On embodiment and social change: Lessons learned from Contact Improvisation


by Isa Leal

Sitting in a car with a dance colleague of mine at Earthdance, he articulated having a bit of an existential crisis. He wondered, How does somatic study effect change? How does studying the pelvis, simply because one can afford to, effect a change? He knew my innate radical nature and differing status (culturally and economically) and thought if anyone had thought of these things, it was me. He was right. I responded something to the extent of the following.

We aren’t studying our bodies for ourselves. We are doing it for the good of all. Chaos theory. Who knows better than a contacter, a kind of body physicist, that how we inhabit ourselves and how we move affects others. My energy affects people, and so does yours. Having a body is universal to the human condition. I can only begin to understand others if I can first establish a relationship with myself. Fostering self-awareness in the deepest, intuitive levels helps others understand their relationship to their own body-mind, which in turn bridges the idea of “self” and “other” into all. I don’t spend time learning about my pelvis because it is my pelvis but because it is ours.

How does self-study affect the people around me? If I have a working understanding of what it is to exist in a body, and I allow things to resonate within me, how can I desire anything but sustainability and ease for who or what’s around me? If I find psychosomatic healing for myself, I believe that together we are capable of healing. Offering these teachings to underserved communities toward this purpose can remove the ideas of commodifiability and gain and instead center the work on the human desire for exchange.

Contact Improvisation is simply teaching us about our own humanness. It teaches us about loving ourselves and each other on a concrete and nonromantic level. Perhaps this form teaches us to love being human and therefore find love in all humans? At the least, it begins to teach us understanding and acceptance.

12 Radical Lessons Contact Improvisation Offers

1) It is important to dance with yourself and be present with where you are before engaging with another.

2) The problems that manifest as restrictions to flow in your dancing are often applicable to some aspect of your mind.

3) Physically trusting yourself and your partner in contact allows the ability to manifest that trust in oneself and others in your regular pedestrian life.

4) In contact, we must be able to sense through a person’s body, his/her anatomy and energetic output—getting to really “know” some aspect of a person that is NOT superficial.

5) We must also learn to be ready to allow someone to “know” our physical and energetic bodies in a nonsexual but intimate way.

6) We learn to lead and follow in dialogue with something that is outside our own ideas. Wherever one might think intuition comes from, we must learn to allow it, not only for safety but also so that the dance might unfold.

7) We learn our habits of control and how to be free from them.

8) We learn the difference between doing and not doing and the importance of them both.

9) We learn that we can take care of ourselves, and that taking care of others in an imposing way only prevents them from finding ways of taking care of themselves.

10) We learn to listen to ourselves and each other in ways that are nonjudgmental, efficient, and not logic based.

11) We learn to value others as we value ourselves.

12) Contact teaches us that we already know.
Isa Leal, BA, Theatre and Dance, Figure Space Alum, is an international touring and teaching artist who focuses on the power of authentic engagement toward empathic action as a tool for social change.

Isa Leal; USA; thislittlebirdtheatre@gmail.com; patron21.com/users/isa-leal


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