Something extraordinary happened when I taught at the Ontario Regional Contact Jam this past April. Charlie Halpern-Hamu, one of the organizers, gave me free rein to discourage people from taking my class.
So I tried to make it scary. I told folks it was going to be rigorous, and work. I implied that there would be lots of suffering and little joy. I explicitly said it would not be fun.
And they loved it! I was able to teach a rigorous, focused class, one in which I was able to, on one occasion, ask people to giggle less and focus more, to really concentrate on subtlety and details. And 70 people showed up anyway.
My current theory is that much of CI teaching and learning is in fact too soft. Teachers worry that they won’t attract enough students unless they make things fun, so classes are advertised as “juicy,” “luxurious,” and “play,” with corresponding amounts of attention on entertainment. But perhaps there is a whole group of more serious practitioners, whether beginners or more advanced, who are turned off by this, who want more rigor, skills, and focused work. In short, who really want to use their time efficiently to learn things. My biggest fear is that this group of people, disenchanted with fluffy, vague CI classes that spend too much time trying to entertain students, don’t see a way to efficiently progress in the form and drift out of it after a few years.
Which leads me to the relaunch of the NYC Contact Improvisation Practica. For the last two years, I’ve been organizing these outdoor gatherings (named after the tango “practica”) as a way to provide self-directed practice and investigation into the form. Jams are sufficiently social where partners don’t always appreciate talking about the dance, giving or receiving feedback, or stopping to work on or repeat things. Classes can be good, but are rarely self-directed, and it can be difficult to get individual attention. And labs are sometimes the worst of all — either a led lab that tends to be a like a class with less preparation, or an unsatisfying exercise in group decision-making and compromise, where we do something that’s an average of everyone’s idea, without going deep into anything.
The best way to learn CI has probably always been in the “one-on-one” format, where two people work specifically with each other. But these are too seldom, and are often hierarchical instead of collaborative. (I’m okay with hierarchy — but it’s not always necessary or best.)
So the practica is a way to do one-on-ones, ideally a few of them in a row, but without one person necessarily being teacher and one being a student. In its simplest form, it’s a space where it’s okay to stop and ask questions, to give or receive feedback, or to repeat something. It could be also something like, “how do I figure out how to do that lift?” or “I’d like to really work out rolling point from the feet to the hip.” We do the practicas outdoors on grass, which allows for a lot of risk-taking, since it’s pretty easy to fall on grass.
But over the last few years, as enjoyable and valuable as it’s been for me to run the practica series, it’s gotten a little bit too much of “let’s have fun and dance in the park,” without people really engaged in working on things in a conscious and focused way. I admit that I’m partial towards investigations into technique, and CI is of course much more than that. But even so, I wanted more seriousness.
So this year we’re going to try to have less fun! :) What happens if I emphasize rigor and practice, work and learning? Will we get as many people? And as I’m not paying rent, I don’t need to worry about having fewer people if the focus is right.
I’ve made a tighter structure for the practica this year, forbidding latecomers after 7pm (whatever that means — it’s not like there’s a door, it’s just a big lawn in a park). I’ve formalized a portion when I teach some skills or concepts. And I’ve sought to introduce more of a sense of rigor into the promotion of it. Let’s see what happens!
More information below:
The NYC CI Practica returns Monday, June 12, 2017, now with a new format and emphasis. As with previous years, the NYC CI Practica is a semi-organized, self-directed way to practicing & learning about contact improvisation. On June 12, 19, and 26 (subject to weather), we’ll meet from 6pm (or even 5:30pm) and go until dusk (a little after 8pm), at the south side of the Central Park Sheep Meadow (the “Mark Messer” spot, see directions below).
This summer we’ll be refocusing on learning, investigation, and practice. Not just dancing like you might at a jam; instead, working consciously and rigorously on improving or developing your dancing. That might involve talking, conscious and focused experimentation, giving and receiving feedback, and practice.
Work, not fun.
(70% serious about that.)
Things you might do at the NYC CI Practica:
– work on a specific idea or movement pathway
– ask questions about CI
– get someone to teach you something
– stop dancing to repeat or work on things
– ask your partner for explicit feedback
– offer your partner feedback
Here’s the new structure:
1) 6pm opening circle (though I’ll be there to dance/warm-up as early as 5:30pm)
2) 6:05pm – 6:30pm Practice session #1. Based on interests, divide into partners or small groups to practice aspects of CI. Dancers are explicitly encouraged to stop the dance at any time, to talk, to ask questions, and to repeat, rehearse, or explore movement patterns.
3) 6:30pm – 6:35pm Circle again, share learnings, form new groups
4) 6:35pm – 7:00pm Practice session #2
5) 7:00pm – 7:15pm Practice session #3 (mini) – form new groups, or continue with group if it’s working.
6) 7:15pm – 7:40pm I show a skill or exercise
7) 7:40pm – 8:00pm Practice session #4 or open jamming
- Central Park Sheep’s Meadow, south side. At the “Mark Messer” spot (about 40°46’16.4″N, 73°58’33.1″W).
- Next Monday, June 12, from 6pm to 8 (or dusk). I’ll be there to dance/warm-up as early as 5:30pm. Also June 19 and June 26. Nothing schedule for July yet, but we may continue if there’s interest.
- Totally free
- Try to get there by 6pm, and no latecomers after 7pm.
And a few rules:
- Come with desires for what you’d like to work on or learn. This can be as broad as wanting to get feedback on your dancing, or as narrow as working on a specific technique or lift.
- Come with a focus on practicing and learning. Don’t come just wanting to move or dance.
- No latecomers after 7pm.
- While in general newbies are very welcome, this should probably not be your *first* time doing CI — we’re really not equipped to give a proper introduction to the form for those with zero experience.
Directions to the “Mark Messer spot” in the Central Park Sheep’s Meadow:
- Enter the Park at 67th and Central Park West.
- Go straight ahead (east) along the path until you reach the western border of the Sheep’s Meadow.
- Follow the fence to the right (south) until you come to the entrance at the southwest corner of the Meadow.
- Go into the Meadow and follow the trees to the right (along the south side) just over the first hill. We’ll meet there. If you get to the big rock you’ve gone too far.