The Earthdance New Year’s Jam starts today, one of the largest and longest contact jams in North America. It reminds me of the challenges of in and out in the contact improvisation community, particularly at multi-day jams.
Even after 11 years of dancing contact improvisation, every now and then I still feel like I’m on the outside — like there’s a group of people that I’m not a part of, and don’t know how to become part of. I’m not even sure that I want to be part of that group. But nevertheless feel like I’m excluded from that group can make me feel lonely, sad, rejected, frustrated, or confused. It’s not even one particular group all of the time — just sometimes, I don’t feel like I’m being accepted by whom I want to accept me, in the way I want to be accepted. Whatever that is!
I think this feeling can sometimes be exacerbated by certain aspects of our community. Contact improvisation provides a great sense of intimacy and connection, but that connection isn’t necessarily always mutual, or even when it is, it doesn’t necessarily extend to intimacy and connection off of the dance floor. Our community is open and accepting, but that openness and acceptance doesn’t necessarily become friendship or closeness. We touch each other, frequently and publicly, and when you walk into a room of people lounging on top of each other, and don’t find yourself immediately invited to join, you may feel it hard to get in, and find an increased sense of being out.
There is a lot to say on this subject, but the main advice I can give to those feeling out is this: it is normal. It is so, incredibly normal, that it happens to everyone, or at least everyone who is still taking social risks, and it will keep happening to you throughout your contact life, as long as you go to a jam without knowing who will show up. When it gets too much, it’s totally okay just to take a break, or give yourself permission to feel sad/angry/upset/lonely/confused/hopeless/helpless. Or you can see what happens if you just try a little more — try one more dance, try one more connection, go to one more jam. But I know folks who have been dancing 7, 10, 20 years who still feel and encounter this. I think it’s actually pretty healthy — it’s a sign that you care about connecting, and a sign that you’re pushing yourself to connect with new or different people.
To those who are not feeling out, I’d like to say this: every now and then, look around to see if someone is feeling out, and think about what kind of contact community you want. You have no obligation to try to integrate someone feeling left out into the contact community — but you may have an interest in having your contact community being one that is inviting, welcoming, interesting, diverse, growing, etc. The typical response is something like, “I spend so much time taking care of other dancers, or my local contact community, or my kids, or my career priorities, or my personal situation of some sort, that I want to just come to the jam and dance. Why do I have to ‘take care’ of someone? I don’t have the energy/time/patience for that.” I think that it’s important to give time for yourself, to address your needs and your desires. And I think that you may realize that having a certain kind of contact community is part of your needs and desires, and that helping/including someone can help feed those needs and desires. Maybe. Not all the time, but maybe here and there.
One more piece of advice for people feeling out — try to find a way to talk about it. Maybe particularly with another contact dancer at the same event. It usually helps.