Last night, a group of nine students spent two hours rolling off each other’s backs and dragging each other by the foot across the floor of a dance studio .
The exercise is something dancers call contact improvisation.
The Alliance for Dance at Yale and the Yale Drama Coalition are sponsoring two contact improvisation workshops led by theater studies lecturer Daniel Larlham ’00 and New York-based dancer Elise Knudson on Thursday evening and Friday afternoon. Larlham said the workshops were intended for students involved in dance and theater at Yale, as contact improvisation has applications in the way actors interact with each other on stage.
Contact improvisation is a free-form dance practice that originated at jams in New York during the 1960s and 70s, Larlham said. Though aspects of contact improvisation have made their way into many formal dance classes and choreographed works, Knudson said this workshop was meant to be casual and serve as an introduction to weight sharing for participants.
“It’s not a form of dance that requires a lot of training to participate,” said Knudson, who attended her first contact improvisation workshop in New York twelve years ago. “It doesn’t require years of class, and it’s something that can be useful to actors.”
Larlham and Knudson led the nine student participants at last night’s workshop through a series of improvised games that involved using each other as table tops and exploring rolling points of contact. They then transitioned into a half-hour of free movement, with some dancers carrying their partners on their back and supporting more gymnastic movements like handstands. These are “weight sharing” movements, Larlham said.
Though all attendants of last night’s workshop are either involved in theater or dance at Yale, for many, this was their first experience with contact improvisation.
“You find someone’s weight and you lean and roll off them,” said Jesse Kirkland ’12, who tried out the dance practice for the first time at the workshop. “It’s fun to explore. It looks like you’re just wiggling around, but it’s so much more than that.”
Larlham said he approached student members of the Alliance for Dance at Yale and the Yale Drama Coalition with the idea for this extracurricular workshop because it is something he might have wanted to participate in as an undergraduate, had it been offered.
Learning to move in tandem with a partner would benefit actors on campus, said Charlie Croom, co-president of the Yale Drama Coalition and a former photo editor for the News.
“When you’re in a scene doing theater, you’re working with a partner on stage, and it’s important to have that chemistry between you,” Croom said. “[Contact improvisation] helps develop that rhythm of movement and collaboration.”
Larlham and Knudson will lead a second workshop today from 2-4 p.m. in the Broadway Rehearsal Lofts.