Looking Out To Sea

Grammar of movement (reprise) — Contact Jam

Last weekend I finally screwed my courage to the sticking place and went along to Glasgow Jam, an afternoon of contact improvisation and artistic jamming of other kinds.

Contact improvisation is a dance form in the loosest sense. Wikipedia describes it as postmodern dance, which doesn’t help much. It’s interesting to me because it’s like a particular aspect of capoeira (the close-contact floor movement) without the martial intent. You move around and over and through each other, maintaining contact and exploring the way in which two (or more) people can interact. It’s entirely unchoreographed so you can just get stuck in there. There was a four-year-old child at the session too; it’s easy to do something if you’re willing to let yourself be loose. It reminded me a great deal of trust/contact exercises I’ve done with various drama groups over the years.

The session lasted 3 hours without any particular structure after the warm-up period. People would dip in and out of the floor to take a break, get water, or even play instruments and paint as part of the “jam” experience. Apart from these off-the-cuff musical additions there was no soundtrack. We were dancing in silence which I found unsettling at times — and not easy to get into. There were also a lot of “serious” expressions from the participants; I really couldn’t tell whether enjoying oneself was verboten or whether this was just the face everyone used when they concentrated. Or maybe they were always bored when “contacting” with me…

The session provided exactly the challenges that I expected it would. In light of my previous reflections on being stuck in a movement rut, this was a great activity to highlight where my assumptions are. I had initially been worried that my instinct from capoeira would sneak in and I would pull someone’s leg out from under them without thinking! Thankfully that part of my capoeira game didn’t cross over but lots of other parts did. My biggest problem was being very uncomfortable touching the ground and otherwise being put into a vulnerable position. I was continually conscious of my need to be planted and in control — in short, not to surrender my trust to my dance partner. It took me over an hour of work to become comfortable with sitting on the ground, if you can believe that.

This follows neatly what I had said previously about ungrammatical movements — I’m so ingrained in the capoeira way that even when I try it’s really hard to embrace touching the ground with other body parts. On top of that I often found myself being, if not openly hostile, then antagonistic. Instead of an improvised dance I was making it quite game-like to see how the other person would react. Again, I found this hard to avoid but I’m sure it got quite annoying after a while.

Ultimately I had some problems trying to determine who the jam was for. It was billed as a participant-only event. There was no viewing gallery and it wasn’t a show. So in that respect it was for the dancers themselves — but it seemed so serious. There was no emotional interaction between people: no laughing, no whoops, no eye contact, no talking. I would like to return and see if I can improvise these more than anything else.