Contact Improvisation

The expression, “fall from grace,” becomes an impossible statement when falling itself is experienced as a state of grace.

Nancy Stark Smith

Contact Improvisation is an improvised partnering dance form focused on weight sharing and momentum. If individuals have a distinct center of gravity, by leaning against each other they create a new shared center of gravity. The dance form is learning to manipulate that shared centered as you move with your partner through space, maintaining the point of contact. It was founded in 1972 at Oberlin College, in the same room that I learned and practiced it in. While most forms are concerned with the aesthetics as a measure of virtuosity, this kind of dance focuses on physical sensation and your relationship with your partner(s). It is said that the best dancers aren’t the ones who can do the exciting lifts, but the ones who can have a great dance with anyone, no matter their experience.

I have taken or taught seven different classes in Contact Improvisation since coming to Oberlin. I’ve danced Contact every semester of college except my first. The reason I fell in love with it isn’t just because I think it’s fun (though it is). It’s because it changed the way I engaged with the world. Movement is a medium that is nearly universal and so can help us to connect abstract concepts to the physical ways we live our lives. For example, my last semester at Oberlin I’ve been creating dance scores around the environmental crisis. It’s hard to know how to manage the fear and overwhelm in the midst of such a huge scale emergency. By moving and using dance, it can be translated into physical sensation and engaged with more directly. Practicing this form has connected the way I live to the way I move.


I’ve taught many Contact classes while at Oberlin, from semester long intro courses to weekend workshops and one time classes. Teaching for me has always been about more than the movements. It’s a chance to make connections between how we move in the world to how we act in the world.


Contact is often practiced as a social dance form, where people get together at “jams” to dance with each other. But there are performances as well, I’ve performed Contact in several different times while in college. Contact performances emphasize generosity and closeness with the audience.


A big part of my dance training wasn’t just dancing and moving, it was also thinking and writing about it. Here are a few selections of my writing on Contact and movement. These come from classes I’ve taken, independent writing, and published pieces. This link brings you to my full writing samples page – look for my Contact pieces under the “Movement” heading.

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