There’s all kinds of discussion going on in Europe right now.
In the last few months, I’ve hosted two contact dancers visiting from Europe. Both had been to a number of European contact festivals in the last year, and both had attended the last ECITE (European Contact Improvisation Teachers’ Exchange — an annual teachers’ meeting in Europe). And what I heard from both of them is that there is an intense discussion going on right now in Europe over the question “What is contact improvisation?”
Of course, the CI world is always discussing this question. But there’s a more specific slant to it now in Europe. As I understand it, contact improvisation festivals or contact improvisation-inspired festivals are springing up like weeds in Europe right now, especially over the summer. And this is wonderful, because there are lots of chances to do contact improvisation. But some of these festivals are getting far from a traditional concept of contact improvisation: moving into festivals that maybe explore the body, healing, touch, alternative social structures, or alternative community structures — but don’t necessarily involve a dance with a rolling point of contact and weight-sharing.
Apparently contact improvisation’s popularity is such in Europe that it’s actually helpful to associate a festival with contact improvisation to increase attendance, even when the connection is distant.
So the question in Europe is, Are these festivals contact improvisation? Are people being led into a false or incomplete sense of what contact improvisation is? Are people confusing contact improvisation with just “contact”?
It’s a whole different world here in the U.S., where contact improvisation seems steady, but not particularly booming. The West Coast Contact Improvisation Festival, the only purely CI festival in the country, has not yet fully resumed after stopping operations two or three years ago. Earthdance’s slate of contact improvisation offerings was slightly down last year and appears to be about the same for 2013, relative to 2011. Some communities are growing a little: Los Angeles and Ann Arbor-Detroit have added second jams, and Buffalo is growing steadily I understand. But nothing like the energy in Europe. You’d be more likely to increase attendance at your event by calling it a “boogie” than by calling it contact improvisation — and in fact, many weekend jams these days have something like a Saturday night boogie night.
I don’t have more to say on this at the moment, but I’m interested in any comments readers may have.