At CI Ground Research one year ago, my research group (“Rhodonite”) developed a score to give each other feedback, described below. With CI Ground Research starting again today, I thought some attendees (and the CI world generally) might find useful the details of our score. Maybe you’ll use this directly, or use it as inspiration for your own scores.
CI Ground Research is an annual CI “research” intensive. The purpose of the 2015 edition was, roughly speaking, to give “advanced” CI dancers the opportunity to “delve deeply into the practice of Contact Improvisation and actively engage in CI’s pedagogical questions” through collectively-organized activities. Dancers had to apply and were accepted. Last year, CI Ground Research took place over about four days in March 2015 at Earthdance in Western Massachusetts, immediately preceding the Earthdance Spring Equinox Jam, and involved around 30 dancers.
At CI Ground Research, a large portion of the activity (maybe about 60%?) was “small group” work. We were organized into four smaller groups of about 7 dancers each, in which we did our research over four two-hour sessions.
I was fortunate to be in the “Rhodonite” group—each of the four groups were named after minerals found on the Earthdance grounds. Rhodonite consisted of Shura Baryshnikov, Shaina Cantino, Sara Coffin, Justis Hatch, Hanna Sistek, Dey Summer, and me. I think it’s safe to say that Rhodonite was the most structured, ambitious, and detail-oriented of the four groups. We determined relatively quickly that what we most wanted was feedback on our dancing. So we devised a structure to accommodate this. Over three of our two-hour sessions (six hours total), we danced with each other and gave detailed and comprehensive feedback to each other according to the following score.
The Rhodonite Feedback Score, as we did it, is for seven dancers (A, B, C, D, E, F, G) and lasts about 6 hours, although it could be modified for other numbers and time periods.
Dancer A elects to receive feedback first. She describes to the other dancers what kind of feedback she is listening for. Examples of feedback requests might be:
- Tell me anything you see
- How would you describe how I dance?
- What do I not do? What are ways I could dance differently?
- I’m looking for ideas of what might be good to put into a score or class exercise
Dancer A dances with Dancer B for 3 minutes. At about the 3-minute mark, Dancer C joins A and B in a trio. Dancer B exits after about 1 minute, after which A duets with C. At about the 7-minute mark, Dancer D joins A and C in trio. Dancer C exits after about a minute, after which A duets with D. End at 11 minutes. This works out to:
- 3 minute duet with B
- 1 minute trio with B & C
- 3 minute duet with C
- 1 minute trio with C & D
- 3 minute duet with D
Anyone who is not dancing watches and records feedback on post-it notes (!). After A dances, everyone gives feedback, in a non-moderated, untimed discussion. A designated scribe records all feedback. In addition, A receives all of the post-its as souvenirs and notes of her received feedback. All dances are videotaped, with video to be shared later with the entire group.
Each of the other 6 dancers goes through the same set of requesting feedback, dancing, and receiving feedback (and post-it souvenirs!). In the dances that follow, each dancer will take care to dance with those dancers they have NOT previously danced with. As a result, everyone will dance with everyone else exactly once, 3 times during one’s own feedback, and 3 times during others’. For instance:
A dances with B, C, D
B dances with C, D, E
C dances with D, E, F
D dances with E, F, G
E dances with A, F, G
F dances with A, B, G
G dances with A, B, C
I realize this all sounds a bit confusing, but it’s actually pretty simple in practice. You don’t actually have to assign yourself a letter or anything. You just dance with each person exactly once — it all works out.
This entire score was not quick. We did three people in each of our first two sessions of two hours each (six people over 4 hours). I’m sure in each two-hour session, we spent the first 10 minutes arriving late, and maybe another 10 minutes for breaks. But in the remaining 100 minutes, probably only about 33 minutes was dancing — which means we probably gave each person about 22 minutes of feedback. I think we may have stayed a little late in the studio on occasion to finish things up.
In a two-hour third session, we reviewed all our notes for each person, and suggested scores/exercises (or at least, germs of scores) that could be extracted from each person’s dance! We gave this list of scores to CI Ground Research organizers/curators as our “published” research, although I don’t actually know what has happened to them. Perhaps I’ll attempt to publish them here.
What worked well
Well, I thought it was all pretty brilliant. For things to go quite so well with something we came up with pretty quickly — probably in about 20 minutes — was pretty amazing.
One thing that just happened to work really well was everyone dancing with everyone exactly once—that was a bit of serendipity, since we didn’t really plan it that way in advance. Maybe I’ll do a separate blog post on how do this with different numbers. But suffice it to say, it works with 7 dancers well. It also works well with 5 dancers—in that case, each person’s “feedback dance” involves only two dances, and that person also would dance with the other two dancers during those dancers’ “feedback dances,” so that everyone has exactly four dances, one with each other person.
We had an exceptionally thoughtful group, offering different perspectives and high-quality feedback. Having feedback from six different people with different eyes, backgrounds, and interests was incredibly interesting and useful. I felt like we all learned things about ourselves that we hadn’t seen. Individual attention, particularly with specific and detailed feedback, is so rare in CI, almost criminally so, apart from the occasional one-on-one at a festival. This was probably more attention and feedback on my dancing than I had ever received.
Timings and lengths of dancing seemed to go well as well. Eleven minutes of dancing was not too tiring, but long enough to be comprehensive. Seeing three different dancers in quick succession was fascinating—you can really see different styles and different chemistries changing the dance.
We started out thinking about timing the discussion periods, but we ended up abandoning that after a while. I think we all just silently agreed that it made sense to give each discussion as long as it needed. And this sort of made sense because the feedback wasn’t just helpful for the person who was the subject, but also for all of us giving feedback. It was incredibly stimulating, rewarding, and educational to see a dance through someone else’s eyes and hear it in someone else’s words, maybe as much or more than receiving feedback oneself. I guess I’m saying, there didn’t seem to be a need to equalize discussion time, since it was all for all of us.
Videotaping and detailed notes were a treasure trove that we probably all haven’t fully mined, but remain an incredible resource. On my laptop at home, I can look at any of 7 advanced dancers dancing in combination with each other on video, and review 6 dancers’ detailed comments on each dance. Kind of incredible, really. Perhaps we will donate it all to a museum when we die!
What didn’t work so well
Doing this score took dedication, patience, persistence, and courage! It was not easy to concentrate for such a long time, nor to be mostly not moving, nor to hear blunt feedback from six different people. And yet — I think we all felt it was an incredible privilege, to get so much useful information.
You really actually have to want feedback. I think we impressed a number of the other CIGR participants, some of whom found the prospect pretty scary. I’ll note that you didn’t have to receive potentially negative feedback, only if you asked for it. And I think those of us who did had the roughest time — not because anyone was in any way harsh or insensitive, but just because critical feedback is difficult to hear sometimes, even when presently gently and thoughtfully. And our group was so thorough and perceptive, so that when one person picked up on particularly relevant item—”Richard, you don’t separate your legs as much as you might”—others would repeat, recharacterize, amplify the idea. It can be rough to hear what you can be doing better from 6 experienced dancers, in detail and said 6 different ways. It gets pretty hard to blow the comment off as just one crazy person’s opinion.
We got tired. We basically did very little during our fourth two-hour session, being pretty exhausted from all of the concentrated work. I personally have no regrets, but I might pace myself a little better in the future. Also, I have this theory that all of CIGR 2015 was really tired from not eating enough salt—the food that year struck me as particularly low-sodium. After much more conscious salt consumption, I felt better later in the week.