Contact Improvisation and Social Transformation: Thoughts on the cultural evolution of a social dance form$

by Andreas Demmel

This text is a tailored and reedited version of a talk I gave in August 2013 at the International Contact Improvisation Festival in FREIBURG, GERMANY. It was a big chunk of my research compressed into 12 minutes. So in a way it is mainly a possibility to surf through this large field, this larger operation of weaving together and building bridges between valuable approaches and practises that will help us pave the way into the next millennia… enjoy! [A.D.]

During the last three years, my life became an experiment. My interest was to get a holistic experience of life through my own body’s experience. And so, instead of sticking with one thing, I surfed through different worlds. In the end, what I did was to balance three things.

The three things were:

–dancing/artistic research

–building and maintaining sustainable gardens

–studying various forms of psychotherapy—traditional as well as modern healing approaches, including shamanic rituals, but mainly the modern systemic and transpersonal forms of experiential psychotherapy.

Through the combined experience of these three things in three years, incredible things happened to me, all of which made me realize that there needed to be bridges between these three. Through my longing to contribute to the creation of these bridges, I became part of some projects.

In Berlin I was part of a group researching the interface between systemic constellation work and choreography. Systemic Constellations is a method originally from group psychotherapy in which solutions to tricky issues of a client are found through setting up constellations with the group members, who represent the client’s family or relationship system. It allows us to expand into systemic consciousness through phenomenological observation of somatic impulses. The phenomenon of representation in this therapeutic method and the deep dive into improvisation, which are so similar, deserve a combined research.

Through my time living in Israel in the desert, my engagement with nature, the constellation work, and also my time building gardens in Bavaria, I developed an awareness of deep ecology and the value of working with the earth (with my hands). All together, this made me realise the importance of work that helps us to reconnect with the body in a deep way again.

Then again in Berlin (but also in other places), the connection of transpersonal psychology, systemic constellation work, and conscious sexuality helped me become aware of the massive sexual wounding and distortion that exists in larger parts of Western culture around sexuality and romantic relationships.

Through all that work of building bridges, three points became really important for me:

1. It makes a difference if I consider myself as living on the earth or as being the earth. Maybe we are not living on that earth, but we are that earth.

2. Consciousness seems to want to expand in all possible directions, and that’s what it is doing: evolving and expanding in all kinds of new forms.

3. I’d really like to become more and more aware of the questions, Who are we as humans, and what are we becoming?

In my perspective, Contact Improvisation is just one powerful tool within the larger process of consciousness evolution.

I think the practise of Contact Improvisation is, like many other methods, at the same time overestimated and underestimated.

Look at what is happening with all these new practises that support us to re- connect in a deep way. They are growing. The Freiburg Festival is sold out within an hour, and many more new contact festivals emerge. We see lots of new workshops and seminars sprouting all over the globe, and amongst the variety that grows, it is no longer only dancing that we encounter.

More and more diverse and refined practises emerge from or connect with the Contact Improv field—practices concerned with awareness, relationships, evolution, somatic experiencing, sexuality, nature awareness, infant developmental patterns, and more. The dance seems to be no longer the actual substance on its own but becomes a carrier of an alchemical process in which we all meet.

The field of people who come to such a festival also gets more and more diverse. For sure we are all dancers, but besides that, we are actors, political activists, therapists, nature lovers, new creative heads for new forms of politics, media, business & economy, teachers, and educators: people who shape our societies (ideally more and more).

It was and is also a tribal experience that is happening at all these festivals. Something that was initially just a Contact Tribe develops, becoming more diverse, and what we see are different tribes that meet and co-exist. (Especially through the festivals that mix a lot of approaches.) So this tribe or these tribes also create a new sense of belonging that is not to be underestimated in a world where often the societies and groups we grew up in no longer offer something exciting to belong to.

I am really excited about that, and I think all these meetings are incredibly stimulating!

I not only want to locate Contact as a part of somatic practises but also want to group it within a larger context amongst all the practises and methods that help us break the totalitarian and colonialist body/mind-sets that we still have in our bodies—methods that help us to break structures that have shaped us from outside for hundreds of years and to reconnect with our inner guidance.

And if we locate Contact just as a tiny patch in all that, all this movement becomes suddenly really powerful. Right now we are in 2014—some people thought it would never happen. For me it was a mind-blowing year so far. How was it for you?

In a lot of spiritual practices, especially in Buddhism, they ask you to decide upon one practise. For some people or for certain periods, that might be really helpful. But in my experience, it is really the act of weaving together, the combining of practices that supports sustainable change.

We live in a world that is getting more and more complex in every moment. So this complexity asks for a systemic approach.

We are facing ecological disasters, the sucking out of the earth by humanity. Whole mountains get blown up, and deep in the earth, precious resources are mined excessively.

There is a great disbalance in the relationship between us and the planet. We take more than the earth can grow back. It is an unbalanced relationship, like a sexually confused relationship.

I really want to draw a connection to Contact Improvisation here. What we do here while dancing Contact is learn about relationships, and learn how to balance them—constantly, in every dance. This whole global rebalancing and reconnection process is a complex operation of all these different forms.

What does this mean for us in the self-realisation process? For one thing, there is the process of letting go of pain—something that we see often in the festivals. We come to a point at which we identify certain parts of ourselves—of our soul, body, and identity—that come to the surface, and we realise that they do not really serve us anymore. A lot of people at a certain point then let go of a lot of body tension and then they cry, and every tear melts the tension, the ice block around our heart. So we experience the letting go of pain, and what do we have then?

We need to integrate pleasure. The now-opened parts of the body long for new information, so the new thing is the integration of pleasure. We become open and relaxed for all the strength and power that wants to flow into our bodies. This can become a practise of surrendering, letting go of old patterns and inviting new strength. And believe me, there is endless strength that is provided, endless strength that wants to flow through us and fill us once we dare to let go of tension and receive it.

Stopping the tension can allow the energy in and supports us to move out of the toxic symbiosis and dependency we are in—with people and the planet— and helps us to grow into true autonomy, power, love, and a new sense of responsibility that is not overwhelming.

I see all these festivals as a part of our cultural evolution. It’s a new culture emerging, with all its rituals and ways to do things. It is like a new tribe. We experience split-offs and new ideas that grow and battle about what is better than the other idea.

I think here we can learn more about how our world works than ever before.
Andreas Demmel loves to support people in unfolding their potential through ever-changing alchemistic recipes put together from various tools originating from experiential body-centered therapy, systemic constellation work, somatic practices, and conscious sexuality work.

Andreas Demmel; Berlin, Germany;;


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