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Try the clay sculpting game to introduce dancers to contact improvisation

This is an excerpt from Dance Improvisations by Justine Diane Reeve.

This is an excerpt from Dance Improvisations: Warm-Ups, Games and Choreographic Tasks by Justine Reeve.

 

This is a trust-based task that you can use as an introduction to contact improvisation. It asks dancers to remember what it felt like to be moved in terms of force, timing, correct use of space and quality. It can also get dancers thinking about how they can create original movement material.

  1. Have dancers work with a partner. If groups are uneven, they can work in groups of three; two dancers can play the same role or they can each take turns as a third observer.
  2. Ask the dancers to face each other and decide who is sculptor and who is the clay. They will switch roles later.
  3. Ask the sculptor to gently move the partner’s body parts to mould the clay into an artistic shape. For example, they can make fingers point or manipulate the face to create facial expressions. Some common answers include the teapot position or a finger up the nose. Although you may find these answers obvious or crude, remember that the dancers are being creative.
  4. Ask the dancers to create five more interesting sculptures. Repeating the exercise helps them get used to working this way.
  5. Have dancers switch roles and repeat the exercise as many times as they did it the first time.
  6. Next, have the sculptor use five steps to manipulate the clay into a shape or position; the clay dancer must remember each step and then perform it again as if the sculptor is moving them. The final position is not as important as remembering and performing how the dancer got there. This often creates a wonderful quality of movement, but some dancers do it better with their eyes closed because it can be easier to recall how a movement felt in the body.
  7. Have dancers try the task several times, switching roles each time and focusing on recalling the movements with the same force, timing, use of space and quality.
  8. Ask dancers to perform their movements for each other with the eyes closed then with eyes open. Ask them if they see a difference in the movements.
  9. Dancers will end up with short motifs that can be shared with others.

Teaching Tip

The dancers could do this without touching and instead call out which body parts they want to move and where they want it to go. They could also give the movements a speed or dynamic (e.g., “Move your left arm in a circle to the floor, starting and stopping as you go”).

Further Development

Dancers can learn each other’s phrase or indeed start again with a partner and create a longer phrase of movement this time with considered force and use of timing.

Read more from Dance Improvisations