The WOW of Contact 2013

The WOW of Contact is an annual 5-day immersion in Contact Improvisation at Breitenbush Hot Springs with Touchmonkey, Carolyn Stuart and Patrick Gracewood. It is in it’s 6th year.

Contact Improvisation offers the experience of belonging and freedom. When in contact we belong, when improvising we are free. Wow!

This year Contact Games will be the theme. We’ll use games to explore the details of who/why/what/when/where/how we make contact and improvise. Let’s play!  (For more on games click here.)

Relationship supports expression. The unfolding of expression is infinite. We explore options to enhance our interbeing. Being where we are, becoming happens. Resting in the ride of mutual well-being is the ahhh of C.I. Wow!

Come celebrate your self-awareness and ability to improvise, on and off the dance floor. Give yourself the gift of Contact!

Carolyn Stuart and Patrick Gracewood are the Touchmonkey limb of C.I., a dance duo exploring, teaching, performing the ‘wow’ of contact improvising for 25 years. They’ve found the play of inquiry, experimentation and discovery to be intimate, infinite and life saving. Currently they offer C.I. events at Gracewood Studio in Portland, OR.

REG: Breitenbush 503.854.3320
INFO: Carolyn 503.282.2938 or touchmonk@yahoo.com
BEGINS: Sun dinner

Click here for more info on The WOW of Contact 2013

And to view reflections by 2012 participants click here.

12 comments on “The WOW of Contact 2013

  1. I am interested and excited. Thank you.

  2. Hi Carolyn and Patrick:

    Sean here. I thought I’d provide a little feedback for what it’s worth. In a nutshell, I thought there were too many circles and the exercises were too simplistic. The group was composed I know of many levels and it’s pretty tough to provide a group experience for everyone. I also recognise that at the outset you asked each of us to inform you both of what we were interested in learning and how we’d like it to be taught to us. I didn’t participate in this because I felt I wasn’t sure what the question being asked was as to how we learn — perhaps if you had given examples or if it was more of a multiple choice question this would have been easier to negotiate — and as people went around the circle talking about what they did want to learn it became clear to me that “technique” and to refine or develop particular actual moves of the dance: allowing the options to become larger seemed to be of no interest to any one else. I also became piqued (just slightly, but enough to tip my participation) at the nebulousness of what was emerging from other people and how my nearly mechanical interest seemed sort of an affront. This seems silly in retrospect, but that’s what was happening at the time. I was also assuming that the workshop format of the week was going to be already laid out in more specific detail and there wasn’t going to be a lot of individual instruction. Had I known both of these assumptions were untrue I think I would have felt my participation would have been more useful. I assumed that what was being asked was a small refinement, not a course plan for what was going to take place, so I didn’t think the question was all that important to start with. This, of course was incorrect I understand now.

    But my own strong feeling about this form of dance is that the mind in theory has little to do with what actually takes place. Some, certainly, but little. What the brain does, and what it is for I believe to be very well illustrated in this Ted Talk:

    It’s based in a very mechanical construct, but the actual mechanics are extremely complex. In my experience the refinement and exploration of contact improv comes far more with doing it than with thinking about it. Again, I’m not suggesting that thinking about it doesn’t matter, but it’s 4% of the equation: a “meaningful” 4% to be sure, but as was, I think shown true of much of the content of the “check-ins” or check outs the verbiage quickly becomes nebulous to the point of pointlessness. It’s interesting sometimes to hear about people’s stories (which I thought was a very useful construct) or the outlines of their experience, or what came up for them emotionally but I don’t really feel like the dance needs to be group therapy for the development of our inner souls, and this is really not the focus for me: I just wanna have some fun and play with all these bodies in this very amusing way, and I want to refine and develop the potential for expanding the options (another concept I found very useful) for what I can do in the form. In my significant experience of being a part of cooperative living and working environments when people are in a group, sharing, there is a strong tendency to like to hear yourself talk, and unless the focus is kept pretty sharp the language of the discussion tends to travel so far and wide as to become chatter. When everyone is encouraged to say something in the long silences everyone tends to, even if the input is not all that translatable to the rest of the group. I think this happened a lot in the circles. I like to see people participate, but I wasn’t there really to enrich the healing powers of my spirit and engorge my heart-center with the combined love of my fellow dancers (much), I just wanted to dance with them. For me, the talk often distracted and watered down the richness of the experience. In abstract I generally don’t think people have very useful models for talking about their experience in the world, so when you get 20 or 11 people talking about their experience in a dance, you get 20 or 11 completely different stories, so to speak, of what took place there, and while this is interesting I don’t feel like it’s a useful focus to concetrate on. Language is so clumsy and this combined with people’s models for describing their own experience is so divergent there’s actually little translation that’s useful or understandable between people. Meanwhile everyone nods and encourages because we like each other and want everyone to feel good and empowered. I find this frustrating. We could just go around the room and say damn, I want to all to feel really good and really empowered (or some version thereof) and call it a day.

    As to the exercises, I feel like I know what a point of contact is pretty well, what that point feels like against the floor, the value of my weight, the meaning and constant force of gravity, what it feels like to lie on the floor, I am skilled at rolling across the floor and stuff similar to this. I know this was not true for everyone in the room, and such very basic skills as learning to move in a kind of flow instead of bumping and jerking, learning to provide lots of cues for where you’re going in your movement are useful and valuable skills to attain, so I’m not against their being worked on and taught, but I felt a few times like I was not being “served” by some of the exercises. This is and was OK with me, I just did something else.

    On a larger scale I very much appreciated the attitude with which Carolyn presented her experience as a dancer. Serge, Margaret, Rosemary and I talked a good deal about this on our way back in the car. Rosemary said it reinvigorated her interest in anarchic leaderless structure, which after daily participation in the Occupation effort in Seattle had become uninspired. I am an anarchist by philosophy and eh, mostly er, somewhat in practice and appreciate very much non-hierarchical facilitation, so I thought you did this very well in an informal but constructive way.

    Overall, I must say, I had a great time, and the best part of this was the fellow dancers themselves and my practice with them, as I think it should be. So thank you very much for being your true self, your skilled presentation of such and for providing the organizational construct for all this to actually come together that was extremely valuable and the damn thing simply would not have taken place unless you stepped up. My blessings and encouragement.

    — Sean

  3. I loved this workshop. It was like a dance monastery. Carolyn, Patrick, and this dance community created a space where i was challenged, offered new tools, and had time to practice. This was like a course in my mother tongue, touch, in communicating effectively with others and in recognizing what i choose. I am gentled by this practice; it fills my heart with loving-kindness, supporting my work, my parenting, and my human-being-ness. This workshop supported my happiness.

  4. Hi Sean, I’m excited and saddened to hear your report! Excited because now I know so much more of what was going on for you at the event. Saddened because now we are far apart and cannot explore what was up for you. I created the circle format for the very purpose of folks to share so that we could know what was going on and explore from that information. Somehow either you missed that intention or were only able to identify your thoughts after the fact.
    My understanding of C.I. is that it was intended to be an ongoing never-ending investigation by those present, so the circles are a format to glean what is happening with those present. They are an invitation to name your experience without judgment for the sake of exploring the potential of meeting and moving. I am much more interested in what is yet to be discovered than what is known and habitual.
    I have proposed sharing circles for a long time as a way to empower individuals to speak to their truth. For a few years I used a timer, giving each participant equal time because I saw that as a simple way to honor our mutuality. That could mean that sometimes we would sit with someone in silence for their alloted time or interrupt someone mid-sentence if their time was up. Both are powerful and worth experiencing in the name of respect for our equality. My preference is for those present be aware of and take responsibility for shared time and sometimes it’s useful to have the structure to contain the experience. At Breitenbush for 5 days I feel we have the luxury of time that allows for frequent circles. I find circles are a profound opportunity to explore reporting our truth and to check our tendency to assume and project, to gather information with curiosity rather than judgment, to see what’s there and what wants to happen.

    All of that said I wish to communicate my primary interest in liveliness that I find at the root of C.I. that I call simultaneous spontaneity. Can it work for each to care for themselves? Yes, I believe it can if caring for oneself also means caring for their connection to all the others. C. I. has shown me that we are interdependent whether we recognize it or not. I am looking for ways to deepen in understanding what that means and how it works for the benefit of mutual well-being. Whatever I suggest as a ‘facilitator’ is my attempt to support that exploration. It is all that makes sense to me and I will keep experimenting. I am not a leader that knows how to do C.I. and can teach you the way. I am Carolyn that has been fascinated with discovering the particulars of a system that feels sane and sustainable. I want others to explore the possibilities with. I am interested in knowing more about a way of being together in which we are all leading and following simultaneously and spontaneously. I guess some call that anarchy. I haven’t used that word, but it has been used to describe what I’m up to. Grounded Anarchy was once used to name what I do. I rather liked that. However, for me, anarchy has tended to have a connotation of a jumble of self expression without awareness of our interdependence, so I haven’t used it.
    I’m interested in how to develop my awareness to equally include and value my autonomy AND my union with all else. By calling in the intentions to be curious, connected and caring I’ve come to see how deeply I’ve been conditioned to a paradigm of Blame which has trained me to judgment, fear and protection. So, as a facilitator all I do is remain committed to my intention and enjoy the refinement of my understanding that occurs when others are willing to reflect, feedback, be willing to risk honesty, vulnerability etc., like you have by writing your feedback. The interaction has catalyzed increasing clarity. Precious, Thank You!

    I’ll leave it at that for now, for brevity, but will return with more- probably on simplistic exercises. Thank you for your instigation, your offering. Just as in the dance, when an offer is made a response becomes possible and an exploration of options available. I explored a few options regarding responding to you and this is the one I ended up choosing. On it goes. With nowhere to get but the next moment, the next choosing. and the next and the next……. to arrive in each next with increased clarity, ease and joy.

    Risking vulnerability for the sake of love! Wow, Carolyn

  5. So, I thought I may as well go ahead and weigh in here as a way in to this discussion-dance. As a way forward to take the weight off my mind of having put off writing.

    As you may have grasped, games with words come far more easily to me than games with movement or dance. I jumped into CI 25 years after trying to be a part of a dance-theater group, and becoming totally discouraged and not attempting any kind of dance since. For me, Contact Improvisation provides two essentials: the touch part of Contact, the experience of the Other/Not Me that morphs, through touch, into a We; and the Improvisation, which requires that I reach into and stay in contact with my self in order to discover “what happens next.” It is that discovery, from a place of not-knowing, which is totally creative for me and liberating from my familiar world of left brain mind.

    Hence, my comment during a circle about not liking Structures. They have a tendency to feel like (con)Strictures.

    So, at this point in my life, I don’t have need for much from CI practice that goes beyond what nourishes and enlivens the “full-body/mind meditation” and the contact with others also within that frame that I experience with the AWE part of the experience.

    One more thing to share here. I valued very much hearing others reporting on their experiences/awarenesses during the circles. I am learning to value how different we are, what an incredible range of Being we collectively encompass. I become much larger, and feel much less isolated and alone. I rejoice in knowing that others are having such rich experiences, and in receiving the gift of sharing glimpses into those worlds.

  6. Carolyn, you wrote us about vulnerability. One of the most vulnerable pieces for me around contact was my desire to be in contact with others and trusting that they will take care of themselves – move in a way that works for them, including away from me if that is what they feel.

    I loved the week of practicing awareness of what felt good to me. At the beginning of the week, i doubted that others would in fact do exactly what worked for them. I spent a lot of time in contact that didn’t bother me, but wasn’t doing a lot for me, either, contact where i was supporting someone to do what i guessed they wanted, but without leaving that space for myself, not realizing how fun finding connections of mutual support was. (and it *was* Fun!) By the end of the week, i found myself moving with confidence into contact that i liked and had fun with, moving with contact that felt good to explore or was teaching me something i wanted to be more aware of (not always a “happy” feeling, sometimes involving grief, anger or other emotions that come up for me in contact), and moving away from contact that didn’t work for me (usually because i wasn’t feeling called to presence with it rather than it being directly disruptive to me). I came home saying that contact improv has helped me be more aware of my emotional life in a way that nothing else has. For me, talking is less a mother tongue than moving. I find ontact improv to be deepening and en-Joy-ing. Our week offered me a place to explore some fantastically fun and some very difficult emotions. I practiced emotional awareness on the dance floor and i liked it.

    Hearing about other people’s ideas and emotions was great for me because it was affirming of my participation and experience and because I liked hearing about the multitude of experiences. It highlighted how very, very different each person’s experiences are on the dance floor. Was I sometimes impatient to get to dancing? Yes – although i was so curious to hear what was being said, i sometimes just wanted to Move! Over the week, I noticed that our group changed from one that was mostly physically still to one where people seemed to move freely in and out of the circle, wiggle, move, cuddle, etc, all while listening to each other. That was my favorite kind of circle. I liked being in a place where moving while listening was acceptable. Finally, I don’t think we could have had the intimate conversations we had as a group and individually if we hadn’t had those structured group conversations. I think the circles facilitated interpersonal connection and offered topics for continuing discussion. I doubt i would have gotten to know participants as well in the week we had if we hadn’t had the circles, because i would have been too shy to have as many conversations about such strong topics and would have just been more socially independent.

    I liked the structure of the assignments and challenges. I didn’t feel like i had to be there for the structure – in fact, i took a nap during the first afternoon workshop and I missed a couple of evening dances entirely. Perhaps I enjoyed the assignments so much because I am newer: they helped open doors that i was unaware of. However, I often like assignments and challenges, and I imagine that i would like those exercises in ten years. I wrote down several exercises so i could continue to play with them, both the scores (games with rules) and the personal assignments. I found them thoughtful, provocative, and fun. The modeling done during instruction periods was very valuable. Sharing a dance floor with the group so that i could watch and dance with people of varying experience and from different backgrounds was very valuable.

    I loved our week so much that if i knew how to do it all the time, I would! I’d love to spend a whole season in our dance, all day.

    Well, that’s inflation for you – instead of my two cents, i think i just wrote twenty-five 😉

    Hugs to all y’all,


  7. Hi Carolyn, Patrick and fellow dancers,
    I finally got the courage to write about my experience at Breitenbush. My limited experience with CI goes way back in time in Boston. Initially I felt very vulnerable and full of fear. I think that these emotions were connected to who I am and what was my intention. I used the excuse of not practicing CI that I might get injured or injure someone else. I see things differently now, and have had a new rewarding experience of CI.
    I need to get over fear and vulnerability in order to grow. I have changed considerably since my first intro to CI, and want to continue when possible. In some ways, this dance form has been the most challenging for me.

    Love to all,

  8. Hi Lance,
    Just now seeing your post!?!
    Thank you for writing and for coming to the WOW and for sharing your vulnerability. It was inspiring to be a part of your process and to see you take delight in learning and integrating C.I. skills. Your openness to share and explore were a gift. C.I. can be very challenging for it asks us to consider and behave in ways that are often not familiar. It is the willingness and vulnerability that teach us what we need to know. Thanks again for risking real and if you ever want to write some more about how you’ve changed and see differently now due to C.I., please do! Each of us has a unique perspective that is valuable to understand the potential of the C.I. paradigm.
    Dancing on, Carolyn

    • Hi Carolyn,

      Will you be having your ci jam Saturday, March 24?



      >________________________________ > From: CI Games >To: walkin_lamb@yahoo.com >Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2013 12:35 PM >Subject: [New comment] The WOW of Contact > > > WordPress.com >carolynstuart commented: “Hi Lance, Just now seeing your post!?! Thank you for writing and for coming to the WOW and for sharing your vulnerability. It was inspiring to be a part of your process and to see you take delight in learning and integrating C.I. skills. Your openness” >

  9. It has taken me a while to write regarding my experience from last January. This is partly because my life is very expansive and full these days and partly because the impact of the experience and its implications in my life have been my focus instead of writing about it. However, it seems that it is time to do so.

    Carolyn on the first day invited us to get what we wanted out of each encounter. The timing for me was ripe for this radical and simple idea. You see I was raised in a fundamental Christian household with a mother that tended toward depression and a father who was the essence of tolerance. The combination resulted in being conditioned to put myself and my needs last, developing a high sensitivity to the needs of others as a means of survival and an ideal around accepting and being inclusive of others, regardless of their impact on my well being. This trained me perfectly to fit into my sixteen year marriage to an emotionally abusive narcissist which I entered directly from my childhood home at the age of 19. When I finally began to shift out of the conditioning of my childhood and codependent dynamics, the marriage ended and I began to working on reclaiming myself. It has been a long and focused road for the last thirteen years to rediscover and integrate the aspects of my being that got lost or shunned along the way.

    Movement has been integral in this process. I encountered ecstatic dance fourteen years ago. It was through this form that I was able to circumvent the mental conditioning and discover ways of being and being in relationship that had seemed impossible or had never even occurred to me. Ideas entered my process that might be simple for others like not worrying about if things were pretty or the fact that you could dance your dance completely and so could your partner, neither losing themselves and some how it can actually work. It was through ecstatic dance that I first had a direct encounter with my own wholeness – not as a concept but as a reality.

    It has been an ongoing experiment to experience new ways of being on the dance floor and then try them out in the rest of my life. I also get to encounter the energy and ways of being that others embody – to dance with and often discover and reclaim ways of being that had been lost in my life process. In fact, it is almost always my intention to use any movement experience to these ends. It is why I am drawn to contact improv, because it is so relational, interpersonally and intrapersonally. I had heard of Gracewood and Carolyn and Patrick, but living in Tigard I had some idea that it was so far away. Once I got there though I was intrigued by the questions that they and others were pondering, using the physical exploration to ask questions and wonder about that which has implications off the floor, exploring consciousness through the form.

    So I get to Breitenbush and am invited to explore “get what you want”. From my life experience this was a dangerous and not OK concept, but I had been working for years to open up to it. There were still fears and left over ideals. Wouldn’t this make me selfish? Wasn’t selfishness unrelational? Wouldn’t I lose sight of the needs of others or worse of their very existence? I had been the conduit for others to just get what they wanted and it had been hurtful to me. I had broken free and actually asked or had actually gone for what I wanted and had been asked to leave, been banned from communities, lost friendships, gotten divorced, etc. So it didn’t always work out so well. But I am one to fully experiment especially when the intention is offered. So, OK Carolyn, I will “get what I want”. As I reflected on the first day, I realized I had danced with people I didn’t want to, danced longer than I wanted to, and in ways I didn’t want to. Damn! Even when I was given permission, I still was struggling – following old patterns. I reestablished my intention. It wasn’t my job to make sure everyone was included. If I didn’t want to dance with someone I wouldn’t. If I was done with a dance I would leave. If I wanted something out of a connection, I was going about getting it. Internally, this caused a bit of freak out on the part of some of the aspects of myself. I reminded these aspects that what I wanted never excluded the well being of others. It was centered in relationship. I don’t know how to do it any differently. I also reminded myself that the other rule was to take care of ones self. This meant to me that I could at least experiment with assuming that if someone didn’t like or didn’t want what I was wanting from them, they could just not comply. After all, they had actually been given instructions and permission to do just that.

    So with all that in place I played for the next few days. I watched how energizing it was to “get what I want” and to say no to what I didn’t want. I witnessed the discomfort in me when I noticed a person alone and I didn’t take care of them if I didn’t want to. I experimented with actually being audacious enough to move someone else to where I wanted them to be. I allowed my competitive aspects room to breathe. I reminded myself that I actually like struggle and conflict, when it is authentic and meaningful. I noticed when I needed solitude and gave it to myself. I was aware of the times I held back. I did my best at not judging. I found I was holding myself as more worthy and felt more free. I witnessed the grief over the memories of times when I didn’t act from this way of being and when I had and still it resulted in loss. It was a gift to have days to experiment, witness my hesitations, reset intentions, work through resistance and conditioning, be immersed in trial and error and open a new paradigm.

    It has now been nearly four months. The experiment has permeated my life. It helps that I am at Gracewood usually at least once a week to continue the experiment. There are ways I am moving in the world that I would not have thought possible before January, or at least thought I had a lot more hard work to do before they would manifest. Like I said, I was ripe for the learning. And it has not disappointed. It has effected every aspect of my life – how I spend my time, who I spend it with, how I can show up at the school where I work, how I am with my sons, how I am in all my relationships. For the most part it has been positive. Certainly my life is more sustainable and there is more authenticity, curiosity and freedom. And one friendship ended and some others transformed. A new level of healing of my past has opened up, with the accompanying grief. I feel in my life, like I felt at the end of the workshop – serenely empowered and profoundly humble.

    In awe,


  10. Danelle, I was very moved by your share. I hate to write, especially about things personal. My long life has had alot of bumps in the road also. However, the experience of ecstatic dance and contact improvisation has changed my life immensely. I moved to OR only 2 years ago and have not returned to the East Coast. I must go back to visit, but intend to live here indefinitely. I am considering moving to Portland, as Sherwood is a bit isolating. I dance at least 3 times a week and would like to engage in more CI.

    Loving life and dance,

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