by Cunt Incognita, VITTU in Tampere, Finland — she=he
. . .
Contact Improvisation Dance is liberating, creative and fun. It’s exploring movement, balance, weight, physical contact and communication, involving two or more persons at the time. Try it out!
Hello Juha and everybody else taking part in the Contact Improvisation community,
First I would like to express appreciation for the efforts made by everyone keeping this alive, and then..
I would like to share some thoughts and feelings that came up during the improvised exercises lead by Juha on Sunday, February 14th, in Kaapelitehdas, Helsinki.
I had some uncomfortable experiences with how this training session was performed, and am hoping with this open letter not only to share these thoughts and feelings with you, but also to start a discussion within the community on questions touching the topics on how Autonomy, Trust, Safety and Self-expression are realized at any given CI event.
I’m not a dancer. And I participate very irregularly in these sessions, maybe 3 or 4 times per year. The training session before the jam this Sunday got started when Juha entered the studio, and gave us instructions on what to do. After having had exercises with our eyes closed, where we had had random physical contact with others in the space, we sat down in a large circle and were told to look as many persons in the eye as possible while taking turns saying our name.
Then we moved on to doing an exercise in pairs where we were told to treat our partner as laundry. Washing the laundry, a laundry that was “very dirty” according to Juha.
During the instructions of the laundry exercise, Juha was saying “dirty laundry” and “naughty laundry” and encouraging us to take out some of our aggressions on the other.
I reacted strongly to this type of wording, and at the end of the training we had a closing circle where Juha was speaking for a while. Saying that we are “not married” to our partners and that we can separate and break off physical contact, and that we don’t have to force ourselves to have contact. And then Juha, after being the only person speaking in the closing circle, announced that the training session was over.
I was very emotional, and I asked some of the others how they had felt about the “naughty laundry” comment, to which one replied that it was “inappropriate” and another said “weird” and “out of place”, so I came up to Juha and said that I hadn’t appreciated the comment, since I thought that it had given the exercise an unwanted slippery, mainstream, sexual twist. Juha’s response to this was: “of course”, and that it was supposed to give that extra “sexual spark” to the space. My face was twitching, and my mouth was wide open with disbelief, since the very thing that caused me discomfort had been done on purpose to create a “spark”, without any consideration of the different experiences that these words might cause, and no space made to discuss it after.
I’ve been at other contact impro sessions where I have expressed the importance of clarity and transparency in relation to the common rules of the place. When a person unfamiliar with this art form steps into the space, the habitual reflex is to adapt and conform. When something is very new and unfamiliar it is very easy for us to give up our autonomy: “When in Rome..”
It should be expressed clearly in the beginning of every session that everyone has the right to step out of an exercise at any time, and break off contact or reject contact with anybody at any time without having to give any reasons for why. That we should listen to ourselves as much as possible and respect ourselves and our own feelings.
When this wasn’t said in the beginning of the training, I had a feeling of discontent throughout the session, since to me it felt as if we weren’t there on equal terms. I felt strongly that there was a “teacher/student” relation there, and that it was difficult to express dissatisfaction or affect what was going on. Sort of the same feeling you can get when stepping inside a library – everybody goes quiet.
The person leading the exercises has a responsibility to share and make known the culture of the space. Telling people to listen to and respect their own boundaries, as well as telling them that it’s okay to speak out if there’s something feeling strange about how the exercises are conducted. Even when this is encouraged and spoken out loud, not many would grab that opportunity to react or change anything, but at least there’s a bigger chance that something such could happen.
The way the training was held, I felt like I had lost all autonomy and self-expression, and my disappointment was great when at the end we weren’t given a chance to give feedback. I felt like I was a puppet awaiting instructions, silently obeying.
I felt, because of the structure of the training, that I missed out on the joyfulness, safety, trust, harmony, CONTACT & SPONTANEITY I feel should be a part of any CI meeting.
So, again, what is important to me, is to, before starting the exercises, make clear what the common rules are, and encourage everyone to speak out when there is discomfort — to ask for and create space for feedback (contact, dialogue) if not throughout, then at least at the end of the training.
Curiously awaiting any kind of response,
With love, and the sincere hope that this spontaneous contact,
and dialogue, can create a difference in the community,
Cunt Incognita, aka Milla
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