© 2013 by Daniel Mollner

Day 4 Ecstatic Dance Adventure: Oakland and why Contact Improvisation is Identity Medicine

October 8, 2016

We charged through Wednesday with heart, sensuality, and waffle-leggings. Ok, I personally wore waffle-leggings, but I feel like they fueled the group!


After settling into our bodies through Kaylee's yoga class, Daniel facilitated an ecstatic dance by the edge of the water at Scotts Flat Lake. The rock stacks he built set intention into the space, as we ebbed and flowed through the morning. This dance was particularly special to me. Finally we danced in nature. Redwoods, Madrones, water, and ducks.  While the serenity of nature calmed us, I still felt a residual stuckness in my body, like black oily flubber sticking itself to my sternum. I tried shaking to release it, but it globbed on even harder. 


Eventually, I threw myself to the floor and forced out the guttural intonation of a sob, which then turned into an authentic sob. I curled up into fetal position and weeped until that stickiness crawled out of me. I rolled over onto my back and bounced my shoulder blades against the floor to push out the residual goo. When I finally felt like it was gone for good, I let out one final wail and slowly opened my eyes. Surrounding me was the tender gaze of my community. Almost as soon as that stuckness left me, a lightness entered me, not withholding a few moments in the void.


I can't emphasize enough the power of community in emotional process. Until after my outburst, I hadn't realized that I needed to be witnessed in my expression of pain. I needed witnesses to see that part of myself, to know that it exists. Continuing to relish in the drama of my journey, I disrobed and submerged myself into slowly into the lake--physically and spiritually naked.


Nothing like wailing, orgasming, or shitting to ground one into presence. After accomplishing two of the three, we headed towards Oakland.


I heard that Oakland's Wednesday night dance at Sweet's Ballroom is charged. The dancers there groove hard. Even those deep in the practice of ecstatic dance have a hard time keeping up with the stamina of Sweet's.


Before the ecstatic dance, many of us participated in Carl Frost's contact class. We practiced isolating parts of our body--namely our skulls, pelvises, hands, and feet--imagining that those parts charged our movement while the rest of us were mere attachments. Eyes closed, when we felt other body parts around us, they just became squish in our parts' universe. This exercise of embodied cognition freed us from the judgement of sight. Without our traditional frames of reference, all we could do was use our bodies to navigate the constellation of squish.


I'm going to take a moment here to talk about what makes contact improv so special because ITS EFFECT IS MEDICINE.


It's practice radically challenges the way western culture expects us to perform our selves. A metaphor my therapist taught me is to think of our selves as pendulums. We must react. If we experience a tilted emotional reality, we must swing the other way to ground ourselves.


Since we are brought up to be a certain way that is dependent on gender, family income, race etc, a lot of us accrue psychic wounds; these expected ways of being deviate from our personal truth. I see contact improv as an exercise in reverse-conditioning. And hopefully, through exercises in reverse-conditioning, we piece together some semblance of our "authentic" selves, or at least some semblance of self that is pleasant to embody. Let the pendulum swing.


Ok, but how does it do that? What are the mechanisms by which contact dance offers us oppositeland? Is it weird that I'm interviewing myself? Is it four in the morning, and am I trying to wrap this shit up? AHHH! Am I falling apart? ECSTATIC BLOGGING WUH OH! focus focus focusy focus....Without transition here are some ways in which contact improvisation offers a different MO than the reality we usually participate in: 


Traditionally in western culture we adopt the Cartesian dualistic system of self-awareness--a sense that that the mind controls the body. Whereas, the practice of contact improvisation necessitates somatic awareness-- a sense that body, mind, and spirit mutually inform each other rather than exclude each other. Think self-association rather than dissociation. Self-association turns into the ability to associate with others. Connection yay. Contact Improv demonstrates that these dynamic channels of information, within the somatic self and between dancers-- both projected from the inside and absorbed from the outside-- are fluid. Yay energy flow! Meow! 


Furthermore, contact improvisation in it's constitution necessitates radical participation and inclusion. Steve Paxton, founder of  contact improvisation, saw institutional dance forms, like ballet, as a practice in the excluding of possibilities. While institutional dance forms presume that the trained dancer claims more authority over knowledge about movement than the untrained person, contact improv breaks down the walls distinguishing trained dancer from pedestrian to open up possibilities for informing movement, connection, and self-exploration. Diversity in ways of being gives the exploration momentum. Finally, a place to explore the self in relation to others rather than a place to reiterate boring and traumatic culturally prescribed relationship.


Contact improv connects us through our essential humanness, as the resource for improvisation is the presence of being. Every action is vulnerable. Within contact improvisation, each participant is constantly vulnerable within the equilibrium of give and take. Because of this, contact improvisation proposes groundbreaking ways to reconnect us to our own essential energy and to that of others.


Carl's contact class flavored the rest of my dance in that I allowed my body to happen to me. Finally, present. Present enough to ALMOST make out with sexy Jesus, the present day person. He lives in Oakland.


Not fresh-faced at all but still delighted to report back to you,



Deets about Wednesday's dance:

Venue: Sweet's Ballroom

Music: DJ Baron Von Spirit

Dinner: Whole Foods ( If you care, I personally had a matcha latte and some curry) 



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