This was one of the coolest, weirdest, most oddly-wonderful things I’ve done all summer.
On a recent Friday I stopped in at Taos Youth Ballet dance studio and joined the Contact Improvisation workshop. I’m not a trained dancer. And I’m not one of those lucky brazen souls who can march in front of crowds at the Alley or Taos Mesa Brewing and tear up the dance floor. When I met Amber Vasquez, director and owner of Taos Youth Ballet, I said that I have absolutely no experience in any type of dance. She replied, “Good. That’ll make it easier.” Newcomers arrive without preconceived notions. This helps because movement in contact improvisation is spontaneous, inventive, and in the moment.
The class I attended included two teenage ballet students, a mom, a young girl, and me. It was a first for all of us. Contact improvisation starts with touch. Once a point of contact is established, partners move as two independent entities while maintaining a continual shifting point of contact. Shoulders meet shoulders. Forearms use shins as levers. One body becomes a support for the arch of another. Striking? Yes. Sensual? Actually, it doesn’t have to be at all. As any dance form, it’s a study of how bodies move through space. With contact improv, two dancers that know what they’re doing will transform into an amoebic-like entity. It’s neat.
Did engaging in spontaneous physical dialogue with a stranger put me outside of my comfort zone? Oh yes, it sure did. But here’s the thing: Vasquez leads the class. From the start she establishes an air professionalism and encouragement. It felt safe. This is not a contact improv jam session. It’s a guided practice of the form.
We started with exploring how many ways our feet could make contact with the floor. Then how many ways our hands could do the same. Then partner up and see what happens. Even though I was kind of like a half-deflated balloon blowing in the wind—not the evolving amoeba—it didn’t matter. Meeting with the simple challenge of turning off my brain while in a unpredictable dance moment felt like some type of accomplishment.
The last bit of excitement about this Contact Improv stuff: Taos Youth Ballet is working with the directors of THE PASEO to facilitate the casting of twelve people to participate in “Bodies in Urban Spaces.” Austrian dance company Cie.Willi Dorner will use local participants for a dance piece they describe as a “moving trail” that will take place at various spaces in town. For this there is a call for athletes acrobats, break-dancers, parkour runners, and gymnasts to audition on September 17th (at Taos Youth Ballet) for a chance to be a performer at this year’s event.
Don’t want to perform, just want to see what contact improv is all about? Sure. Show up to one of the free workshops. You’ll be in for an oddly-wonderful treat.
If you have no interest in contact improv but are curious about other types of dance, Taos Youth Ballet has a great schedule of classes for adults that includes ballet, hip-hop, modern dance, burlesque, and more. If you’re like me, someone with a secret dream of being a dancer (but are too old and locked into other paths of life), the studio is a place we can all live out our dancing dreams. Visit taosdance.com.