Contact Dance


Head-to-head, [Left to right] Cathie Caraker and David Beadle. photo © Bill Arnold.


There are many ways of defining the dance form Contact Improvisation. Here are some:

  • Contact Improvisation is an evolving system of movement initiated in 1972 by American choreographer Steve Paxton. The improvised dance form is based on the communication between two moving bodies that are in physical contact and their combined relationship to the physical laws that govern their motion—gravity, momentum, inertia. The body, in order to open to these sensations, learns to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain quality of willfulness to experience the natural flow of movement. Practice includes rolling, falling, being upside down, following a physical point of contact, supporting and giving weight to a partner.
  • Contact improvisations are spontaneous physical dialogues that range from stillness to highly energetic exchanges. Alertness is developed in order to work in an energetic state of physical disorientation, trusting in one's basic survival instincts. It is a free play with balance, self-correcting the wrong moves and reinforcing the right ones, bringing forth a physical/emotional truth about a shared moment of movement that leaves the participants informed, centered, and enlivened.

—early definition by Steve Paxton and others, 1970s,
from CQ Vol. 5:1, Fall 1979

  • Contact Improvisation is an open-ended exploration of the kinaesthetic possibilities of bodies moving through contact. Sometimes wild and athletic, sometimes quiet and meditative, it is a form open to all bodies and enquiring minds.

—from Ray Chung workshop announcement, London, 2009 


Contact Improvisation (CI) was first presented as a series of performances conceived and directed by American choreographer Steve Paxton in June 1972 at the John Weber Gallery in New York City. Paxton invited about 17 students and colleagues to participate in the two-week project. These dancers included Tim Butler, Laura Chapman, Barbara Dilley, Leon Felder, Mary Fulkerson, Tom Hast, Daniel Lepkoff, Nita Little, Alice Lusterman, Mark Peterson, Curt Siddall, Emily Siege, Nancy Stark Smith, Nancy Topf, and David Woodberry. Several of them continue to practice the dance form today. 


From its early days on the East and then West coasts of the United States, Contact Improvisation (CI) has spread to studios, schools, and art centers around the world. Thousands of people practice, perform, and teach Contact on all continents except Antarctica.

CI is enjoyed by movers of all kinds—professionally trained dancers, recreational movers, athletes, disabled dancers, old, young. Dancers apply their work with CI to choreography, to dance training, to working with children, seniors, disabled populations, therapy, visual art, music, education, environmental work, and social activism. Many do it just for pleasure and personal development.

Contact Improvisation's influence can be seen throughout modern and postmodern dance choreography, performance, and dance training worldwide, especially in relationship to partnering and use of weight.

Contact Improvisation continues to develop and spread to new cities, countries, types of dancers, and areas of application. The work embraces those new to the form as well as those who have been devoted to its study and practice for decades.


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