Contact Improvisation

Contact improvisation is a movement form which was developed from a ten day performance project in 1972 by dancer Steve Paxton. This project was about the body’s innate ability to respond to its environment.  In practising Contact Improvisation today, participants are empowered to rely on their own physical intelligence, meet the moment with senses open and perceptions stretching, and compose their own response.

“Every part of me feels very alive—turned on, awake, present, ready, both comfortable and on my edge, sharpened and softened, deepened and extended, challenged and soothed, and physically and energetically tuned to myself and others.” Nancy Stark Smith

‘Contact Improvisation revolutionises dance and the physical potentials of human relations by moving forward the cutting edge of what dancers know, sense, and do. Ecologically, the edge weaves together the meeting between dancers and their worlds of motion. It shapes the communication of touch by which we exchange our immediate physical possibility. The edge defines our identity. ..By training the physicality of attention, intensive dancers move away from their limiting, domesticated and culturally entrained ideas of themselves and toward ever-expanding creative capacities. This shift takes each of us beyond our bound bodies and into our elastic body minds.’  Nita Little

 Juliet Shelley has been teaching Contact Improvisation for most of her life. She has taught classes and workshops in the UK, Europe, the USA, Malaysia and Australasia. Her teachers include Steve Paxton, Nancy Stark Smith, Chris Aiken and Kirstie Simson.  She began dancing Contact Improvisation in London following her graduation from the Laban Centre for Movement and Dance in 1983.  She attended the first ECITE’s – European Contact Improvisation Teachers Exchange – in Berlin and France and she continued studying Contact Improvisation at the Centre for New Dance Development in Amsterdam in 1985-6.     Juliet began teaching CI whilst as a dancer/choreographer with Jointwork Dance Group in Oxford in 1987. She attended the 25th Anniversary of Contact Improvisation in Oberlin, Ohio in 1997 and organised workshops and lecture demonstrations with Nancy Stark Smith in New Zealand in 1998 and for Martin Keogh in 1999. In 2000 she attended three weeks of intensive workshops with Nancy Stark Smith at Earthdance in the USA. In 2012 she was invited to the Extended Underscore workgroup by Nancy Stark Smith in London. She teaches weekly classes in Wellington at Toi Poneke Arts Centre.



The ABC of Contact Improvisation

We begin by establishing an embodied and fluid relationship with our bodies, the breath, the floor, earth and space.   We experience the ‘skinesphere’ – everything that is contained within the boundaries of the body – and the relationship of the body with gravity, the floor and the earth.

We release our weight and mobilise our physical mass, allowing sensation, skin, surfaces of the body, weight and our connection to the floor to guide our motion. We explore yielding, rolling, sliding, creeping, pushing, pulling, crawling, and finding supports. We sequence, spiral, flex and extend and reach, moving from the spine and centre to the limbs and peripheries and back to the spine. We explore high tone, low tone and travel along the floor, up to standing and back down to earth again, expanding our awareness to include others and the room.

Moving in contact with a partner, experiencing gravity and the forces of counterbalance, supports and weight. We negotiate and navigate physical pathways through space in contact with each other. We explore being passive, active, receptive and directional, learning to trust ourselves and our bodies and to read and respond to the physical information we are receiving in a moving duet.

All levels including beginners.


Techniques for Dancing Contact Improvisation

The techniques that Juliet will teach in these classes and workshops include:

Preparing the body to receive touch and weight through all its surfaces equally, removing the hierarchy of touch, contact and support options that exist in the body and mind’s habitual use and developing the possibility and option of every surface of the body becoming available for the giving and receiving of weight and support.

Aligning the body with the floor and the space via its anatomical structure and the body’s relationship between the spine, the limbs and head. This develops our ability to move fluidly and smoothly from horizontal to vertical, to receive support equally from the earth and from the space in our bodies, and to connect the pathways between our bodies and the physical environment in which we are moving and dancing.

Taking these principles into moving with another body, another person through contact improvisations: preparing the body to experience the compositional and affective forces of weight, gravity,  momentum, balance, disorientation, recovery/centring, in solo and with a partner and developing skills in dealing with how these forces are experienced internally and externally in the process of dancing with another person or in a group.

Listening to, trusting and utilising our physical reflexes and tuning into our body’s innate wisdom and intelligence in how to actively utilise and move within the forces of gravity, weight, momentum, balance; actively engaging and playing within them solo and with a partner.

Moving between the awareness and ability to tune into the internal state of one’s own personal body, to tune into one’s senses and the information that our body is presenting us with on a moment to moment basis.

Learning to extend and expand that information and awareness into moving and dancing with a partner, the earth, the space and the environment, the physical forces of gravity, momentum, balance, weight, touch.

Noticing the compositional relationships that emerge between these areas/zones of attention and states in our dancing and utilising them actively. 

All levels including beginners.



Tasting the Nectar: Deepening our Connection

This workshop aims to provide participants with tools that increase the choices they have available to them in any given moment.  It offers ways for participants to draw from a rich and deep base in their dancing and to taste the sweetness that’s inherent in any interaction by bringing more of themselves into the moment.  

We will initially prepare the body and deepen its dialogue and relationship to gravity, earth and space both in contact and out of contact. We will bring in the use of the eyes and ears and integrate spatial and sensory information with gravity, sensation, weight and flow to begin integrating different aspects of our experience into our dancing.  

We will engage with classical contact improvisation repertory to establish our shared movement vocabulary and to bring structure to our internal experience in contact with our partners. From there, we will move into dancing in group structures to enjoy and practise our new skills and experiences with different dance partners whilst being contained by the group.  

This is a dance of discovering fearlessness and trust, expanding range, becoming adventurous and discovering open-hearted and committed dancing in each moment.