older practitioners exploring new pathways

This is an interesting moment in our journey of Dancing the Invisible. As Susie and I commented at our July meeting – although we delivered the (first) performance element in May, the project research is far from over.  Keen to develop knowledge, experience and skills in improvisation I’ve just participated in ContactFestivalDartington …a week of contact improvisation in Falmouth curated by Malaika and Richard Sarco-Thomas and led by inspiring teachers – Lucia Walker, Charlie Morrissey and Mirva Makinen each of whom brought a distinctive flavour to their practice.

The Festival workshops were scheduled from 7.30am (yoga on alternate days) to 11pm: ‘jam’ packed. Engaging with a physically vigorous (- and risky!) dance form and, as the oldest? person in a diverse group of between 30 to 40 people, meant that each morning there was a new set of challenges: different approaches, new tasks, stamina!, physical activities and relational experiences. This is a place of both ‘surrender’ (a word that cropped up again and again)  and staying whole – simultaneously immersed and alert …

Yes !!- these are characteristics of improvisation in any form:  the ability to be in the moment and to read and respond to the flow of time.  And here are further brief reflections on my experience:

Sensing flow: Closing the eyes helped me to make connections and read where the movement is going. I found if I concentrated on the breath, my body relaxed into the flow of energy and the dance ‘happened’; if I tried to apply new physical skills (mind acting on the body) the flow was interrupted – so in terms of raising my skill level, this form requires … practice! For now, I lean towards the slow still dances where ‘tuning in’ to the other dancers drives the action rather than technical skill.  As another of my teachers, Roger Tully, says dancing is a ‘happening’ not a ‘doing’.

Beauty – in really ‘dancing’ with different people of different ages and experience. This practice is potentially a nourishing enriching experience, the giving and receiving of touch and weight requires sensitivity, trust and responsibility in equal measure. I loved that element of it . The connections that happen can by-pass the scrutiny of  thinking according to rules, so it is fresh and surprising territory – full of wonder. And therein lies the beauty?.

Ballet – What was helpful in my existing practice was the notion of opposition and spiral that is rooted in my dance body through the ballet training: how to sense weight and centre of gravity in relation to the floor as a provocation to movement. With these ideas I felt at home …  a thread of physical understanding and my imagination could take off.
People – over the week we grew into a happy, well nourished community with a shared interest. I was reminded of Nancy Stark Smith’s comment at the recent Somatics and Technology Conference on a reason that Contact has grown. This practice requires that more than one person. It sustains itself in many different ways.
And the experience provoked many questions for me: What will hold in my body and memory? What will communicate beyond this practice? How can I as an older dancer develop and sustain the demands of contact as a practice? In what ways will this experience filter into the next stage of our project?