From seaweed to bananas: contact improv in Dublin
2018-04-15 14:08:41 -


Deirdre Molloy’s Dance Odyssey
Dance Odyssey is a blog by Deirdre Molloy about a unique opportunity – a sabbatical to travel the world and dance for a year. Previously she stepped on the streets of San Sebastián and Madrid, moved to the blues in Barcelona, made a new friend in Lisbon and explored the nightlife of Cuba. This time she comes home to Dublin to introduce the locals to a new approach to dance…
To share dance skills, what a delight! The offer came during a contact improv community meeting at a tea house on the Dublin city quays, the week after my first visit to the Dublin Contact Jam at the Lab on Foley Street. Over steaming bowls of tea, the dancers were discussing how to manage workshops and jams, and how to welcome new dancers. I contributed ideas from Australia and beyond. Later on in the discussion, Yaeli offered open invitation for anyone in the room to lead a warm up. She did not name me, but with her gaze, she invited me to step forward. Her confidence in me gave me the guts to volunteer. I realised had I something to share.
So on 22 January, a French dancer named Julien welcomed about eight or nine people into the studio and introduced me to lead a contact improv warm up at the Lab, a fine dance studio with smooth timber floors, high ceilings and a glass wall on one side. Outside the frosted glass, the fluorescent office lighting of Independent House glowed from across the road. I put on music, a playlist of chilled hip-hop and reggae beats for a structured warm-up, with a progression to ambient African-influenced music, conducive to free improvisation.
My goal was to physically warm up the group and lead into the jam in a way that’s engaging for all, yet accessible for beginners. I started by leading body isolations: drawing squares and circles with a specific body part while keeping the rest still. Neck, chest, hip, knee, ankle then back up to the shoulders. Then, combining shoulder movements with small steps, we marched on the spot and then travelled around the room. My plan unfolded as ideas flowed, so it was easy to progress to different ways of moving and using the space.
To connect the dancers to the floor and each other, I introduced a contact technique: banana rolls. You bend your body like a banana and roll. We did pointing-forward travelling rolls, and rolls forward where the banana reaches backwards. Then I showed the group how to banana roll along the wall, explaining how this could be used in dances with partner. 
To start the jam, I gathered the group into a ‘proximity dance’, inviting them to use negative space and the movements that we had been practising.
It was great to see people spontaneously form jamming partnerships, as I guided them to lean into each other. The music selection seemed to work well, too.
A new friend called Deet, also new to the dance, was a supportive presence in the room,so I enjoyed a jam with him first. With more experienced dancers, I also had memorable dances – with Julien, Fergus and a strong, flexible woman with short, dark hair. She had a technique for rolling me between her thighs, or twisting so that she landed between mine. The rolling exchange of weight from thigh to thigh was gentle, intimate. She rested a moment, leaning on my belly. “It’s so comfortable here,” she said, “I’m reluctant to move.” There was a pool of reflection in our river of dance. Soon, our entwined bodies resumed their flow across the floor.
I found more inspiration at the end of the night, when I linked hips with Fergus and Julien. Standing side-by-side, I led a mess-around, and tried to figure out how we could walk it. I think it would work as a semicircle step or a travelling ‘four corners’, if we all knew that move. Instead, we simply co-ordinated wide sweeping steps forward. We improvised trio moves for a few minutes, sometimes with comic effect: for example, I sat on Fergus’ knee, and he sat on Julian’s. It seemed like fertile ground for physical comedy or developing characters.
I’ve had great support from friends old and new throughout my journey, and wish to name a few here in expressing my gratitude. With Peter Crann and Lex Woo, it’s good music and good times, every time. Daring Deet joined me for his first experiences of blues and contact improv – and my first time leading a jam. There were wonderful coffees and dinners with old Dublin friends: sculptor Helen O’Connell, artist Paul Timoney and filmmaker Tom Hall. I enjoyed a private blues lesson with Olga, and a social dance in the new Downtown Blues venue near Trinity College. Thanks for the warm welcome, hometown of Dublin. Go raibh mile maith agat!


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