. They need to be practiced in some way to develop there meaning. They are not meant to strictly define a practice but are rather markers to orient and inspire explorations:
< passive — following initiations of other — receiving actively by following others and ones own initiations — using the contact of the other as a means to realize ones own initiations — own initiating and moving independently of the other >
sensing to effect à effecting to sense à give bodywork
The second piece of research used in teaching follows the traditions of somatic education that train us to sense and initiate action through different systems. For instance sensing different tissue systems such as the fascia, the skeleton, muscles, etc. Training to sense and move from these different systems has been a major contribution of Body-Mind Centering® to Contact Improvisation and forms an important part of the social field of Restorative Contact Improvisation. Following the theory of Body-Mind Centering®, through the conscious embodiment of these systems people redistribute the work being done by these systems, giving systems that are heavily relied on a chance to rest and other less used systems to widen their role. (see Sensing, Feeling and Action: The Experiential Anatomy of Body-Mind Centering, by Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen) Exploring these systems with another person benefits from a synergy of attention and also creates a context for the transmission of somatic wisdom. Perhaps what is specific about how this is practiced in the context of Restorative Contact Improvisation is the fluidity of roles and the openness of the improvisation in a Jam context. What may specify it as a restorative mode of contact improvisation is the intention to redistribute energy in the different systems and to generally balance the systems.
As a Feldenkrais Method ® teacher I also bring into this work two particular elements. One is the detailed study of transmission of forces through the skeleton. The second is the methodology used to uncover our intertwined perceptual and movement habits to create greater freedom. Moshe Feldenkrais argued that if we are not aware of our habits of perceiving and action we aren’t really free to choose otherwise (see Awareness Through Movement by Moshe Feldenkrais) . In restorative contact improvisation we explore both relational habits, such as leading or following, as well as the habits of perception and how we mobilize our selves to fulfill an intention.
Another method that is used is to explore different types of actions in the context of a contact improvisation dance. Here is useful list of some of the activities we noted that felt good. All of these can be explored extensively, or they can be voiced out in to the space to stimulate an opening to new explorations in a more open space.
Spiraling and opening
Cradling and nurturing
Rubbing into the other in a way that feels good to oneself
Moving with the whole body and mind in awareness together
Sinking or digging into the tight muscly parts of the other with more solid or bony parts of my self
Moving with the other and reading onto where they are going and supporting them going there
Resonating with the other as they are moving
Downward pressure/release of weight
Folding and unfolding joints
Folding and unfolding whole self on multiple levels
Bringing another toward my center
Wrapping to maximize surface contact
Opening to connect through single point
One may note that many of these include actions are directed toward another. Yet they are things we feel good doing. In this sort of dancing there is an immediate felt sense of satisfaction for everybody involved. It is also notable that many of these things that restore our balance and increase our sense of vitality and wellbeing are more active and expansive in quality. It is the balance between more yin (passive, yielding, relaxing, being) and Yang (active, expansive, invigorating) qualities that facilitate this.
It seems that one of the basic things we are doing in this activity is accessing a very deeply rooted capacity to cultivate wellbeing through human contact. The capacity is there it is more a matter of uncovering, giving permission and developing it. I am very thankful for all of the people who have shared these practices with me. My wish in writing this is to inspire and clarify the ongoing development of these practices.
Please leave your Comments and share your experiences in this domain.