Dance and Democracy

See also: Dance and Dialogue: Human Contact and Democracy.

Hallie Aldrich and Eryn Rosenthal (Photos: David Papas,

* Please note: Page currently under construction. Text below is from workshop material developed in 2008. 


Workshops in Contact Improvisation

The main questions behind the creation of Contact Improvisation for American choreographer Steve Paxton were, “Have I ever lived in a democracy?” and “How can I implicate my dancers so they take ownership of the dance, so it becomes ‘theirs’”?  Paxton eventually arrived at the Contact Improvisation duet as the most “democratic” of forms: “In a duet, I cast my vote with every millisecond, with every decision I make” (Founders’ Talk, CI-36 Conference and Jam, Juniata College, Huntingdon, PA; June 2008.).  Before I had ever heard Paxton speak these words about the evolution of Contact Improvisation, I found myself intuitively drawn to the form for the same compelling reasons.

Contact Improvisation (CI) is a dance form which evolved in the early 70’s through the research of American choreographers Steve Paxton, Nancy Stark Smith, Nita Little, and others.  It involves a heightened sense of listening, sensory perception, and attuning of physical reflexes, as well as a careful attention to weight, momentum, orientation to gravity and physical connection or contact with one’s partner.  Informed by developments in modern dance, improvisation, the martial arts, as well as political currents of the time, it can become highly acrobatic once a mastery of basic concepts has been achieved.  In performance, I often find the use of CI can provoke a heightened sense of listening and empathetic physical engagement on the part of our audience.

How can dancing help us understand democracy better?

Contact Improvisation represented a leap forward in the evolution of contemporary dance in that dancers were no longer puppets of the choreographer but implicated authors of their own movement.  The actual experience of dancing contact is a very embodied sense of constant choice-making, both on a conscious and unconscious level.  Participation in the Dance and Democracy workshops that will accompany performance and residency activities will:

  • develop an increased understanding of the body’s potential to reflect and respond intuitively to objects, people, and limbs flying at it from different angles
  • build participants’ experience and confidence in their own abilities to respond intelligently in the moment to challenges posed by their partners or immediate environment
  • widen participants’ range of behavioral choices in group and interpersonal relationships, specifically through role-switching activities
  • spark a renewed level of implication, curiosity, and action in its participants
  • allow participants to discover their own connections between democracy and dance as they examine their personal patterns and manipulation, relationship, and play with power that emerge through their movement interactions and relationships with the other (which, throughout the workshop, will be their different dance partners)
  • strengthen participants’ sensory perception, instincts, and listening skills—and sensitivity toward the disorientation provoked when these senses have been altered or impaired
  • develop an increased appreciation of improvisation and composition as an art form, and an increased connection with the performers—as well as recognize and understand the improvisational, sensorial, and responsive tools that we use or don’t use in daily life
  • introduce a sense of play, buoyancy, and participation to help find creative ways of considering freedom in complex situations.

All participants in Dance and Democracy Contact Improvisation workshops will be invited to perform in lecture demonstrations, post their thoughts on CI, the workshop, and its connection to democracy on my website and blog, as well as write articles and stage performances which bring together a reflection on dance, public space, and social change.  Participants will also be encouraged to take an active role in post-performance discussion forums, development of the website, and generation of future materials for the project and for their own research.  In order to measure the impact of this program, participants will be asked to fill out a questionnaire upon completion of the workshop.

Selected bibliography, reading list and syllabus also available for longer-term workshop/seminars.  Please contact me if you are interested in presenting the workshop, and we can discuss adapting it for your group.

© Eryn Rosenthal, 2008-2011. Please cite with link to this page.