Making Contact: Contact Improvisation in Israel

Dance Training, Events

(A contact jam at HaKvutza BeYafo; photo by Eliana Ben David)

It took me 20 years of dancing – and a move around the world – to get to my first contact improvisation jam. After this initial experience, though, I had many opportunities to attend jams in Israel; the CI scene is thriving here, with regular jams held at several locations, classes in contact improvisation, and an annual three-week festival in the winter.  In conjunction with the monthly jam at HaKvutza BeYafo, which takes place on the first Saturday of every month, I am re-posting my reflection on my first visit to this event.  “Making Contact” was initially published on my own website on October 7, 2007.

* * *

After 2.5 weeks in the country, I finally made physical contact with the dance world in Israel – literally. I donned dance clothes for the first time here to attend a contact improvisation jam in Jaffa. For readers unfamiliar with this form, here’s a very brief, basic explanation:

Contact improvisation (also known as “contact” or “CI”) started in America in the early 1970s. After Steve Paxton’s initial experimentations with a group of students at Oberlin College, CI – which, with its emphasis on cooperation and egalitarianism, reflected the era’s idealism – spread throughout the country and continued to evolve in the subsequent decades. CI is primarily a duet form of dancing in which partners explore weight sharing and counterbalancing, finding points of contact and support throughout the body rather than relying purely on the usage of hands and arms. There is not an emphasis on looking pretty, posing, or performing; instead, CI it is a much more fluid form in which process trumps product. Devotees of CI assemble at jams where they may improvise for hours, switching partners as they like.

Prior to landing in Israel, I had no clue that there was a significant CI scene here. With my preparatory archival research centered squarely on Batsheva and my early internet searches limited to English-language lists of performances and Israeli companies, CI did not register on my radar. Nor did I actively seek venues to learn or practice CI once I expanded my web search to classes. My own experience with CI is limited to the academic; while some of my physical training involved brief CI-type partnering exercises and I have read the basic literature on the form, I never attended a jam in the U.S. So I never would have guessed that my first venture into an Israeli dance studio would be for a contact improvisation jam!

How, then, did this happen?

On my second night in Tel Aviv, my cousin introduced me to a friend who, though not a dancer by profession, had spent some time in the CI scene. He pointed me to an upcoming jam down in Jaffa at הקבוצה ביפו (HaKvutza BeYafo, which translates to The Group in Jaffa). Given both my crazy move-in schedule and the country’s holiday schedule, this simply happened to be the first studio-based event that I could attend. So encouraged by my new friend and reassured by the knowledge that the jam would begin with a warm-up led by an experienced contact teacher, Philip Smith, I commenced my physical examination of Israeli dance in very unfamiliar technical territory.

(A contact jam at HaKvutza BeYafo; photo by Eliana Ben David)

I’ll spare you the details of my participation and cut right to my observation: at its peak, the 4-hour long event probably boasted 50-60 attendees. I made a point to talk with all of my partners and several other attendees, and I learned that while some of these CI aficionados were involved in other segments of the modern/contemporary dance scene, most did not come from a broader dance base and were only involved with CI. Some had traveled a meandering path through other physical practices to CI; others were introduced by a friend and got hooked. A lot mentioned that CI became a starting point for reflection and had influenced their outlook on life and relationships. Powerful stuff!

Many of the people I spoke with excitedly told me about the upcoming International Contact Festival (November 23 – December 10, 2007), a three-week long extravaganza of workshops, classes, jams, and performances. First participants practice CI as they travel throughout Israel; next, they settle in Tel Aviv for a week of classes and jams; and finally, in the “Greenhouse,” they immerse themselves in contact and live together as a community in the Galilee region. The festival started in 2002, and it draws participants and teachers not only from Israel but from abroad. I may try to go to some of the festival’s classes and jams in Tel Aviv, and hopefully I’ll return to the monthly jam in Jaffa as well.  It is a really lively scene here, so if you are a contact improvisation enthusiast who likes to travel, check out!

Many, many thanks to everyone I interacted with at the jam in Jaffa!

* * *

This year’s Israeli Contact Festival will be held from December 16, 2008 until January 3, 2009; Week 1 will be the tour, Week 2 will be the Greenhouse, and Week 3 will be in Tel Aviv.  You can visit the festival’s website for more information, see Dance In Israel’s Events calendar for a basic listing, and read my new post about the festival.

*This post was made possible thanks to a Fulbright student grant funded by the U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation and hosted by the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.


Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.