© By Nita Little - written around 2007, prior to becoming a PhD student. This piece was published in the Contact Quarterly.
In the very early days of the emergence of the dance form Contact Improvisation, Steve Paxton, it's first author and researcher said, "we live in a sea of gravity." How we relate to this fact is an essential determinant of the possibilities for movement in any dance form. In some forms this relationship shows up as style; think of the difference between Kabuki and Senegalese dancing. In Contact Improvisation it shows up as the critical ingredient in the union of the partners.
In the early days of Contact Improvisation (CI) I would ask students to fall down and stand up at the same time. I was playfully finding a way to get them into a state of physical efficiency, relaxed and ready to move. It’s a state that lets the skeleton do the job of rising, the flesh lending stability to that rise by falling into and through it, weighting it. The jointed connection of body parts are balanced in release and are open.
From there, I would ask my students to “pour” their weight, like pouring sand or water into the earth through the skeleton, with precision, controlling the fall. Here, I was introducing them to the beginning of the concept of “controlled abandon”, one of the brilliant CI tenets that also came to us from Steve Paxton -which he probably culled from the martial arts. The weight of your body simply falls with abandon as you control its descent through a skeletal path and into the earth. Moving in slow motion you can direct the fall of your weight – it feels like being on balance – only with more specificity.
This is great for standing and moving slowly, but applying that experience to a moving system is to test chaos. Relaxed body parts freely fly all over the place. The simplicity of rising and falling is easily abandoned as the physics of motion take over. And yet, rising and falling is still there, buried in movement. After all, in order to move across the earth, we first must move into her. Put differently, in order to move laterally, you must anchor or connect into something that is anchored vertically. Simpler still, you’ve gotta go down before you can go up… or even across.
Today, my fascination is drawn to the factors that make this lateral movement possible and I explore the nature of the relationship of my parts to one another and to the earth. To get where I am going, look first at the relationship of our physical parts, head, neck, chest, pelvis, upper and lower arms, hands etc. Notice with me that if we disconnect our parts, I call it “disassembling”, we radically change how our mass meets the earth. Under this new condition, each part falls separately forming its own individual relationship with the earth. Disassembling into ever reducing parts, parts reducing further into more parts, releases that relationship further. Eventually we experience ourselves as a multiplicity of parts, each with an individuated relationship with the earth. I imagine the potential of reducing the experience down to a cellular level. Then, the singular body of me, Nita, visually exists, but not experientially. And, I have no ability to move. There is no agreement to my parts, and no organization. My internal relationships have been actively abandoned.
The function of assembling is a return to whole parts, parts joining parts, forming alliances until we become imperfectly whole again. In order to move we will organize through the formation of pathways of agreement within our body. We assemble ourselves. Thus, we disassemble and assemble continually throughout our moving body.
If we disassemble the whole of our body to the point of an inability to move, we will notice that the first point of assembly, the first agreement from which all relationships throughout our body depend, organize and align, is with the earth. My first assembly then, is my earth assembly, and it comes directly from my physical center through whatever part of me is in its path and into the earth.
I don’t organize myself within myself first, I organize myself with my earth mother first. This surprises me. I have such a strong sense of independence. Logic tells me that I would organize myself first. Isn’t that how we live? We organize ourselves first and then we relate to the earth? Yet, that’s not what happens on this micro-relational and energetic level. I continually send an anchor into my mother ship. It feels like a deepening reach through my body, a slight press into the floor, and through that point all of my internal organizational relationships flow.
The complexity of CI finds us assembling and disassembling into and through one another, as my weight may be passing through a partner on its path through to the floor. Here is where things can become wonderfully interesting. If I “listen” with my body, feeling into my partner, I will be able to feel his anchor, the place through which he casts his essential relationship with the earth as well as his assemblage, the organizational way his body is becoming whole. My disassembled parts merge with his like two lakes becoming one; we are no longer separate. Through this union I can feel our organization. When I feel where in his body he is anchoring into the earth I will know where to aim my anchor. From this point, I know and can feel the total organization of his power, his stability and strength, and the action of his intention.
My purpose then, when I am giving my weight to another, is to align my anchor with his just as if I were an intimate part of his body. My body joins in alignment with the structural organization of my partner, and since his organization begins from his anchor, I must also find that same anchor. When I do, we both find the freedom to move. When I don’t, I am blindly trusting the fates, or relying on my partner to make movement work. I ask him to handle the load of my weight as well as the force of my action. That makes me heavy and an effort. There is an implicit limitation to our physical freedom when I am not also managing my own weight relationship to the earth because the structure is inefficient. Through a partner and on my own, I want to be in continual touch with the earth, casting my relationship to her center from mine. That way, we form a whole.
* Concept of “sea of gravity” was often used by Steve Paxton in the early days of contact improvisation.
© duplication only by permission of Nita Little.