NYC: Inclusivity as a physical, musical and spoken Conversation

INCLUSION:  “Yeah-even when you are on the fringes you are really still a part of it. I love that about CI-when we are creating that kind of general vibe.”

January 14, 2017    New York City Premiere at Jack (a cozy film and performance space in Brooklyn)  (

A variety of people showed up to this event.  There were 3-4 people who had never danced CI before and a few teachers of CI and a bunch of CI dancers who range in level and interest, race, age, and background.  I found the conversation and experience of CI in this diverse group fascinating.  I hope that by transcribing the conversation before and after the jam, you, the reading audience, can get a feel for how the trust and connection grew during the physical, musical & playful CI jam. (Alyssa Lynes)

This post includes:

  1. the invitation to the event & schedule
  2. the discussion after the film showing
  3. (then a jam happened which almost everyone stayed for)
  4. the discussion after the JAM

Here is the invitation to attend the event at a sweet film and performance space in Brooklyn:

Everyone is welcome for a unique evening event in a cozy Brooklyn theater on January 8th. We will watch the premiere of the anthropolocial documentary “Five Ways In”, have a discussion about how this relates to our lives, and then turn the space into a dancing Contact Improvisation Jam (open space for movement–with a guided introduction). It’ll be a great time to gather as people from diverse backgrounds to share different mediums as an inclusive research/play approach to grow together and hopefully leave with more questions and newness than we enter with. Everyone is welcome to participate at the level they are comfortable with. We expect both seasoned dancers and people with no prior dance experience to attend.

5:30 – doors open, bar open
6:00 – short introduction & “Five Ways In” screening (NYC premiere)
7:15 – film discussion with Alyssa Lynes, one of the co-directors
8:00 -10:00 – introduction/warm up into Contact Improvisation Jam 0108171947a


One thing that I noticed that came up for me a bunch of times is how really new-age-y-flowery abstract language is often a huge turn off for people. I noticed for me it works for me for my own experience but then when I ‘m thinking about how folks that don’t translate that language or use it themselves or maybe have a lot of ideas about people that use that language might disassociate themselves from Contact Improvisation potentially having a benefit for themselves or through communities just because often the people that use it have a certain language or identification. I’m curious for myself about translation. How do I use the spiritual or abstract or –the things that that language allow us to get into and share and use a way of speaking that’s more translatable to folks regardless of where you come from.   I can think of so many people I know that just would think that is not for me just based on that way of talking.

What do you really mean when you say new-agey? It can be different from whomever. From my perspective it is people who are uncomfortable with examining thoroughly and beyond an emotional open-hearted space.. It’s that thing that we don’t necessarily understand or that has been tradition manifesting in the very simple: “oh you’re a this, you’re a that” versus ‘what do you really mean?” What is “New Age”?

We don’t have the language per say. Maybe we are still exploring it.


I’d like to add a struggle that I find in my life, as I am entering more and more dance communities. Recognizing that dance is a language itself and that we are all learning how to speak that. So it’s a way to get at this heart opening connection with ourselves and others and recognizing that other people don’t speak that language. I am kind of wondering whether the thing for me to do or other people to do is to rope your friends and everyone in to the dance world and have them experience the language that way or whether you should be a translator and whether you should transform your heart opening and experience into a language that someone already speaks and meet them where they’re at.   I’ve been trying to figure out whether all my friends should come dance or I should learn some other skills too. (laughter) or both. What are the channels of which we can explore and expand this practice?



I would like to really support what you are saying about being open to really support other people’s languages. I don’t think that anything we are doing here is unique. People have been dancing for as long as humans have been alive. People have been having spiritual experiences for as long as humans have been alive. Our experience might be different in terms of this happening in this location with these types of clothes with this type of food being prepared but people have always been talking about ascension. People have always been talking about connection to dying and people have been doing it in their particular way based on their history, their community, whatever. So I think sometimes what you might speak in another community and have resistance to hearing somebody’s else’s language is what you call ‘jargon’. It’s what professionals use so they can sound more intellectual and smarter. If you really want to communicate with somebody you have to, like you said, speak their language.

Jess Curtis was talking about the elitist nature of Contact Improvisation in a way. I was looking at Freiburg festival and it’s mostly white people, Europeans, and young and able-bodied people.   So, it is a specific practice and it’s also about being able to dance. So you have to be, striving to become a ‘good’ dancer, whatever that means, athletic, flying, whatever. This older woman was having all these projections about being older and being able to do all the things. So there’s something about this practice is not inclusive to everyone. And Do we do anything about it or do we just accept it?

In the practice, while dancing you can’t include everything… Sometimes on the floor I’ll be dancing and my body just doesn’t connect with a person there and that’s part of the dance too .

(African-American Male:) On that note, someone said to me today, when they dance with me they realize that I was just human like everybody else (chuckle). I’m pretty sure you (looking at white folks) don’t get comments like that.    There is a space that is very unique that is happening here and I think it doesn’t have to be shared with the world but it is a very unique space.  It’s like if you are blue collar worker and your family is blue collar you are not necessarily going to end up in this space. You could. You are not excluded from it. But there is like a filtering system that does happen and I think it should be acknowledged and just to say ‘oh it just didn’t happen that way’ is like if there’s a system that is set up and it doesn’t happen that way then of course it’s not gonna happen that way because it wasn’t designed to happen that way. People make decisions. You said so yourself. You make decisions in your dance. Sometimes you make decisions that are in your comfort zone and sometimes you make decisions that are outside of your comfort zone. Sometimes those decisions outside of your comfort zone bring really wonderful things and sometimes they don’t. It’s not just that it happens that way. We make decisions. We make choices.


… Thinking about the different ways to make this practice more accessable in language, in interpersonal relationships to increase a draw and widen the scope is really valuable because ultimately a community and subcultures are always a reflection of values at large and in an international space being in Germany, in Europe, you are going to have a gathering of people that are going to reflect a broader cultural surroundings like mindfulness practices in general. That’s why I think it’s great because it has the possibility of being really accessable because while dance is the overall category of it, it’s not just dancing and it’s not just new-ageyness and spirituality. It’s so many different things that are allowed to occupy the space. It feels really important to be thinking about the different ways to communicate this practice at large so it doesn’t feel unaccessible to non-able bodied folks, people of different classes and backgrounds.

…It depends a lot of how it’s presented and couched. At it’s core CI is very simple..

What felt touching was to see the beginner from France and see physically how he changed through the movie. And how when he got in touch with his sensuality in his body, we saw him in his powerful state and so that convinced me of how —if I was a beginner I can enter and become more powerful. I felt the same by seeing the scenes with all the nature and the leaves and feeling into the energy of how people’s faces and physicality changed.

I found it interesting, this discussion of CI, because I learned CI in an academic environment, in a place that is not new-agey because it is academia. There is a certain language we use in academia. It looks like a great festival to go to… but it’s very different. It kind of felt like a retreat compared to the CI which I know which is very based on learning the fundamentals of ‘rolling point of contact’ or of sharing weight which is not new-agey at all. That is strict to the dance form.   I learned in an academic environment with people from all walks of life and all different cultures. It was an open dance program so anyone who wanted could come.   I think that is one glimpse and it’s a great way to look at it but that’s not 100 percent the community of CI. There are very fundamental basics to the Dance form to talk about.

I disagree with one of the sentiments of one of the people in the film. When she said CI is not political. I think it is very political. I think it is deeply radical. That’s why it bumps into all of our social organization, all of our holistic work, the way we talk about the world. That’s why it challenges us and that why it’s a struggle because it’s a very radical thing. There are parts of the world where if people did what we saw in the movie, they’d been chased out with rubber hoses and thrown in jail.   People need to be very invested in body and proximity and contact is a physical interaction. It is not sex and it’s not fighting. Nobody knows what to call it and those are the two things we know best.

I don’t spend a lot of time talking about CI or getting into language. For me, I come from a sports background. In terms of bridging other communities: when I first came in to dance I was a basketball and soccor player. I was on a basketball court and someone was like “You should come to a contact jam” . When I started dancing Contact the physicality –I realized I’d been dancing contact a long time, on the basketball court. I had incredible dances with mostly guys, -it wasn’t the form but we were doing it so I had all this physical knowledge already and there were so many places where we (mostly boys and men) had the opportunity where we were doing it a lot of our lives. I think it is more accessable than we think it is.   A lot of us are doing it and we are not calling it contact… When I was wrestling on the stage when I was 8 we were heavily involved contact.




I really enjoyed when we got the whole room in a beat box. That was really fun because it was a way that I felt we were all connected even though I may not have danced with everybody. Everyone was doing their thing. It was really sweet.

I felt the inclusion vibe and the sense that there was really no rush. It felt very not New York.

There was one thing I got from the movie and felt it was brought to this space. That was vulnerability. I didn’t know anyone here but I knew the souls. It just feels so weird. In the matter of an hour there was such communication and not any talking actually.

I thought about dance being patterns of movement that are in the history of my body but also with thinking about inclusion there being many dances that are also not in the history of my body and how in contact improv. There’s almost this idea of starting out with no language-and almost no history. Even though there a history of Contact Improv. it seems to always start from body in space and everybody coming in from a different trajectory and finding the floor and the space. How problematic it is to create a new language and how impossible not to, arrive at one.

This was my first time. [cheering] It felt so grounding. I’m so grateful.   I just felt like I really enjoyed bearing weight on me. It really felt like it grounded me into the earth. It was very nurturing.   I needed this especially today. I had a very tender day. I could sense hands and bodies and people on me as if they all knew I needed that. Thank you everyone. It was a great entry, way in.    -and just to speak on the theme of inclusion. To me that’s something that is particularly sensitive about body diversity and body sizes and I’ve always felt self-conscious for not having a thin body so not feeling like I could fit in this and so that is really beautiful to have space to do this.

Something that I had in my mind coming into this is that I’m leaving New York soon and this is one of the last things I’m doing in New York, certainly last thing I am part of the organization of. The theme of inclusion or intersectionality is a huge thing for me because there are people here from my work, different communities I’m a part of so it’s a super awesome convergence of worlds. It felt really palpable moving through space with all of these different aspects of my life how I am interacting with these people considering the context and culture I’ve developed a relationship inside of. My understanding of who these people are is shifting in this context and in the intension of inclusion.

I just want to say I loved the film and doing the dance after. I wasn’t able to really connect until the silence after we did the beat.  Right now I have this incredible silence all in the back of my head.   I just find it interesting that it happened after we made the noise. It’s really hard for me to hear silence in New York.

This is my first time also and someone said there is no rush but I felt rushed. I communicate with people in various ways. I have sensory integration issues and I like my personal space. I have known Alyssa for years and this felt like a safe space but there this little part of my brain and I want it to stop nagging me. Then a friend came over and he easily pulled me in. One of the things I do is play music with people and this was a wonderful example of –we are all a part of a certain space and we all come of a certain perspective and we can learn new ones. You can incorporate others’ spaces into your space. It’s an organism and it felt no different than getting together with people to play music and someone just starting a line or whatever and then all of a sudden it’s music. Am I creating it? Am I in charge of it? Not really. It’s really about letting yourself go. I mean I hear music in my head all the time but before I was pulled in with a partner, I was thinking how are they moving without music? I thought I’m going to have to hum to myself for a second. I thought that was really interesting going from a silent space to then having everyone participating in a certain sense in terms of sound. I really enjoyed that dipping back down into silence again. That kind of allowed myself to examine it. Thank you. I appreciate it. It was cool.

I totally had the same thing.   After sound came in and left, I had thing thing like “We are dancing in silence?” I’ve been dancing in silence? This never happens. It was cool to reexamine what the function of sound is.

I found it interesting how we related to the space here. I’ve been to this space many times as a performance venue. I was actually in this space all day because I was doing a workshop here earlier. I hadn’t even realized that this is such a perfect spot for CI. I think it’s because of the nature that people in the CI community come in here very tactile. I saw people touching the tinfoil and interacting with that and with these great spacious wooden floors. It opened me up to this particular venue in a way that I had never really thought of before. Contact can happen anywhere but it was interesting to see how that added that extra element to it.

Thank you for the film. I am just reminded how Contact is no light, fun ride.   It’s really powerful. It’s not candy. It’s like a deep meal with deep flavors that bring up a lot. I tell people “come do Contact. It’s really fun!” It is fun but it makes you feel things. It’s super scary. I feel pretty confident in Contact Jams. But you know- the fear of rejection, not being wanted that Jashauna spoke to. That’s always present for me, at least.

I’m curious if we could show a show of hands for those of us who feel that, like you said it’s always present for you…that kind of fear of rejection. I’m wondering who else feels that regularly in Contact. (many hands)

I’ve developed some strategies to deal with it because sometimes its totally overwhelmed my ability to generally think or being present at all. So one thing I’ve been playing with sometimes is to deliberatetly do thing full-on and I am going to destroy the situation and my social reputation and connections and totally bomm this experience and destroy my life. And then when I start dancing I’m like “this is fine”.

Dancing is a place to play that out and take those risks.   It’s safe enough that you can. Or at least tiny ones.   I guess a lot of things I worry about in CI is: Am I overstepping my boundaries? Am I being too aggressive or am I dominating the situation too much? Or Whatever and I am like: “you know what? It’s only an issue if they are not willing. If they say it’s an issue. It’s about “trust”.

Ray Chung, who is a famous CI teach who has been around forever. He is very skilled and respected. I was in a workshop with him and I asked him about that fear stuff and the “I’m not good enough” and he said he has that every time, still. I thought that was interesting to hear because it’s a human thing.

I want to go back to the conversation of the words we use and the spiritual aspect of it. There is nothing spiritual in this and I mean that in the best way possible.   It is fear, joy, love, inspiration, emotions.   I feel spiritual is life and there’s no things above the basic experience.

Alyssa: I’ve been traveling a lot and one of the ways I enjoy traveling is entering into jams or festivals that are exploring communication through CI.   I am interested in, after a long time of being a newcomer to a lot of these spaces, I switched to being someone who knew people and someone who could maybe guess who was a newcomer. I switched to the ‘in crowd’ from the ‘out crowd’ or however you want to see it. I had conversations with different people who were on the in or the out at different times and I realized that I don’t necessarily know who is in and who’s out. If I think I’m in and I actively include myself then everybody else is going to think I’m totally in. This is my space. This Is my thing. This is my jam.   It’s two ways, right? How do I feel in? and How do I support others to feel in? and if we are are all doing that, then maybe we are actually all “in”. Just this curiosity of what are some specific strategies that I use to do that? and brainstorming that so that I can arrive in a good way to whatever space I’m at. This is a research question I have had for a long time.

Can you share some strategies?

Alyssa: First is what I said about believing I’m in the whole time. Second that even when I go to the bathroom for instance, staying in.   I had so much fun dancing with people who were walking and cleaning the floor.   Maybe he didn’t see it as dancing but I saw it as dancing and so now I’m in his dance and he’s in mine. Whether or not he’s experiencing that way, I don’t know but I’m playing with that. This kind of mindset and creativity play.

Yeah-even when you are on the fringes you are really still a part of it. I love that about CI-when we are creating that kind of general vibe.


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