Week Six – Sensing your skin

Tuesday 18th February 2014

Sometimes we over look the sense of touch, not just in dance but in our daily life, the sense of touch is just as informative as the sense of seeing and hearing. Dieter Heitkamp writes ‘Communication through the skin allows us to interact in a more flexible, maybe even more sensuous, joyful way.’ (Heitkamp, 2003, 264) Heitkamp is a pioneer when it comes to interest in contact improvisation and exploring the intricate details, he seems to be fascinated by the way touch allows so much expression and emotion in dance. Heitkamp talks about how you can cover up your eyes and ears but you can never be rid of the sense of touch. Touch is something that allows us as dancers and humans to communicate whether it is by touching or being touched, it is an exchange of information ‘…through the skin.’ (Heitkamp, 2003, 256)


I could not imagine everyday life without the sense of touch; it would definitely make contact improvisation much harder. When my skin comes into contact with others during classes first it is uncomfortable but when I feel like our bodies start to communicate and move as one I relax and let my skin try to feel what it wants to. Heitkamp talks about the connection of the skin and the brain, asking the question ‘Does not thinking have as much to do with the skin as with the brain?’ (Heitkamp, 2003, 260) In comparison when I’m in contact with another dancer I feel like my skin is forcing my brain to feel something it doesn’t want to… or is it the other way around? I’m not sure. Without touching something the thought of its existence is altered, how to you know the feeling of something without touching it? Or does it not matter? These are some of the many questions that came into my head when reading this chapter.


Heitkamp has inspired me to think more about the sense of touch through the skin when in contact classes. The importance of the sense of touch is just as important as seeing the space, you need to touch it, let your skin connect with its outer kinesphere. Listening through the skin allows a calmer and smoother exploration through movement with another body. Contact improvisation is generally about exploring movement, mostly without any advance warning, which Heitkamp feels allows room for further exploration. Skin to skin, coming into contact can be alarming and cannot always be described but purely experienced.


For me to progress further in the practical classes I need to have a stronger understanding of the importance of the sense of touch putting it together with those of smell, hearing and seeing. This piece of reading has definitely helped me embrace the sense of touch however I would like to experiment with the physical sense of touch as well as the internal. I feel like the new information I have gained needs to be put into practice for me to fully understand its meaning, therefore I will be applying this in the weeks to come.


Work cited:

Heitkamp, D. (2003) Moving from the Skin: An Exploratorium. Contact

Quarterly/ Contact Improvisation Sourcebook II, Vol. 28:2. Pp.  256- 264.

Week Five – The rolling point

Tuesday 11th February 2014

Susanne Raven writes ‘The weight of my body characterizes a very concrete and recognisiable physical dinemsion of being a body. As other physical dimensions of my body, its weighted mass presents both openings and constrainsts to my being-in-the-world.’ (Ravn, 2010, 22) I feel like this a clear explanation of what I thought about during this class when I was in contact with others, I was concious of my openings and constraints during our focus on giving and receiving weight.


Waking up the body is an important beginning to every dance/movement class; it allows you to feel what you want to and your mind to be focused on personal bodily movement. Generally I will go into anything with an open mind, however today I was very sceptical. The trust exercises ranged from standing in the middle of a group of people and falling one way allowing someone to take your weight and pass you to someone else whilst your feet are at all times grounded to partner work where we fell back, feet grounded and trusted one person. Up to this point I was fairly comfortable and felt happy with my achievement until we moved onto a whole class trust exercise, shouting “I’m falling” and hoping someone would catch us, this was daunting for me but I did it!


Trust is one thing, but giving your entire weight to someone is something else. We worked the interchangeable role over and under each other, experimenting with weight being transferred with small parts of the body (foot) and larger parts (back). Experimentation for me is a sense of freedom allowing, digestion of information, exploration, play, to enjoy and expansion on individual range within a certain area, in this case giving and receiving weight. The Jam at the end of the class was a perfect opportunity for all of us to become one and play with the basis of weight and expand on what we thought it meant. I didn’t release tension enough in this exercise for me to gain the full experience of transferring and bearing weight however from this I now know what to do for future exploration.


The class to me was about breaking boundaries for ourselves about trust and freeing our bodies of tension. Personally I feel that I need to work on my understanding of where weight can be held on the body of another person and theirs on my body. Taking into consideration the intention and focus of class today I think that opening all my senses to the space around me, not just my eyes, will contribute to myself feeling more trust in the people allowing further exploration with weight bearing. We were left at the end of the class with this in mind, ‘Favour the eyes as a sense. Be able to open the senses of other senses.’ (Silverthorn, 2014)


Works cited:

Ravn, S. (2010) Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices. Sensing weight in movement, 2 (1) 21-34.

Silverthorn, T. (2014) The rolling point and the interchangeable role of the under and over dancer [seminar] Contact Improvisation: An Ongoing Research Lab DAN2005M, University of Lincoln, 11 February.

Week Four – Paxton’s puzzles

Tuesday 4th February 2014

Steven Paxton describes contact improvisation as an investigation of weight, touch, and communication. For me contact improvisation is a practice based primarily around trust, weight and touch experimentation, being able to let your body explore what it wants to. Integrating what we did in our previous classes with the element of touch today, defined by Montagu as ‘…the parent of our eyes, ears, nose and mouth. It is the sense, which became differentiated into the others, a fact that seems to be recognized in the age-old evaluation of touch as ‘the mother of the senses’.’ (Bannon and Holt, 2012, 218) showed us the significance and effectiveness of the element touch.


“To understand…” means to me that I need to realise where my body is at the beginning of every class. We always start of class with a “small dance” a moment of stillness honing in on gravity and the tiny movements that your body makes when standing still. Today I felt completely focused after this exercise and I brought my body into the room with me unlike previous classes where it was a longer process. I think the reason for me feeling the benefits of the small dance today is due to previous experimentations. You really need to explore something to understand its benefits and purpose, I now understand that the “small dance” helps you to get into your body and start to feel any small or large movement it creates which I will now be engaging in at the beginning of every class.


Further into the class we looked into Paxton’s puzzles are small phrases of movements with a specific technqiue to help with control and sustaining movement. We developed the Crescent and Helix roll using; the eyes as a connection for direction of the movement and thinking long and low with the direction of our legs. We further explored the Aikido roll which we were introduced to briefly last week. The challenging aspect of this roll is the weight suspension at the beginning of the roll and I found that I need to focus on keeping strong positions in the arms and legs.


An improvisational score was the last hour of our class and it was an exciting and new place for all of us. This space allowed us as a group to combine elements we have learnt over the past week and explore them as a whole class together, opening up the question for ourselves, what is contact improvisation? For me it’s still being answered.


‘What is your pallet today?’ (Silverthorn, 2014) is an extraordinary question that my tutor asks on occasions in classes originating from Steve Paxton. He describes this question as imagining that your body is a pallet of sensations in comparison to an artist having a pallet of paint. Use the sensations and embrace them in your movement.


Works cited:

Silverthorn, T. (2014) Paxton’s Material for the Spine and formative assessment of learning outcomes one and two [seminar] Contact Improvisation: An Ongoing Research Lab DAN2005M, University of Lincoln, 4 February.

Bannon, F. and Holt, D. (2012) Touch: Experience and knowledge. Journal of dance and somatic practices, 3(1/2) 215-227.

Week Three – Connections and reflex

Tuesday 28th January 2014

‘What is your pallet today?’ (Silverthorn, 2014)


Steve Paxton’s material for the spine is our main focus each week and the groundwork for our personal and group exploration. It allows us to develop ideas of our own influenced by Paxton’s work and concerns with the spine; this in turn acts as a foundation when in contact improvisation practice. Starting each class with a similar warm-up, a “small dance”, allows us to be fully aware of what is going on around us and what our body is feeling and wanting to do. Awareness, not only through the body and the feet being grounded but also through eyes can act as a place of communication between yourself and your surroundings.


The main aspect of class today was to think about leading with the eyes as well as the pelvis to explore movements of the spine. We focused the majority of the class on leading our body through the space with our eyes; our eyes guiding us into a new space for exploration. We connected with each other in the room by look and by touch on the back of the head, no pressure just a placing of the hand so the other person knew we were there. This was both explorations in physical and internal connection with our inner movement and with others in the space.


We developed this sense of connection through pressing the crown of the head against someone else’s, giving weight and feeling like they were an extension to our own spine. I didn’t feel this way in the slightest, I felt completely separate from my partner and that in fact we weren’t moving as one instead I felt one of us was always leading, whether that was through a slight touch or forceful pressure. I felt disconnected rather than connected. Due to the explanation we were given by our tutor I feel that I need to experiment in my own time with other dancers creating an extension of my spine to really understand the purpose of this exercise.


Daniel Lepkoff’s insight into movement is inspiring to me due to his perception of communication ‘…performing is a communication and when something magic happens in the theatre it is created by a confluence or symbiosis of both the audience and performer together.’ (Lepkoff) I feel that Tara reiterated this in our class today when she said that ‘Contact improvisation can be liberating by not knowing what’s coming next.’ (Silverthorn, 2014) demonstrating Lepkoff’s point of communication in performance that it is an essential part of movement. Communicating through the body with an open mind gives room for exploration.


Works cited:

Silverthorn, T. (2014) Paxton’s material for the spine [seminar] Contact Improvisation: An Ongoing Research Lab DAN2005M, University of Lincoln, 28 January

Forti, S. (2005) The movement of attention: An interview with Daniel Lepkoff. [online] Available from: http://www.daniellepkoff.com/Writings/Daniel%20Simone%20Interview.php [Accessed 30th January 2014].

Week Two – Connectivity with awareness

Tuesday 21st January 2014

In order to perform and partake in an effective contact improvisation class Robert Turner writes ‘…if one wanted to achieve free, spontaneous movement instead of culturally imposed, habitual movement, one must develop a habit of awareness in relation to the reflexive reactions of the body, which were more basic.’ (Turner, 2010, 126) I strongly agree with Robert Turner as I constantly experience the state of staying with my habitual movement and need to move forward from this. Therefore I am going to take his theories and work with developing a state of awareness of knowing when my movement is influenced through my habitual patterns.


Today we explored further into the movement of the spine both internally and externally whilst investigating the many possibilities originating from the spine, integrating work with pelvic movement. I feel it is crucial to remember that every spine is different, which meant that when I thought I was doing something wrong or I felt that my spine was not moving like the other dancers it didn’t matter. I honed in on the fact that my spine may not be able to move in that way and focused on exploring possibilities in spite of this minor setback.

SPINEs(Kay, 2012, 28)

Progressing from last weeks class we paid close attention to each vertebra in the spine. ‘Visualise the spine and sense where it is and what it can do/is doing’ (Silverthorn, 2014) this allowed me to really focus on the movement of each vertebra of my spine when rolling down and up throughout the class. I suddenly felt connected to my inner movement. I developed this thought as we walked around the room initiating moved from different parts of the body, finger, elbow etc. spiralling the spine, in turn changing the direction of movement. Through laying on the floor we developed this method of spinal movement even further completing the same process as we did when walking. This allowed us to explore the potential and outcome of this technique defining the response and reaction our body gave us.


Later in the class we revisited the helix roll and crescent roll. I found that this week I was trying to direct my energy downwards into the floor, giving weight and playing with suspension, resistance and pressure. I also felt that I was paying attention to the direction in which my pelvis was going instead of trying to get the “roll” perfectly poised, I let go and gently sent direction into my pelvis. In pairs we drew attention to our pelvic movement through placing gentle pressure with our hands on our partner’s pelvis; this allowed me to explore a new initiation area for spine movement. In my opinion it is as if you are having a conversation with your body and the floor through giving weight.


Works cited:

Turner, R. (2010) Steve Paxton’s “Interior techniques” Contact improvisation and political power, 54 (3) 123-135

Kay, S. (2012) The Spine. An introduction to assessment and diagnosis, (51) 28-35

Silverthorn, T. (2014) Paxton’s material for the spine [seminar] Contact Improvisation: An Ongoing Research Lab DAN2005M, University of Lincoln, 21 January