500 words on personal space

As soon as I enter a dance studio I am guaranteed to have my personal space invaded. Teachers will prod and poke me, I will inhale other people’s sweat vapour and probably roll around in their sweat angels* on the floor. Sounds really disgusting doesn’t it? My advice and main focus of this post is if you want to dance expect to have no personal space… like at all.

On my first day at the Retina summer intensive at NSCD I was launched into learning a contact duet with a complete stranger. Bearing in mind that we’d already had class in the morning and my tuna jacket potato at lunchtime, I smelt bad. I was sweaty and sticky and altogether a little bit gross. None of this mattered though, neither did it matter that I spent most of the time laying on top of her or wrapping my legs around her. What did matter was the choreography. There was no time for awkward introductions, the movement was what mattered, and if you’re watching a contact duet on stage it shouldn’t matter whether one couple have known each other for years and another have literally only just met the other day, they should both dance the movement the same with the same emotive quality (if that’s what the choreography dictates).

I expect that anyone who is not a dancer, or an actor or someone with a performance background would be horrified by this, but it didn’t even register as a problem to me. To be honest (and it sounds bad), but I didn’t even find out my partner’s name until the end of the day…

Contact work does not work if you’re worried about touching another person, if you don’t like being touched/manhandled or you’re timid. Being timid might be great if you were doing a character solo, but the worst thing possible if your partner expects you to support their entire body weight- and yes girls you probably will have to lift! You have to be forthcoming, ripe with creative ideas and be willing to have people use you as a human climbing frame if needs be.

I find contact work very exciting, I love how you can create a dynamic fluidity and amplify movement that would be unachievable as a solo. I’ve been dropped on my head, had my thumbs bent backwards and got a million bruises, but I’ve most importantly learnt to trust my partner and realise that I as a dancer have no personal space. I personally think, that contact work/improvisation really builds a dancer’s character and skills. A dancer who is willing and expects to have their personal space invaded is much more fluent, and less likely to be freaked out by some of the things that choreographers ask of them. The quest for exciting and ever evolving choreography means that movement is constantly becoming more physical (sometimes uncomfortably so) and contact work is consequently imperative- as is expecting to have no personal space.

*like snow angels, but with sweat…

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