Adwoa Lemieux

The Contact Duet as a Paradigm
for Client/Therapist Interaction

"If you want to get to a new place,
you can't know where you are going."
(Steve Paxton)

     Submitted in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Masters of Arts in Dance/Movement Therapy.
Naropa Institute Boulder, Colorado
Spring 1988

     The thesis of Adwoa Donna Lemieux has been accepted by this committee:


     I wish to thank my committee, friends and family for their support during the writing of this paper.
I wish to give a special thanks to Danny Mack for listening, for reading, for dancing, for his devotion and love through this process, for believing in me, and for sharing with me the joy of spellchecking and tending to little details.  Without his patience and help, I would still be on a typewriter and using whiteout.  Thanks Mack and mac!  You've both been incredible.
I also wish to thank Marjean Mckenna for my first contact improvisation dance and for all those that followed.


     I.  Introduction

     A. Purpose

     B. Personal Motivation

     C. Contra-indications

     II. Definition of Terms

     III. Review of Literature

     A. Movement Therapy

     1.  Mary Whitehouse

     2. Marion Chace

     B. Contact Improvisation

     1. Steve Paxton

     2. Nancy Stark Smith

     IV. The Two Forms

     A. Comparison of Contact Improvisation and Dance/Movement Therapy

     B. My Experience of the two forms

     V. Paradigm

     A. Making Contact

     B. Trust

     C. Duet

     D. Touch

     E. Support

     F. Taking Risks

     G. Round Robin/ Spontaneity

     H. Closure or Warm-down

     VI. Experiential

     A. Brief Overview of Anorexia, Bulimia, Bularexia

     B. Case Study One:  Anna 

     C. Case Study Two:  Susan

     D. Partnership

     E. Personal healing

     VII. Tools for the Therapist

     VIII. Closing


     Crouched in the corner allowing for
was i a safety net
back of distance between us.
pressed against the wall. just being there
muscles gently...
painfully taut, whispering
breathing long forgotten words
all but non-existant, soothingly...
eyes caressing
darting watchfully - with her presence
guarding againstthe terror within me.
the threatening  she waited
disjointed movement with me
shadowing, patiently,
the sun-filled room. watched with me
huddled in the corner neutrally,
was i  permitted me my fear.
heat belching from her promise
somewhere, to stay at a distance
unrelated noises, kept...
unpredictable noises  did i know then
shattering security, i would come to
blaring out danger trust and love
she approached,  that gentle soul?
oh i think not.
so slowly,
beseeching mine,
low to the ground

     This poem, written by a client of mine, who I'll call Anna, describes our first encounter.  It was the beginning of our work together.  She was unsure, frightened and hid in many of our first sessions.  I felt both her fears and yet her longing for contact with another.  I knew it would take time and I trusted the process.  We've worked together eight and one half months.  It has been a rich journey. I began this paper shortly after my initial encounter with Anna through writing about my work with her.  The rest of the paper followed.

     In beginning this paper, I too approached scared.  I felt unsure, "Can I articulate on paper what I know in my body and in my mind?"  I am afraid that no one will understand what I say.  Although this kind of work is being done by a few others in different ways, I feel that I am pioneering this style of work. I feel that I can no longer hide.  I need to share the work that is so much part of who I am.

     At last I begin...



     The therapist/client interaction in a dance therapy session in many ways parallels the interaction in a contact improvisation duet.  The contact form provides a rich source of resources for the dance therapist.

A. The Purpose

     My purpose in writing this paper is to introduce the form of contact/movement therapy.  Contact/movement therapy is the unity of two forms that I believe overlap.  In this paper I wish to stress the importance of contact in movement therapy.  I also wish to stress the need for the therapist to be in contact with him/herself while oscillating her/his awareness to the client in a session.  I wish to look at the "dance" between the therapist and the client.  There is a duet that takes place.  The client is not alone but is affected by the presence of the therapist.  It is my intention in this paper to create a paradigm that is useful for the movement therapist.  I feel it is important for movement therapists to experience contact improvisation as part of their training before using this work in their sessions. 

     As a contact improvisation dancer and teacher and a beginning movement therapist, I feel the forms spill into each other.  The intention in each setting is different.  However, there is a common paradigm.  There are steps involved in each which are similar.  The two forms support one another.  In this paper I will look at how contact improvisation supports a movement/dance therapy session.  I will share my paradigm and show how the contact form is a rich resource for the dance therapist.  I will use some of the vocabulary of the contact improvisation language as a 'metaphor' to describe the paradigm and show that the therapist/client relationship parallels the duet relationship in contact improvisation.

     In looking at the history and theories of two dance/movement therapists, I recognize the founding principles of these are similar to the principles of contact improvisation.  In the review of literature I will discuss this further.

B. Personal Motivation

     I wanted to study the principles of movement therapy before I ever knew of contact improvisation.  I studied in Africa where dance is integrated into nearly every aspect of people's lives. I studied the meaning and the language of the dance in Ghana.  This dance integrated into everyday life was therapy. The notion of the healing of dance as part of one's life has stayed with me.  It was years later that I discovered contact improvisation.

     Contact improvisation has been healing for me personally.  When I began contact improvisation I was a student in the modern dance department at the University of Utah. I had just injured my knee and was unable to dance or to ski, both of which were a big part of my life at that time.  I met a woman, Marjean McKenna, who was a 'contact improviser'.  She needed a partner.  Contact improvisation is done primarily in pairs.  I began dancing with the limitation of one knee that wouldn't support me.  The dance accounts for individual differences.  My limitation was simply integrated into the dance.  The process of learning the dance form was slow.  I loved the movement.  I slowed down and felt the sensation of my body moving.  Although I had danced for many years prior to this, I began to remember the joy and simplicity of my movement.  This movement had gotten lost in my formal study of dance.  I was supported by Marjean both physically and emotionally.  We built a strong trusting relationship over the next three years of dancing together.

     After a year and one half we began to form a small group.  Three other people became 'core'.  One person was an acupuncturist, macrobiotic and jin shin do practitioner, another an acupuncturist, a deep tissue body worker and a polarity balancer, another a Feldenkrais practitioner,  Marjean an acupuncture student, Tai Chi teacher and Alexander technique student and distributor of natural foods and me.  We all danced for the delight and play of the movement but I was the spark.  We practiced in a studio in Marjean's home.  She the hearth, I the fire, the inspiration.  After dancing each week, we lay in the living room talking and trading body work sessions and acupuncture treatments.  We would have 'needles' or massage or do exercises.  My trade was my love for the dance.  I gathered us.  We all contributed to each other's healing.

     We were each accepted as we were.  We brought individual flavor and richness to the dance.  Sometimes one of us had an injury and we danced with that limitation.  Often one of us had something emotional going on yet we danced and let the energy move.  We grew to trust and to support one another.  Our weekly dancing time was a joy for each of us.  The healing for me was deep.  It was not just my physical being that changed, it was my whole being.  Partially  because of this beginning into contact improvisation, this dance means healing to me.  This idea has affected life  my  contact improvisation dancing, my teaching and into my therapy practice.

     Since that time I have moved geographically, yet my connection with these people still remains intact. I have continued to deepen my relationship with  contact improvisation.

     I began this study and practice of  contact improvisation eight years ago.  I felt immediately drawn to the dance.  In the last eight years through this dance practice I have a clearer understanding of myself.  I also have had time to look at my relationship with contact using various partners, students and clients.

     I have found that through practicing contact improvisation,  its principles have filtered into my life.  I feel contact improvisation is the most prominent factor in my personal healing.  As a teacher of contact, I witness the healing in my students.  They change.  They become more comfortable in their bodies and with others in the group.  Students sometimes cry or share some of their process; issues around fear come up, needing to be touched, afraid of getting support or giving support, wanting and needing contact. This has inspired me as a movement therapist to explore this work more deeply. 

     I began noticing that there was a parallel between students and clients.  There were steps in common.  I began using my strength as a contact improviser with being in contact with my clients.  This does not necessarily mean physical contact.  Being in contact with a person is designed by each person's particular needs.  This is a sensitive energetic connection with a person while maintaining contact with one's self.  This will be discussed in more depth later in the paper.  What has become clear to me is that this style of working works well for me.  It integrates strengths of mine in a form that feels right.  This allows me an ease to be fully present and in touch with a client.  The work has been powerful.

     One population that I work with is people who presently have an eating disorder.  I work through the process of making contact, through gaining and maintaining trust, using the duet form, sometimes using touch, developing support, taking risks, and using spontaneity and improvisation.  Through this I have seen changes in clients' body images, in their physical bodies and how they feel about themselves.  This work has been the single most powerful factor in some clients' recoveries.  Most of the people that I work with are part of an inpatient treatment program for people with advanced eating disorders.

     I would like to share in this paper the way I work.  In my training as a dance/movement therapist I continued to practice contact improvisation quite extensively.  I chose this consciously as a personal need and as an integral part of my training as a dance/movement therapist.

C. Contra-indications

     I feel that this paradigm is applicable and appropriate for any clientele.  The nature of the form is such that it takes into account individual needs and differences.  The paradigm may be used with individual needs respected.  The steps may move slowly and in fact some may be left out.  I feel that contact work is important and beneficial to all populations. This work would be useful and beneficial for passive regressed people, for depressed people, for people seeking an outlet for emotions and who find speaking difficult, for children, for adults under everyday stress, for people who are tense, for people who have difficulties with relationships, for people with physical handicaps, for people who are in recovery from addictions, and for people who need or want to learn to recover their own child.  It is a very good way to relax.  For populations of very distressed people I move slowly and am alert and mindful before using physical touch.  I may use more structure for populations that are more disturbed. 

     I have used contact/movement therapy with people in a phase of recovery from abuse and people in a phase of self-empowerment.  I have begun working with couples using contact/movement therapy.  I have found this both exciting and useful for a couple working through their patterns in movement.  I have worked with children and would like to continue this and add the possibility of working with a parent and child together.  Contact/movement therapy can work with a variety of relationships.  I have also used this paradigm with an emotionally disturbed institutionalized group of children and adolescents and with a population of hospitalized adult psychiatric patients.  

     For the purpose of this paper, I will discuss my paradigm in reference to two case studies of women who are in a phase of anorexia/bulimia.  I will also describe my paradigm in relation to a partnership in contact improvisation.  I use this paradigm both with groups and in individual sessions.


     Dance/Movement Therapy is defined as: "the psychotherapeutic use of movement as a process which furthers the physical and psychic integration of the individual. It effects changes in feelings, cognition, physical functioning and behavior." (American Dance Therapy Association pamphlet)  "The dance movement therapist combines verbal and nonverbal communication to enable a client to express feelings, to participate in human relationships, to increase personal self esteem, to develop a more realistic body image and through all of these to achieve some feeling of relaxation and enjoyment.  Direct communication must happen continuously between the leader and the client." (Marion Chace, Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 144)

     Contact Improvisation:  "Contact improvisation is a duet movement form.  Two people move together, in contact, maintaining a spontaneous physical dialogue through the kinesthetic signals of shared weight and a common or counterpoised momentum.  The body, in order to open to the sensations of momentum, weight, and balance, must learn to release excess muscular tension and abandon a certain amount of willful volition to the natural flow of movement at hand.  Skills such as rolling, falling, and being upside down are explored, guiding the body to an awareness of its own natural movement possibilities." (Danny Lepkoff, Contact Quarterly,

     Vol. V #4)

     Therapist/Client:  The relationship between two people in a therapeutic context.  The therapist being the leader, the client being the person seeking professional assistance.

     Dance Therapy Session:  a psychotherapeutic session lasting usually from 60-90 minutes in which a dance/movement therapist focuses on movement behavior as it emerges in the therapeutic relationship.  Body movement simultaneously provides the means of assessment and the mode of intervention.

     Contact: -touching or meeting as of two things, people

     -an association or relationship

     -an acquaintance or relationship through whom/where one can

        get information or favors

     -a junction of electric conductors

     -to put and enter into contact

     -to communicate with

     Improvisation (improvise):

     -to compose and perform without previous preparation

     -to devise or provide from whatever material is available

     -to improvise something

     Improve: -to bring into a more desirable condition

     -to become better

     -to revise or add to

     Paradigm:  an example or something serving as a model

     Therapy:  the remedial treatment of a disease or other physical or mental disorder

     Therapeutic:  of or pertaining to the remedial treatment of disease

     Partner:  a person who shares; one's companion in a dance

     Duet: -a musical composition for two voices or instruments

     -two people moving in relationship to each other in a common

        space sensitive to the movement or energy of one another

     Contact Improvisation Duet:  A duet in which there is a point of contact usually maintained between two participants.

     Contact form: The form of contact improvisation.


       In reviewing dance therapy and contact improvisation, I have limited my research to the discussion of two of the founders of dance therapy; Mary Starks Whitehouse and Marion Chace and two of the original contact improvisation explorers; Steve Paxton, the founder of the form, and Nancy Stark Smith, the co-editor of Contact Quarterly and member of the first contact improvisation group.  I have included a paradigm from these two dance therapists.  I have also included an interview with Nancy Stark Smith on teaching and working with contact improvisation.  I have  studied and practiced with her for several years.  I reviewed other styles of dance/movement therapy and of contact improvisation teachers and have seen these to be most useful.

A.  Movement Therapy

     Dance as a therapy has played an important role in native cultures.  It was used in rituals for healing with music and chants and with people in trance states in many primitive cultures. This occurred in Bali, Africa, Greece, Mexico, India, with the Dervishes in Moslem East Asia, and with the Native American culture.  Often the ritual dance was lead by one individual; the medium person or shaman.  The shaman aids in receiving messages from the spirits, assisting in leading rites of passage and healing the sick.  This would include dances to bless a baby, to ensure fertility to a woman, to bring luck to a hunt, to send a spirit off, etc.  Although the dance as a ritual and healing continued to play a vital role in the native cultures of the Americas, Asia and in Africa, its role declined in Europe at the end of the twelfth century.  Religious sects feared its "potential inherent power" (Penny Bernstein, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 5).  Dance became more stylized and superficial. This trend continued with court dances and the beginning of ballet.  Although folk dances continued in rural culture as a means of social dance, it was not until the twentieth century that dance re-emerged as an emotional expressive art.  Isadora Duncan appeared "barefoot and emotive" on the stages of Europe and modern creative movement/dance was born.

     "The development of psychology has grown from Darwin's Expression of Emotions in Man and Animals through Freud's psychoanalysis.  It was not until the student's of Freud, Adler, Reich and Jung, began their work that the awareness of the whole body and person emerged. Wilhelm Reich developed an elaborate character system based on the defensive armoring of the body with exercises designed to contact blocked feelings in tense areas of the body allowing expression." (Penny Bernstein, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 5)

     "Carl Jung's development of techniques in 'active imagination' gave the patient a tool for expressing unconscious material and paved the way for movement therapy." (Penny Bernstein, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 5)  He used material from dreams and the artistic process to "dance one's dream" (Jung 1961) and to express and contact symbolic information from the unconscious.  This was used to understand what was "meant to be" for a person.

     Dance therapy as we know it today emerged gradually.  While Marion Chace was developing the groundwork of dance therapy on the east coast in the 1940s, Mary Starks Whitehouse began exploring a form of dance work that evolved from a creative dance class into a deeper process of exploration that was having an impact on the lives of people studying with her.  Both Marion Chace and Mary Starks Whitehouse had studied and performed dance quite extensively before exploring what has become known as dance therapy.

1. Mary Whitehouse

     "Mary Whitehouse was a European trained American dance teacher.  After Jungian analysis she began to draw connections between the authentic or genuine expressions of her students and the flow of symbolic material they shared at the end of the class." (Penny Bernstein, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 5)  She worked primarily in a studio with people whom she called "normal neurotics."  "'Normal neurotics' are people who are needing to discover and deal with personal life problems.  They are functioning at what are called normal.  They have just many if not as flagrant problems as people in hospitals.  It is only that they manage their lives with 'quiet desperation' instead of being markedly left out." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 51)  It was at the end of each class that she began looking at what it was she was actually doing.  Mary Whitehouse felt she was "giving an opening for people to discover for themselves something different." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 61)  She did not push people but rather respected each person's process.  Mary gave people time and space to explore and discover through movement more knowledge about themselves. 

     She realized that she was no longer teaching a dance class.  Something had shifted.  "In order to find what moved people, I needed to give up images in them and in myself of what it meant to dance." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 53)  "The word therapy was already creeping into dance language.  I had some resistance to it.  It seemed to imply that I knew and that the person who came to me did not know; I had the feeling it could not possibly be true in my situation even if it was true of other people." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 53)  Mary's work began being called Movement in Depth.

     The philosophy or theory of her work came out of doing it and learning by experimenting rather than analyzing or being taught.  She states that the person leading or teaching needs to be whole in him/herself; that there is not one way of working that everyone should follow.  She says that what needs to develop is an atmosphere of mutual trust.

     Mary does not distinguish between teacher/leader/mediator nor between student-of-movement/client-who-comes for help/or patient.  She states that all are present in a session.  For simplicity, in this paper I will use the words interchangeably when referring to Mary's work.

     Her first and basic attitude is that the teacher/leader must begin where the student/client is.  To do this one must be, "willing to be anonymous of oneself in favor of observing, quickly and without barriers what is available to that individual." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 60)  Mary tapped into the unconscious with imagery and let people explore for themselves. 

     She worked with three basic concepts.  One was polarity.  This includes left/right, up/down, open/close.  The two sides worked separately and then as a unit.  One might lie on the floor and visualize a line down the middle of one's body.  There would be time to feel each side separately, to become aware of each side's feelings, textures, etc.  When one was ready he/she would begin moving just from the right side.  When this was complete, the left side would begin moving.  At some point the sides might have a dialogue or conversation through movement.  Another possibility would be a drawing from the right side and one from the left side before this dialogue.

     Another concept she used was that of authentic movement.  Authentic movement is simple and "inevitable" movement.  It belongs to the person.  It is unlearned.  It is the truth.  Mary uses the phrase, "I move, I am moved."  Authentic movement is that in which I am moved.  The ego gives up control and surrenders to the unconscious.  A leader might guide a student/client in taking the time to tune into one's authentic expression.  A leader would then witness this process.

     The third concept is that of active imagination.  This is a concept that comes from Mary's work with an Jungian analysis.  "The process itself is one of discusses the living reality of the unconscious." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 54)  Through improvising with one's imagination and moving the symbols, the unconscious is brought to a more conscious level.  One way that this could be used is through guided imagery.  A leader might guide a student/client to visualize his/her chest, to imagine what it looks like.  Someone might say an empty warehouse, or a dark cobwebbed cave.  Using that image, the leader would begin by asking how large, what color, what does a warehouse feel like, is there anyone in there?, etc.  The leader would bring the symbol to more of a concrete level of awareness.  As a leader one watches the student/client until there is a completion of the process and more self-knowledge is attained. 

     "The job of the teacher is to see how one who is moving feels." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 60)  He/she needs to "allow the mover to find satisfaction in what is happening before more is suggested.  The mover needs to sink into the movement."  (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 60) "The teacher needs to give up all preconceptions of what would be good.  She needs to let go of all assumptions of the importance of what she knows."  "She doesn't know anything in this particular situation."  (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 60)  She needs to use hunches and intuition and yet be sensitive to a student's process and needs.  This may involve allowing time and space for a student to explore on his/her own.  "Since the process is a development of self-knowledge, with growth of individuation and conscious wholeness, there is no use in excessive verbal directions or explanations.  A chance is taken when seen, a chance that has to be taken, or the development from that point cannot be followed."  (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy,  p. 61)

     "Genuine" involvement is needed from the client/student.  She/he needs to be willing to allow whatever happens to show.  If a client is resistent or cannot do this, the therapist would work with the response that does surface.  This is the genuine response and can be worked with.  The leader/teacher and student have to hold an act of attention and follow what happens.  Mary says, "The movement leads, the mover follows."

     The teacher also must be familiar with her own process and this way of working for her/himself.  "Physical movement is a way of finding a revelation of the self.  It is a way of relating both to the inner and the outer world."  (Mary Whitehouse, "Physical Movement and Personality")

     Mary worked privately, individually and in groups.  People have their own individual experience within groups.  Some groups worked with their relationship in the group.  Sometimes she had weekly and ongoing sessions or did one day or weekend workshops.  "Each workshop contained a nearly equal number of technical exercises or actions plus improvisations based on the group or single explorations of specific situations.  Images were given, pictorial beginnings, allowing members to find their own responses."

     "Any change has to come through consciousness; awareness first of one's actual condition and second of the possible meaning of that condition." (Mary Whitehouse, "Creative Experience in Physical Movement is Language without Words")  There is a need to connect with ourselves.  There is a need for moving without purpose to become aware of ourselves. Mary describes some awareness activities and other group work that is similar to that of exercises in contact improvisation.  I will discuss them further in the paper.

     During the early part of Mary Whitehouse's work she read an article about, "a dancer who had made use of movement to reach people who had no intention of becoming a dancer nor even of using dance purely as recreation." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 51)  That dancer was Marion Chace.

2. Marion Chace

     Marion Chace also studied and performed as a dancer.  She studied at the Denishaw School.  She said that she was more interested in dance as a tool than in performing.  In the Denishaw company she learned that,  "there are many ways to move depending on cultural, religious, philosophical motivation." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 9)  She learned to function within a group with ideas of others or as a soloist initiating ideas.  This is the basis of her work.

     After dancing in Denishaw she moved to Washington D.C. and with Ted Shawn and her husband began a school.  At the school in the thirties Marion noticed that there were people at the school who never wanted to be professional dancers.  Two groups formed.  "One group was those receiving support and development as dancers and the other group was receiving support and development as human beings." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 11)  She became interested in, "action and interaction of people who were lacking in the ability to move with rhythm or coordination.  She was interested in what they found to help them feel at ease." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 7)

     This work and interest led Marion Chace into working in schools with children with the use of rhythmic action.  The use of rhythm came to be a foundation in her work.  She began exploring this work with a group of adolescents who were in detention centers and orphanages.  People began coming to her for private work.  One such woman was schizophrenic.  Word got around and a psychiatrist from St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a large psychiatric hospital in Washington D.C., watched her work and recommended that she come to St. Elizabeth's. At that point Marion called her work "dance as communication."

     Her contribution lies in the development of the interpersonal role of the therapist on a movement level.  Marion Chace developed what we now call dance therapy at St. Elizabeth's.  She worked with all patients.  Most sessions were done in ward areas so that people could come and go.  Most sessions were group experiences, but Chace also worked individually with people who needed more direct contact.  Marion worked with people who were not comfortable in social interactions.  Through the use of rhythm and a circle, Marion was able to make contact with patients who were a problem for the staff.  In fact they were the people she preferred to work with because they needed the work the most.  She felt, "there are few, if any really inaccessible patients." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 81)  Her groups ranged in size from 8-10 people to 40-60 people.

     "The basic principle of the discipline of dance therapy is an aware communication in nonverbal terms." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 21)  Marion Chase's work was based on "a movement of nonverbal communication and was therefore a medium which met even the withdrawn patient with tools that were understandable to him." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 22)  By making use of this basic form of communication, Marion offered an individual a means of relating to the environment or to people when s/he was cut off in the majority of areas by the patterns of her/his illness.

     "The feeling that s/he is completely alone seems to be the overwhelming problem of the mental patient." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 55)  Marion used rhythm as a means of breaking through the isolation of a patient, making contact and helping him/her to accept another person without fear.  This is similar to the initial phase of contact improvisation.  This was done by accepting the way in which a patient was moving and by withdrawing when the patient has had this close contact for as long as s/he could tolerate.  She began a relationship that cut through the isolation at least temporarily.

     She used a circle to bring people into group interaction and to receive group support.  She said the "circle was like a magnet drawing them in." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 53)

     The goals of a session at St. Elizabeth's were, "movement about the room, physical action in harmony with a group, and relaxation of tension. (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 54)

     Marion Chace started her session the instant the door was unlocked and she entered the ward.  She respected the mood of the ward with her choice of music.  She did not impose or try to change what already existed.  Marion worked with four basic concepts in her session.  The first was body action.  She viewed distortions in body shape and functions as responses to conflict and pain.  The patient needed to feel ready to move.  The therapist helped the patient when s/he was ready to move and be moved.

     The second concept was the use of symbolism.  She would give a patient time and space "to recall, reinforce, and relive" parts of his/her life or unconscious.  Through dance, a patient was given expression to her/his subjective emotions, to convey in a single moment the complexity and depth of feelings that could not be put into words.

     "Chace entered a patient's world by reenacting the essential constellation of movement characterizing her/his expression. By reproducing the significant gesture at the right time and for only as long as the patient would accept it, Chace established trust, leading patients to communicate repressed ideas and feelings and to risk new experiences and relationships." (Marion Chace, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, P. 18)  The therapeutic movement relationship was the third concept Marion Chace worked with in a session.  "I know how you feel," was the message that she conveyed moving with a patient.  She did "not merely try to mirror the movement, she used her own body motion to understand, and thereby communicate, the acceptance and validity of expression." (Marion Chace, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 22)  This was done initially with eye contact or with some reflective movement.  This was with or without physical contact depending on the patient's needs.  "Chace was aware that answering movement in similar forms dissipates the feelings of apartness whereas a battle of words increases that feeling." (Marion Chace, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 23)

     The first three concepts are part of the warm-up. The warm-up was to mobilize the group's capacity for emotional expression and social interaction.  This went on until the group was committed.  She knew this when the group was ready to come together and form a circle.  She then chose themes that came from the warm-up to work with the group together.

     The fourth concept was group development and support in a rhythmic activity.  This included structure in time or everyday activities put into movement, the ebb and flow of breath which she felt were personal human rhythms and the group moved together with one breath and one pulse.  Individuals received security and strength from the group.  Chace saw rhythm as a therapeutic tool for communication and body awareness. The leader, she felt needed to go the speed of the lower half of the class.  The faster or more efficient people could take care of themselves and the slower people could get an opportunity to be in a socially interactive situation that could be positive for them.  Marion often used waltzes in her groups because she found them to be neutral.  Sometimes she would have people waltz in couples for about five minutes as the circle was forming.  She made moment to moment decisions following the group.  The spontaneous changes in the group enables the patient to meet new situations with new responses.

     There was always a warm down or time of resolution for the group. Closure was important for people to return to the circle as individuals part of a whole group.  It was a time to slow down and prepare for ending.

     "Chace set long range goals in keeping with the limitations of each individual.  Aware of possible directions that she might take for each person and for the group as a whole, she structured each session with its own goals.  Short ranged goals changed from moment to moment as relationships developed and patients risked new experiences." (Marion Chace, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy,  p. 21) "Dance is a way for a mental patient to make initial contact with others, to get support form a group and finally a means by which the patient becomes more aware of her/himself as an entity functioning with others." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 77) "Dance is a means of relating when other means are restricted or absent."

     The leader was there to help the process. The leader needed to be a relaxed participant and needed to take part in the session "actively and with personal enjoyment." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 79) In fact Marion felt strongly that there were no observers.  Staff, nurses, etc. joined into the session.  Everyone was equal and part of the group.  She felt this was a place where "relationships got strengthened." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 55)

     Marion believed that mental patients were "people living in their emotions." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 62)  She states that she was "merely a person creating a favorable situation for others to make use of the dance and for a moment to live."  (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 62)

     Patients comment on her work.  They call it "nourishment", "essential", "food for our soul".  She commented that "the frequency of comparing  music/dance rhythm to food and to the bridge it makes for communication with other is because both lie in the area of physical satisfaction and gratification. One must have a feeling of self, an energetic self, before one can reach out to others.  Physical satisfaction comes from the awareness of self and others at the same moment, while participating in some form of tonal harmony." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 65)

     Although Marion Chace and Mary Starks Whitehouse had styles that are unique and individual, their work with dance and movement was similar.  Both respected the people that they worked with.  People became more aware of their bodies and their selves.  For some it broke a pattern of isolation.  Work was done with the unconscious as well as being in contact with themselves and others on a movement level.  The work was powerful and healing.  It changed people's lives.  They started working and later looked back and began figuring out just what it was they had been doing.

B. Contact Improvisation

1. Steve Paxton

     Steve Paxton, the founder of the form of contact improvisation, began an exploration of movement that continued to grow as a process.  Steve had studied modern dance with Limon, Cunningham and other modern dancers.  He began using ordinary or pedestrian movement in his dances.  Steve attended a choreography class taught by Robert Ellis Dunn at Cunningham's studio.  Dunn was a piano accompanist who had played for Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham.  A group of dancers, most of whom had been part of Dunn's class, wanted a place to perform and share their own work with an audience.  This began to take place at Judson Church.  Yvonne Rainer, one of these people, later began 'Continuous Project Altered Daily'.  This eventually grew into a leaderless improvisational group called Grand Union.  During a Grand Union residency at Oberlin College in Ohio in January of 1972 Steve developed a piece of work with 11 men in which, "they threw, caught, flung, collided and fell continuously for 10 minutes.  Then they stood for a few minutes.  This was called Magnesium." (Contact Quarterly, Vol. V #3/4)  This piece was the seminal work of contact improvisation.

     It was in June of 1972 that Steve gathered together "some of the best athletes that I had run into in the course of a year or two." (Nancy Stark Smith and Lisa Nelson, Contact Quarterly, Vol. V #3/4)  These were both men and women who came together at Weber Gallery in New York City to explore the principles of communication that were first uncovered in Magnesium.  The people were, "Laura Chapmen, Steve Christiansen (video), Barbara Dilley, Leon Felder, Mary Fulkerson, Danny Lepkoff, Nita Little, Alice Lusterman, Curt Siddall, Nancy Stark Smith, Nancy Topf, David Woodberry, Emily Seige, Tim Butler, Mark Peterson, Tom Hast."(Nancy Stark Smith and Lisa Nelson, Contact Quarterly, Vol. V #3/4)

     This group worked for two weeks exploring what they called 'Contact Improvisation.'  It was raw material and new work for these people.  They were working with the physical forces of gravity, momentum, inertia, the force of one body hurling into another and finding out what has to happen. 

     During the second week of this group's work, people were invited in to watch what this group was doing.  This established some of the norms of contact improvisation.  Many performances to follow were informal. "You Come We'll Show You What We Do" was the title of a series of performances in California in 1973 that some of the people from this original group created.  Several years later some of this group regathered and developed a group called ReUnion.  Other groups slowly began to spring up.  There has become a community of contactors that network all over the world.  A newsletter was set up as a form for further communication.  This newsletter has now become a journal, Contact Quarterly - a vehicle for moving ideas.  Nancy Stark Smith is one of the co-editors.

     The work from the original group was documented on video.  "Chute" was a video made from this work.  "Fall After Newton" is a new video documenting the years of 1972-1983.  Steve narrates both of these video documents.

     What is contact improvisation?  There has always been some ambiguity as to exactly what contact improvisation is.  "When, in 1972, this group of dancers began work on contact improvisation, it was a was a study of the way communication was possible through touch.  The movement which resulted from contact improvising was non-rationalized, intuitive movement leading to unforeseen phrasing, positions and gambits.  Basing movement upon intimate communication was appealing to me, after years of technical modern training." (Steve Paxton)

     "Contact improvisation is not a form of set movements phrases but an approach to movement in which the student moves from the motivations of reflex and intuition.  If a student has been rolling the body on the floor for 20 minutes he/she might search for further thoughts.  The student's mind becomes witness to the body and the sensations of movement." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VI #2)  "Contact improvisation is an activity related to familiar duet forms such as the embrace, wrestling, martial arts, and the jitterbug, encompassing the range of movement from stillness to highly athletic.  The exigencies of the form dictate a mode of movement which is relaxed, constantly aware and prepared, and on-flowing.  As a basic focus, the dancers remain in physical touch, mutually supportive and innovative, meditating upon the physical laws relating to their masses:  gravity, momentum, inertia and friction.  They do not strive to achieve results but rather, to meet the constantly changing physical reality with appropriate placement and energy." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. IV #2)

     Nancy Stark Smith said that, "The definition is in the doing."(Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #3/4)  The practice itself is how one learns what it is.  The practice teaches the form.

     "Teaching has taught me that humans operate under a wider variety of senses and perceptions than I had imagined, that each student has tuned his/her senses differently in relation to his/her experiences.  One of the first jobs is to tune the senses for the dance at hand.  New perceptions should not be forced, but instead, suggested or invited.  It began as a communicative movement form, then there were technical developments to implement extremes of the form.  We were contact improvisation.  Contact is not a form of solitaire. It is done in the form of a duet." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VI #2)

     The form was not named after Steve Paxton.  He left enough ambiguity that anyone coming to do contact improvisation had to go into the form to explore what is and not have a set technique to practice.

     Nancy Stark Smith once heard a woman talking after a discussion about contact improvisation, "'They know what it is but they just won't tell.  That Steve Paxton has passed on a legacy of ambiguity that keeps everyone from saying what it is, but they know.'  I laughed when I heard her but I've thought about what she said a lot since then.  And I think she's right.  Not only did Steve offer a dance, but a built-in way of keeping it alive." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VII #3/4)

     "Contact improvisation was chosen as a name because it expresses itself well.  It is definitely a physical art and you deal with the other person physically but there also is all the other aspects of a person that are contacting each other." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

     When someone asked Steve what the point of contact was  he answered, "Just the pleasure of moving and the pleasure of using your body is, I think maybe the main point.  And the pleasure of dancing with somebody in an unplanned and spontaneous way; where you're free to invent and they are free to invent and you're neither one hampering the other - that's a very pleasant social form." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

     Although there is not a set technique, there are guidelines, pieces that have been developed over the years that have aided beginning contactors in learning to give their weight, to experience gravity, to experience disorientation and create a safety for partners and for oneself in learning to fall, roll, relax. The form itself is the real teacher.  Each person learns form his/her own body, gathering information from each dance, from each partner.  The teacher/leader guides this process.

     "The learner learns to be partly the self and partly the teacher thus the implantation continues through the generations so that the skill for our arts is the model of no model.  The dancing does the teaching.  The teacher points to that. (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

2. Nancy Stark Smith

     Nancy Stark Smith is one teacher/leader whose style I have chosen to discuss because of my personal connection with her work.  She is one of the original members of Steve's first group in Weber Gallery.  Nancy Stark Smith is one of the people who has developed the teaching of contact improvisation.

     Recently I was involved in a project of 16 people in Northampton, Massachusetts exploring and deepening into the work of contact improvisation.  Nancy Stark Smith was the organizer.  We were also exploring improvisation as a form.  I have studied with Nancy Stark Smith for several years, in large classes and in small groups.  I feel she is not only articulate verbally but also clear in her body.  I respect her style of working and the way she integrates her life into her work and her work into her life.  I interviewed her after a session of work during this project.  Most of the tape did not come out. Therefore I am relying on my memory.  The quotes in the next section are from this interview in January 1988 unless otherwise noted.  I have also chosen to paraphrase some of the conversation because I can not be sure of the accuracy of my memory.

     Nancy Stark Smith first met Steve at Oberlin College.  She took a morning sunrise class from him.  They met and did 'soft movement' and other practices at sunrise every morning.  She saw the performance of "Magnesium" and was interested in what Steve was doing.  She told him if he ever got a group together again and wanted to work with women to give her a call.  Later that year she went to New York City to work with Steve and other people that he had gathered.

     Nancy Stark Smith was an athlete and a gymnast.  She had been dancing for a few years before she met Steve.  She began teaching because, "people asked me to."  She began without an idea of how she would teach.  It was different than working with the group.  People had different experiences, some did not know how to roll or give weight.  She had to see what was known what was needed and then develop exercises or ideas to work out some of the missing pieces.  She said that there were a few fundamentals or basics that were usually present.  "They do change a bit over time which ones I'm focusing on at a given point or thinking are missing from the work at a given point that need to be restimulated or that I'm working on or new ones that are growing as the ground spreads."

     There are basics that continue to be important.  One of these is learning to experience one's own weight and to experience the physical forces, such as gravity.  Another skill to learn is the sensation of the skeletal structure so that one can take weight safely.  It is also important to feel the distinction between muscular and skeletal support.  Relaxing seems important in feeling any of this.  Disorientation and working in spherical space are important skills to learn.  There are probably more.  These are basics that Nancy might focus on during a warm up or class by class depending on what kind of work she was doing.

     We talked about the safety needed for contact.  We both briefly acknowledged that there was emotional safety involved which was individual for each person.  Nancy felt most people came to her classes wanting to dance, knowing something about contact improvisation and were drawn to it.  She suggested that, if a person's physical safety was taken care of that perhaps the emotional safety would be also. (Sometimes I have found the reverse to be true too.  If a person's emotional safety was taken care of then a person felt secure enough to take more physical risks.)  Nancy felt that the floor or the surface needed to be safe such as no cracks or loose boards or rocks (if outdoors), etc.  She said initially in beginning classes she matched partners in being close in size for safety.  She includes falls and rolls in a warm up and works within the sphere of one's ability.

     I asked Nancy if she felt contact improvisation was appropriate for anyone.  Nancy felt that, "Some situations may not be appropriate for everyone.  For example, it may not be appropriate for someone with a physical disability to be in a large mixed ability class, though this does not mean that this person is not appropriate for contact improvisation.  It might mean that this person might need a situation in which he/she could have more specialized attention or on a one to one basis."  She also said it might not be appropriate for people on drugs that have side effects to be in a class.  For example, Nancy once had a student in a class who had recently been hospitalized in a psychiatric setting and was on a prescription drug that affected her perception and balance.  She had hallucinations.  Nancy felt concerned that she wouldn't know what was real to this woman.  The woman's reactions and affect was not necessarily in relation to the actual situation.  "It was difficult to read what was really happening with her."  They talked and worked out an arrangement in which the woman sat on the side when she herself perceived too much disorientation.  Nancy felt on a one to one basis this kind of situation could possibly be better worked with; though it did work.

     In my experiences issues do arise for some people in regard to touch, being supported, giving weight, being close, being uncomfortable, etc.  I asked Nancy how she dealt with this.  She said that especially with people new to the form that she simply directs their attention to what they are doing.  Initially it's mostly physical survival.  People are needing to be present in what they are doing in order to work safely.  People come because they want to be there.

     I asked her who should teach.  Nancy felt that through teaching people tend to learn more, and get clearer.  There are no inherent limitations as to who teaches.  She felt that people begin teaching for a variety of reasons; one might need a partner, there are a number of people asking for a teacher, etc.  It is important to respect the entity of contact improvisation so that a beginner would know what contact improvisation is.  She also was supportive of people taking the form and stretching within it, or stretching it into new forms as I am doing, bringing contact improvisation into my work with movement therapy.  There are no restrictions or rules about who can use the work.  There is new work that is being created.  As the people that do contact improvisation grow so does the dance.  However, references need to be clear as to what contact improvisation is so that it stays distinct.

     Through workshops and projects and jams that have been created  around the country a community has developed.  People often have danced with a person who danced with you at a certain point.  The dance feels familiar, perhaps you know a person who rolled on this back.


     Contact Vocabulary

     There also seems to have become a vocabulary in contact improvisation that is familiar to contact dancers.  I am going to select a few terms to describe that I will use later in my paradigm of 'contact/movement therapy' in this paper.  Some of this vocabulary is more confined to work with Nancy Stark Smith.  I will make reference to these.

     There is often a personal warm up in a contact improvisation class.  This is a time in which a person enters the studio and begins moving in a way which his or her body needs in order to 'arrive.'  This means bringing one's whole self to the class.  This might mean lying on the floor for a while or running or slowly stretching.  Although everyone is individually working, often the group begins to establish a group mind, a shared energy. 

     At some point there is often time in which people begin making contact with others in the room.  There becomes an intention in the room of "exchange or the desire to communicate." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. IX #2)  Sometimes this is done through duets or through a whole group movement in which different kinds of contact might be explored (i.e. using glances or eye contact; using movement in a small space, using light touch (physical touch in which no or little weight is exchanged); falling together etc.)  This may develop naturally or may be guided by a teacher or leader.

     One exercise Steve used in "Magnesium" and continues to be used is the 'stand' or the 'small dance'.  "Well, first of all, it's a fairly easy perception:  all you have to do is stand up and then relax -you know- and at a certain point you realize that you've relaxed everything that you can relax but you're still standing and in that standing is quite a lot of minute movement...the skeleton holding you upright even though you're mentally relaxing... Call it the 'small dance' ...It was a name chosen largely because it's quite descriptive of the situation and   because while you're doing the stand and feeling the 'small dance' you're aware that you're not 'doing' it, so in a way, you're watching yourself perform; watching your body perform its function.  And your mind is not figuring anything out and not searching for any answers or being used as an active instrument but is being used as a lens to focus on certain perceptions." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

     There are some variations on this theme. Nancy Stark Smith describes basically the same exercise with a slightly different focus. "Align your skeleton along the forces of gravity, sending your weight evenly down through your bones back to the earth.  Remember the center of the earth, its density.  Empty of idea, full of sensation, feel the small dance, the delicate inner balancing act of a two-legged creature; falling gently on and off center, weaving about your axis.  Feel the rise of the Earth's strength back through your bones, supporting your stand." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

     During 'the stand' or 'small dance there is a condition of vertical rest, one in which the skeleton is balanced so that the muscles don't have to work to hold the body up.  There are small adjustments and rebalancings that occur.  Some of which are not distinguishable from the outside to an onlooker.  "In exploring the small dance of skeletal alignment while standing, I am sensing subtle falls of parts of the skeleton." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol VII #3/4)  This is an exercise in sensitizing the self to the inner movement of one's own body and experiencing the pull of gravity while remaining grounded, allowing one's weight to fall through the foot into the ground.

     Another term that would be familiar to contactors that have worked with Nancy Stark Smith is states.  Nancy refers to an energetic, sometimes emotional quality that is reflective in the movement.  Most often this arises from a physical movement that creates an atmosphere or environment.  Examples would be the five elements (earth, air, water, fire, ether) or a heavy state, or what Nancy would call an oceanic state.

     Counterbalancing is another term.  This is done usually in twos. There is a shared control between the two people.  This may be done with arms or other body parts.  The two balance their weights by creating a tension through pulling away from or pushing toward each other.  A balance is found in which either person alone would fall without the support of the other's weight.  The two play with slow shifts changing the point of balance.

     Another word that Nancy Stark Smith refers to is 'depth of touch'. This is the level at which one person contacts another.  One may contact through the level of skin or deeper by contact the musculature.  Although this refers to the physical contact of one person to another, I experience the energetic contact as well.  One exercise that works with this is when one the person puts physical weight into the touch or point of contact of another.  One person stands while the other places a hand on a place on that person's body.  Both allow weight to pour into that point of touch and then let the point empty of weight.  This may lead into a duet which Nancy refers to as light touch.  This is a dance continuing with a point of contact between two people with little or no weight bearing.

     'Giving weight' is another term common in the contact language.  There is an image often used of sand pouring.  One might be lying on the floor imaging sand or his/her weight slowly pouring into the floor or this might be done in partners, pouring weight into one point of contact of the partner.  It may also be done quickly.

     There is also receiving weight or being a support.  There are different ways of practicing this.  One way is 'surfing'.  This is when one person is doing a log roll (literally rolling like a log) the other rolls or glides over as if catching a wave and gets a ride. Another is called 'sluffing'.  One person stands, the other leans into the person and slides off maintaining a point of contact as his/her weight falls with gravity towards the floor.  One other practice is 'the table or posting'.  This is done in various levels.  One is on all fours.  A person drapes all of his/her weight on the table and then rolls off.  This can also be done in an ironing board stand, or by taking the weight on a hip or shoulder.  The practice of these simply is a practice.  Since the dance is improvised, it is also necessary to practice improvising with these concepts.

     A 'jam' is a practice environment in which no one is leading.  It is usually unstructured.  People come to dance.  Sometimes included in a jam is a 'round robin'.  In a class environment sometimes a round robin is a done as a practice.  It is done in a circle.  One person (A) goes in and dances.  Another (B) joins in.  They dance.  At some point a third person (C) joins in and (A) leaves.  (B) and (C) dance and eventually (D) enters and (B) leaves, etc.  Who goes with whom is not arranged and the dancing is improvised.  Mary Whitehouse also used this format in her groups.

     "As the participants circle around the space a dynamic environment is created; in response to this environment, the dancers allow certain beginnings to occur.  Intention and forcefulness have nothing to do with all of this.  The dance is ever changing, never the same.  A series of events takes place as uninterrupted, pure transition from a beginning to an end.  Working with contact improvisation is discovering how it feels to let this transition take place organically.  In each individual duet it becomes apparent when an ending needs to happen.  The dancers are obligated by the form to let these endings occur." (Curt Siddall, Contact Quarterly, Vol. II, #1)

     These are some exercises and vocabulary that are familiar to most contactors.  Contact improvisation is a form in which a person could enter another city and be able to dance with an unknown partner from that city without discussing how it is to be done.  Half of the name of the form is improvisation.  It is moving without knowing or planning the next step.  Being in contact with another person, feeling both weights physically and allowing the physical forces to be present allows the mutual freedom of movement in body and mind.

     "This brings us to the non-physical part of this dancing; the state of being or mind permitting mutual freedom, with mutual reliance.  The mind is kept empty of preconceptions and memories; it is in the present moments only, meditating on the potentials and on the easiest paths in the energy construct which are available to both dancers:  it is a state of abandon; trust in the self and in each other must be total.  The ability to help each other and  one's self must be ever ready: through constant movement one pursues mutual ease in constant mutual change.  The dancer's weight is only his to give; not to possess." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. X #2)

     In summary, contact improvisation is a movement form that includes trust, support, taking risks, touch, moving into the unknown and remaining in contact with another.  It is playful, nurturing, opening and expanding.


A. Comparison of Contact Improvisation and Dance/Movement Therapy

     In practicing and teaching contact improvisation for years I have often heard, "Maybe it's not therapy but it sure is therapeutic."  This statement has been provocative.  I have witnessed my own change and transformation physically and emotionally over the years of doing contact and even during a single session or class.  I have seen students walk out in a state far different than when he/she came in.  There is something about rolling for an extended period, about being touched  being supported physically and supporting others that is indeed healing; that is indeed therapeutic.  What distinguishes it from being movement therapy?  What is it in the form that is similar to dance/movement therapy?  How can contact improvisation support me as a therapist?  How does contact improvisation affect my therapy sessions?

     I have chosen to compare dance/movement therapy with contact improvisation using two dance/movement therapists, Mary Stark Whitehouse and Marion Chace for reference and Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith and a few other members of the contact community for references.  I will compare both the similarities and differences in theory and practice comparing how touch is used in each, how support is used, and how change is perceived.  I will also discuss the duet form in each form:  the two partners in contact and the therapist/client in movement therapy.  I will explore the nature of improvisation and contact in each form.  To complete this section, I will discuss my personal connection with both forms and how I perceive my role and my connection with each.

     As a partner, the dance therapist is somewhat different than the contact improvisation partner.  However, as a model, the contact improvisation duet is useful for the dance therapist.  In contact improvisation each person is a witness for both him/herself and for his/her partner.  I feel this is similar to dance therapy.  Mary Whitehouse described an experience using dance/movement therapy.  "It was here in the passages of movement between two people that it became clear how much more immediate movement is than words.  The physical situation, the actual movement can be felt directly in the nerves and the muscles, not glossed over by politeness or distorted by automatic agreement.  I saw how some tend to lead and some to follow, some take the initiative and some lay back; how some want to give continuously and some wait to receive." (Mary Whitehouse, "The Tao of the Body")

     The contact improvisation partner responds to the movement of her/his partner.  The feedback is immediate, direct and physical.  This communication is often in relation to a partner's weight or touch.  It is a sensitive relationship in which one is aware of oneself and one's partner creating a dialogue, a conversation.  Through this awareness something happens.  One may arrive physically in a place that was unknown.  Often both partners are moved to a new place both physically and emotionally.

     I feel that this is also true of movement therapy (and ideally happens for both partners).  By witnessing a client, the therapist invites an awareness that encourages a client to become more aware of what he/she is feeling.  By also being aware of her/his self the therapist becomes aware of his/her feelings.  Through responding from this place of being aware, he/she gives the client direct feedback.  This feedback often brings a deeper awareness to the client of what is happening to him/her.  A client may realize more about his/her process.  He /she may 'own' his//her feelings by responding back to the therapist in some way.  A dialogue may occur in which each partner responds honestly.  Sometimes there becomes an acceptance of each person's feelings.  Through this there may be a change or a new awareness.


     In both forms there is a cycle.  Sometimes this is quite instantaneous and sometimes the process takes longer.  In both forms there is a need to make some sort of contact (not necessarily physical), to build trust, give or receive support, develop the partnership or relationship, and end it.

     The Contract 

     One of the major differences between contact improvisation and dance/movement therapy that I am aware of as I begin writing is that Marion Chace refers to the people she works with as patients, Mary Whitehouse broadens that to include clients/students and Steve Paxton refers to people practicing contact as contactors and writes to these people as peers (and occasionally students).  This is partially true because contact improvisation is not perceived as a therapy.  There is an equal relationship in the contact partnership.  This is also partially reflective of the setting each form is practiced in.  Marion Chace practiced primarily in the back wards of a mental institution.  Mary Whitehouse practiced in a dance studio.  Steve Paxton primarily practiced with dancers and artists in a studio and in art galleries.  Steve was often improvising and creating with the people he was working with.  Mary was most often the witness of her clients/students and stayed separate, guiding them in their process.  Though Marion danced with her patients, she maintained a separation that was distinct.

     The intention in each relationship seems to be one of the primary distinctions to me.  In a therapy situation a person contracts in some way to this particular relationship.  There is permission and training for the therapist to work in a psychotherapeutic mode which may include the person's history, emotional states, etc.  The person also has a certain permission in the way he/she responds to the work and a certain expectation of what he/she can expect from the relationship. 

     This differs from the contract of being both in a class and in a contact duet.  As a person in a class, the contract for the person is loosely stated as being present and for the most part cooperative.  In the partnership relationship a person is responsible for him/herself first, especially in terms of safety.  Then he/she is responsible to his/her partner.  Although there is no spoken contract to be emotionally supportive to a partner, there is often support given.  Often partners do not even know each other's name, let alone what they do for a living or if they had a difficult childhood.  A teacher also knows little about people in the class, perhaps a little about their contact history.  In both forms people come to 'improve'.  There is desire for change.


     In both forms the partner or the therapist 'improvises'.  Marion Chace walked into a room and found out what she needed to begin without many questions.  Her work with patients was primarily nonverbal.  Mary Whitehouse also utilized the moment to determine the next step.  Contact improvisation too derives its moves from spontaneous responses.  This is felt physically through the point of contact with a partner.  A partner remains open and sensitive to the other person and follows the path of least resistance.

     The Duet

     I would like to compare the similarities and differences between the dyadic relationship between the client/therapist relationship and that of a contact duet partnership.  The areas that I will discuss are in reference to breaking isolation, nurturing, touch, trust, support, taking risks and improvisation/spontaneity.

      Breaking Isolation

     A duet or partnership inherently involves at least two people.  This breaks the isolation of a client/patient/student/partner.  Being in contact with another involves some level of intimacy and sharing.  This itself may be powerful.  Both contact improvisation and movement therapy use the duet in their practice.  "Marion used rhythm to break the isolation of a patient, making contact." (Marion Chace, Eight Theoretical Approaches in Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 23.)


     In both contact improvisation and dance/movement therapy there is a quality of nurturance.  In my experience, often clients at some point discover ways of receiving nurturance through movement or from me as a therapist.  This might be through rocking, lying still, relaxing, curling up on soft pillows, etc.  As a therapist I might guide a client with my voice into  relaxation or guide him/her into finding movement or a way of sitting that is comfortable or I might make physical contact with this person with my hand, etc.  I also might use music that is soft, etc.  "It is through temporary dependency on the therapist that the patient can come back and be able to use his/her own body to create his/her own body image." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 223)

     In contact improvisation people often come to this form of dance for its nurturance.  It is often relaxing.  Many describe it as a moving massage.  There is not a specific series of movements a person is required to learn but rather movement from a view point of one's own body.  The physical touch is nurturing.

     As a partner there are times in which one might "work with the possibility of being involved solely for the sake of our partner," (Randy Warshaw, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VII #3/4).  By this I am referring to a one sided relationship.  In a therapy situation, a therapist is often involved for the sake of the client.  In a contact improvisation duet this might mean giving one's partner ledges or places to climb onto or supporting the partner's entire weight.  There is an activity in which one partner is completely passive and the other is the active person or mover.  One surrenders, the other takes care of.  I have also used this activity in a dance/movement therapy session with clients who have difficulty receiving

       Weight and Support

     The giving and taking of weight and the giving and receiving of support have somewhat different qualities in contact improvisation and in dance/movement therapy, yet there is some similarity also.  Mary Whitehouse describes an activity that is similar to Steve's 'small dance; or the 'stand'.  "Give attention to the body as it is sitting.  Movement is the flow of energy that belongs to all livingness because it is natural for us to move.  We can discover a great deal about ourselves.  We can explore sensations and feelings that we did not know we had.  We can extend the range and freedom of our physical gestures.  We can learn to trust and express our own spontaneous reactions.  We can allow all movement to be creative."

     She also describes an exercise about experiencing weight that is similar to a beginning exercise in contact improvisation.  "...feel the contact of part of your body touching and even pressing into and out of the floor.  The floor becomes a partner; the focus is on up and down.  Up and down becomes mutually inter-dependent; they connects pushing into and away from the earth.  They connect lifting and reaching with sinking into the floor.  Connect with the floor up.  Find a connection inside." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches to Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 66)

     Steve describes an exercise that is similar to the one Mary Whitehouse described.  "Begin to move slowly around the room, not just on your hands, not just on your feet, not just on your legs, not just on your arms, rise and fall a lot, move on all surfaces....feel the weight how 'down' is functioning.  It's a deliberate and patient journey, travel on any surface.  See, because your weight is being taken by the earth and vice versa.  Your mass at your center of gravity.  The giving is where the play comes.  There's you and the room to play with. Every so often pause and feel what stops.  When you start, feel what goes. " (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, Vol. III #1)

     The use of weight can be used as support.  "The weight of my arms can help you to lift your arms." (Marion Chace, Her papers, p. 223) This can also be emotional weight.  Physical exercises in experiencing weight can bring emotional weight to the surface.  Feeling the weight of one's head and moving it, allowing the weight of the body to pour into the floor as sand might, and pouring one's weight onto a post are examples of contact exercises in weight. 

     "Trying to stop or hold too much weight is dangerous.  The idea is to discover what is simplest to do. (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly,  Vol. VII #3/4)  This statement could apply to the physical weight of a partner, the emotional weight of a client or partner or to yourself.  One needs to feel the support before giving or receiving weight.

     Support is another area that a partner or a therapist provides.  One contactor simply says, "We support each other.  We learn the skills of support." (Keriac, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VII #1)  This is done through giving and taking each other's weight.  I feel this also translates to support emotionally as well.  "Contact improvisation directly strengthens one's presence.  Contact improvisation nurtures a basic physical trust between two people and among a group.  The form demands a care and consideration of one's partner, and towards this end seeks to develop sensitivity and confidence." (Danny Lepkoff, Contact Quarterly, Vol. V #2)  "Within the form, this tendency is countered by working in close contact with a partner who is in a position to remind you that there are options you hadn't considered.  Appreciating that invitation is one of the basic challenges improvising offers. (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. X, #3)

     "How can I support another's weight?, How can I give my weight?, What is safe?...In a therapeutic context, such questions provide the bases for an authentic level of interaction between client and therapist." (Rick Knowlton) 

     In contact improvisation one also finds support from the floor.  Mary Whitehouse's exercise described above with the use of the floor as a partner is one way.  It is nurturing and safe to get support from the floor.  "There is another reason for being well acquainted with the floor.  By making direct, conscious contact with our primary source of support, we achieve a sense of stability; we become grounded.  In the psychological realm, grounding is a fundamental basis for confidence, and all types of sure-footedness." (Rick Knowlton)

     In contact improvisation the sharing of support is more or less equal between partners.  The counter-balance is one activity in practicing the balance of weight and support between two people.  In movement therapy, the therapist takes on more weight and responsibility.  She/he frequently takes on the role of supporter.


     In contact improvisation physical touch is often used as a means of communication between two partners.  Touch is also a way of breaking through isolation.

     "The skin is the best source for the image, because it works in all directions at once.  If we could turn the skin off, we would appreciate it much more. But the skin works most of the time on automatic pilot. The conscious mind is alerted if unusual stimulation appears on the surface of the body, but, I don't notice the touch of my clothes or my weight in a chair most of the time.  In contact improvisation, however, I find I am hanging by my skin.  And relying on its information to protect me, to warn me, to feed back to me the data to which I am responding." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, "Chutes Transcript", Vol. VII #3/4)

     "Most people come to contact improvisation drawn to the touch. Other cultures have not deprived themselves of touch and the rest that Contact provides, so they don't need it as much." (Keriac, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VII #1)

     "Touching is defined as 'the action, or act, of feeling something with the hand etc.  Although touch is not an emotion, its sensory elements induce those neural, glandular, muscular, and mental changes which in combination we call an emotion. When we speak of being touched, it is the state of being emotionally moved that we wish to describe.  The verb 'to touch' comes to mean to be sensitive to human feeling.  To be 'touchy' means to be oversensitive.  'To keep in touch' means that however far we may be removed we remain in communication." (Ashley Montagu, Touching, p. 128)

     There is a need in contact improvisation to allow oneself to be touched.  This is similar to dance/movement therapy.  The term 'to be touched', to allow another to touch you, to feel or empathize with another is a foundation of movement therapy.  "We have to let ourselves be touched, moved.  It is no accident that when we are touched we call it a 'moving experience'." (Mary Whitehouse, "Reflections on a Metamorphis")

     In contact improvisation one needs to be 'touched' to move with another.  In contact improvisation the touch extends to the physical dimension.  The touch of one's partner is felt and one responds to it through the point of contact.  This is sensitive, focused work.  In my experience, connecting my body and mind brings me "present" in my whole body.  I become committed to the dance and my partner through bringing my whole self to the moment in the dance.  I continue to find that it is when the physical touch comes into my warm-up that I truly 'arrive'.  It is similar to a boundary or a piece of cloth which I have used in movement therapy sessions.  I sometimes sense my self clearer when I have something to push against or when there is something sensitizing my boundary.  It also brings a playful quality to the dance.

     Similarly in movement therapy one can be touched to work with another.  Physical contact through touch is used, though selectively.  Mary Whitehouse wrote, "The touching is both an asset and a danger.  When you touch someone, you are touching the Self.  Not only do you touch the physical body in front of you but, through the body, you touch the outer layers of existence constituting the entire person.  You are activating the flow of energies, positive and negative.  When you touch, even to facilitate something so simple as sensation, you touch the larger entity that we call in Jungian language, The Self.  This makes touching productive to transference; it calls up the unconscious responses lying in want, responses that the conscious mind is not aware of.  If you take on what is brought up by touch without knowing what touch can produce, trouble may arise before you realize you are in deeper that you intended.  This does not mean that you ought to be guarded; it only means that knowing something about what you are touching is essential.  There is no such thing as making mistakes; there is no such thing as doing it right; there is no such thing as being wise enough to avoid it.  It is foolish of a therapist, I think, to fend this off." (Mary Whitehouse, "The Transference and Dance Therapy")

     In one of Mary's groups in which there were equal number of men and women working with the relationship among themselves as a group there was a communication problem between the men and the women.  Mary separated them and slowly cued them to come into each other's space.  The men approached slowly and eventually made direct gentle contact with the women.  "When they were put in physical touch with each other, the door opened.  There followed a gradual growth of trust between them.  They could accept each other again.  They could give up their defensiveness and begin to work, they could communicate again." (Mary Whitehouse, Eight Theoretical Approaches to Dance/Movement Therapy, p. 69)

     Marion Chace also talks of the use of touch in working with patients with distorted body images, "By touching or rubbing the skin or by moving muscles which stimulate the skin we delineate the surface of our bodies.  Since the sensations just below the surface of the skin are the primary source of body image the dance therapist uses the muscles to stimulate the areas under the surface of the skin.  It helps a patient find where the body is.  All of the therapeutic body movement is geared toward getting in touch with as much of the skin surface as you can.  You can sometimes put your hands under the patients hands and let them push your hands down.  You are continuing the identification with your body because they have used your hands as part of themselves.  Then later begin work for differentiation between the two bodies." (Marion Chace, Her Papers, p. 223)

     Marion also talked about playing with the contact in the space between the therapist and the patient.  Similarly, in contact improvisation contact does not necessarily mean physical contact.  Contact may mean the energetic contact or connection between two dancers.

     In dance/movement therapy, the use of touch is not the primary means of communication as it is in contact improvisation.  In both forms touch is used and its use in both dance/movement therapy and contact improvisation has a similarity in communicating, sensing boundaries, support, feeling the self and nurturing.


     Before the depth of touch can occur either on a physical level or on an emotional level, a partner or therapist needs to develop trust.  This involves safety on both physical and emotional levels.

     "It seems to me the most important element in private movement sessions has to do with trust; the client's trust of you and your trust in yourself and also your trust of your client and the client's trust of herself.  Mutual trust allows both of you to say yes or no according to the way she really feels.  This relationship is not transference, which is compelled by the unconscious.  The more human - the more your actual self - you manage to be in your movement sessions, the less chance there is of confusion never resolved.  One cannot provide reassurance, caring, approving, listening, directing until safety has been established.  Trust arises as soon as the individual feels there will be no betrayal, then it truly doesn't matter how quickly or how much he/she responds." (Mary Whitehouse, "The Transference and Dance Therapy")

     Marion Chace developed trust through approaching her patients from a distance.  She played with the space that was comfortable between her and her patients.  She did not move closer until an opening was clearly available.  She respected a person's personal space and through this respect developed a trusting relationship.

     In contact improvisation trust is necessary for the dance. Similarly to Marion Chace's way of working, a contact partner needs to respect the personal space of one's partner.  "But it seems the edge is movable - that by sensing the limit, respecting it, you encourage it to open.  A push comes to a shove.  But if you go only as far as you are welcome, you are invited back." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. II #2)

     The element of physical trust in both one's self and in one's partner is essential in contact improvisation.  "In a state of trust of the body and the earth, we believed we could learn to handle the forces involved in physical interactions between two people who permit each other the freedom to improvise." (Steve Paxton, Contact Quarterly, "Chute Transcript", Vol. VII #3/4)

     "It's important that students notice the trust and confidence they gain in themselves and their partners to stay with a moment, and meet the needs of each changing moment.  Trust, patiently nurtured through confidence and familiarity, prepares the way for diversity.  Through trust, awkward, uncomfortable moments of vulnerability, and powerful moments of virtuosity become equally rich. (Randy Warshaw, Contact Quarterly, Vol. VII #3/4)  Through this richness, this vulnerability, one gains information about oneself and one's partner.

     The Approach 

       Mary Whitehouse remarked that she, "had an approach, not a method much less a theory.  It is the moment of total awareness, the coming together of what I am doing and what is happening to me.  It cannot be anticipated." (Mary Whitehouse, "The Tao of the Body")  This sounds very similar to the attitude of most teachers/leaders of contact improvisation.  Marion Chace also entered the room and felt what was needed, though perhaps her style was more structured than Mary's or Steve's style.  In many beginning contact improvisation classes there are exercises or ways to focus on specific areas.  The teachers often have a way to begin that 'checks in' with everyone both personally and sometimes with a larger group and have a specific warm down similar to Marion Chace's warm down period.  Clearly the basis for both approaches is improvisation.


     Marion Chace refers to her movement therapy sessions in context of the social element; the creation of community and interactions that positively affirm the patients.  Contactors also have a community or social connection that is part of the support, that nurtures the individuals and affirms the dance.  Participation is not limited to 'dancers', but rather to anyone who wants to develop new skills in movement.  There are workshops, projects, jams, conferences that connect people from all over the world.  Self Growth/Change

     Mary Whitehouse said, "Any means of self knowledge is therapy." (Mary Whitehouse, "The Tao of the Body") With this notion, contact improvisation certainly fits into this category.  There are many contactors that feel that they have gained self knowledge through the practice of contact improvisation and have grown emotionally through the work.  I feel the commitment to the work is primarily because of this.  "Contact improvisation is an expression of sensitivity in both the physical and emotional realms.  It demands, above all, the ability to yield to the present moment.  People, like all creatures, are fearful of things unfamiliar.  Working in this form, one develops an appreciation of the unexpected within the realm of improvising and, I have found outside it in everyday life." (Curt Siddall, Contact Quarterly, Vol. II #1)

     "Curt led us into an exploration of emotional content as a possible field for contact.  Each mover was to send or embody some emotion or mood.  In some cases, duets were clear-cut conflicts or contrasts of feelings, but often a merger occurred via the movement generating a feeling.  Using personality as an element of movement beyond the notion of 'personal moving style' was a new step from old pathways for many of us, opening a range of valuable possibilities." (Curt Siddall's student's journal)

     Another student, "I was needing to be more thoroughly cleansed and re-opened.  Contact improvisation offered a movement practice that developed physical and mental flexibility and strength within a state of constant flux.  Its invitation to extend one's limits - physically, conceptually, aesthetically, psychologically - was welcome and well taken."

     "The enlivened state of being that resulted from this movement practice created a strong motivation and reference point for its practitioners.  Just knowing that such freedom was possible generated tremendous willingness to engage in the process.  The work was led by its practitioner's recognition of and faith in that possibility.  And it was largely because of that nourishment that it continued and grew." (Nancy Stark Smith, Contact Quarterly, Vol. X #3)

     " ...I was able to become a stronger self than I lived with day to day.  I became impressed with a sense of responsibility to myself and those I was dancing with to create a healthy interaction.  The realm of contact improvisation I realized was not "dance" but living the forces at play between two people dancing and those forces which exist day to day, the stronger self I had experienced was nothing but myself."  (Danny Lepkoff, Contact Quarterly, Vol. II #1)

     Dance/movement therapy works with the emotional state through movement, or perhaps uses movement to tap into and move emotions and feelings to a surface level.  In working with contact improvisation emotions do surface and move with the physical movement.  The focus is, however, on the contact.  The intention does differ and yet the outcome is not always so different.  "I saw that the deeper I could get into the sensation of how movement felt to the person doing it, the more expressive it became and the more clarity emerged" (Mary Whitehouse)  Contact improvisation is one way to do this.

B. My Own Experience Of The Two Forms

     Having practiced contact improvisation for eight years and having begun practicing dance/movement therapy, I would like to share my own experience, my own connection with both forms and how I perceive the connection of these two forms in my practice as a therapist and as a contactor.

     In my practice of contact improvisation over the years, I have experienced inner growth and self knowledge both in myself and in my students.  The work confronts issues of intimacy, personal power and strength, dependency/ interdependency, boundaries, cooperation/ control, issues around weight, support, trust, taking risks and letting go.  These issues are issues I have personally faced in my dance.  They are issues that have come up for both partners and students of mine in contact improvisation and for clients whom I have worked with in dance/movement therapy.

     I have found commonalities and differences in the two forms.  The forms seem to enrich each other.  As a contact improvisation teacher I have become more sensitive to emotional material, to individual's personal process.  I have 'check-ins' before and after each class.  I make a point of connecting with each student before class actually begins.  As a partner I am comfortable staying longer in uncomfortable places.  I remain present, I keep my attention on the moment.  I allow myself to feel present and to let feelings surface in the dance and move me.  My dancing has become richer and more authentic.  As a dance/movement therapist I have found that the contact duet supports my work.  I utilize the form of contact improvisation in my practice.  I feel that this is part of my style... it is what I bring to the work of a dance/movement therapist.  It adds to the work and is a useful tool for dance/movement therapy.

     I have done a considerable amount of work with people who have eating disorders.  I interned for nearly two years in this area and continue to work with people with eating disorders.  The dance/movement therapy work integrated with contact improvisation has consistently been powerful.  Some areas that I have worked with have been in breaking patterns of isolation, making contact with oneself, giving weight, receiving support, trusting, taking risks physically and emotionally, letting go of control and playing with spontaneity.  I do not force clients into new areas.  I work only where people are willing and ready to go.  As a partner/therapist I invite them to explore.  Often I am not in physical contact with clients though I remain in contact. By contact I am referring to an energetic contact or an emotional contact; being accessible and available to the client.  I may do this with eye contact or simply by sitting next to this person, or by mirroring.  I work with the practice of contact improvisation within their own body and process.  Sometimes I do move with them and sometimes I make an intentional choice to be in physical contact.  I improvise with the client in the moment.

     Contact/movement therapy  has roots in both movement therapy and in contact improvisation.  As sited earlier in this paper, Marion Chace, Mary Whitehouse, Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith built the ground or foundation for this work.  Also my teachers in dance/movement therapy at Naropa Institute and all my contact partners, students and clients inspired and influenced the creation of this work.  Although there are a few other people working with contact improvisation and therapy, it is new and as yet the work has not been publicly documented; so we are on our own.  I have been exploring and pioneering, combining my skills in contact improvisation and the skills and training of a dance/movement therapist.  I am working with my personal style and integrating the work from my perspective and experience.


     In my paradigm for working with contact/movement therapy, there are eight steps or stages that I have been working with.  I have set these up in a way that can be utilized in both an individual session or used throughout a therapy treatment.  I will give a brief discussion of each stage as both a stage in a single session and as a stage in ongoing therapy treatment.  Each stage may not occur in every session and it is quite possible that the steps do not follow this specific order.  It is also possible that some step or stage would not be appropriate for a  particular client.

     The stages begin with making contact, building trust, working in a duet form, working with touch, support, taking risks, working with spontaneous movement and closure.  I have developed and worked with this paradigm over the last three years both practicing and teaching in  dance studios and through movement therapy work with people with advanced eating disorders in an inpatient hospital setting.

     Following the discussion of the paradigm I will present two case studies with people who presently manifest the symptoms of anorexia/bulimia.  I then will briefly discuss my work in the dance studio with a partner and my own personal healing through this work.

A. Making Contact

     Making contact is defined as the touching or meeting of two people in association or relationship.  It is the prerequisite for receiving information, the prerequisite for communicating.  For a therapist this needs to happen as soon as the client walks in the room.  It is a receptive mode for the therapist; there is more in the 'not doing' than in the doing.  As a therapist, I am receiving information and noticing my response to the state of my client, allowing her the space to come in as she is without interference.

     It is essential that the therapist maintains contact with her/himself during this process.  As in a contact partnership one must be in contact with oneself before making contact with another.  I have found it important to  'center' before a client arrives and throughout a session.  I do this by being in the room alone stretching, checking into my body for tensions, and becoming aware of how I am feeling.  I may focus on my breath either in a meditation or with slow movement.  This is time for me to let go of the day or events that might interfere with me being present in myself and with my client during this session.  Throughout a session I continue this process of maintaining contact with myself as I make contact with my client.

     Making contact with a client may take a minute, it may be instantaneous or it may take more than half the session. It is an important step not to miss.  It is important to create an environment that feels safe, and yet one that invokes the curiosity of a client to explore.  I have spent a full session simply making contact with a client.  In the initial stages of therapy treatment, there may not be depth in this contact until trust is established.  However I have found this is an important step before trust can be built.

     It is the time in each session for the therapist to make contact with the client and for the client to make contact with her/himself.  It is a time for a client to tune in and become aware of his/her body and feeling.  In making contact with each other there is often a softening of boundaries between client and therapist.  One feels the other's presence while still maintaining an awareness of one's own body and feelings.  This is the 'warm-up'.  This would include both physical readiness and emotional warm up for both the client and the therapist.  It is a tuning in period for what is needed without necessarily changing anything.  It is the arrival period, letting go of outer layers (including excess outer clothing, bags) and being present.  There is a sense of dropping into the self on a body level and becoming more aware, more sensitized to oneself.

     This may happen in a variety of ways.  Sometimes I leave the ambiguity of this process to the client.  It may be an important step for a client in making contact with him/herself.  In other cases I may guide or use more structure. It is important to maintain contact with the client, staying with subtle shifts.  I may guide my client's awareness to his/her breath during this time and work with body awareness through the breath.  I have also worked with art during this stage.  Settling into oneself through drawing, painting or with clay.  I have found focusing on a particular activity may help a person 'arrive'.  By this I am referring to arrival in him/herself emotionally, physically, and spiritually and bringing all he/she can into the session. Some clients need or want to talk during this time and report in.  I use the cues from the body during this 'report' for information and beginnings.  Other times I witness a client as she/he moves around the room.  A client may not want to move and may lie down.  It is an important time for gathering information for both of us.

B. Developing Trust

     The next stage is developing trust with the client/partner.  Trust is defined as the unquestioning belief in the integrity, strength or ability of a person or thing.  There is a confident expectation.  One knows that this person can be relied on. One trusts this person's caring.  It is important to firmly establish trust before continuing.  I have found this to be true in ongoing therapy as well as during each session.  Without trust, one cannot be in contact with the depth of feelings and emotions or the depth of one's process needed to continue working.  It is important that the therapist feels trust in him/herself, that the client feels trust in him/herself and that they trust each other. 

     The purpose of this step is to establish a sense of safety in which to continue working and to establish a ground or a base on which to work.  In some of my clients with eating disorders trust or lack of trust is a key issue.  There is no trust in their body.  They do not trust the body to stop eating, or to get up off the floor or to control sexual responses or responses around intimacy or boundaries.  It may be important to work on body trust first.  This may take many sessions.  For some it is easier to trust outside themselves, (i.e. the therapist)  Although this could develop a dependency, it may be useful as a developmental step.  They can and will break away.  Through trusting another some learn to trust themselves.

     In developing trust, a client gains a deeper awareness of him/herself.  He/she gains confidence in the self and in others.  The client and therapist will notice little changes in the body during this process.  There will be a softening of the body, more steady continuous breathing, relaxed body posturing, softer muscle tone.

     Trust is developed.  It also needs to be given.  At some point there is a leap of faith. "I trust you."  As a therapist I see it in my client's body; the body is relaxed and open to being seen.  "This is me."  As in any dance there is a testing of this ground.  As a partner, I respect this testing and do not push further than a client needs or wants to go.  I respect the space a client or a partner in a dance needs to feel safe while remaining ready for a further invitation in.  I do not pull away or close down.  This is ideally also true in the practice of contact improvisation.

     In working with developing trust, I may guide a client in moving on the floor.  The experience of releasing one's weight into the floor and trusting the support of the floor builds one's own trust in oneself.  Through rolling and sinking into the floor one develops the ground to push upward and to stand on one's own feet.  This also establishes the ground for later work.  I might utilize soft pillows, mats, etc. so that there would be a safe soft ground on which to explore.

     Another way I've worked on trust is through sensitizing a client to her/his own body needs and having them satisfy these needs.  For example getting more comfortable, noticing a tight stomach and taking time to be on a soft mat and to breathe.  Trust in oneself develops through experiencing one's own ability to take care of oneself.  A client may feel safer working for a while with closed eyes.  For others that is too risky.

     Trust develops through time and experience.  A client may trust me after taking a risk and finding out that I was supportive or that I didn't leave.  By a risk I mean having responded in a way that stretched his/her boundaries of what felt safe.  However if I push a client to risk before he/she is ready I lose any trust that has developed.  I gain trust by respecting the boundaries of my client/partner and continuing to keep the environment safe for him/her.

     I also need to trust myself, my impulses, intuition and the process of my work.  Through confidence in myself I develop the basis for working with my client.

     In all the steps trust is involved.  Trust must be established for a client to work in a duet, to be touched, to be supported, to take risks and to be spontaneous.  It also must be firmly established before a client can leave the session or therapy.

C. Creating a Duet

     A duet is a composition for two voices, instruments, or bodies.  It is a relationship in which two people share.  It is a partnership.  In  movement therapy, the duet is between the therapist and the client.  One responds to the other, a dialogue or conversation occurs in the interaction.  This may be entirely nonverbal.

     The duet breaks the pattern of isolation for a client.  By simply entering into a therapeutic relationship the isolation is broken; someone knows.  This is an opportunity to develop and work on a relationship.  For some of my clients a healthy relationship has been unknown.  Also in working in this form, other kinds of patterns from past relationships often surface.  Through moving, responding and dialoguing there is a possibility of working through old patterns and developing new pathways.  This occurs on a movement level.  It can then be integrated into other parts of a client's life.  I often give assignments to notice other 'duets,' relationships, and her/his role in them.  In this phase I work specifically with focusing on the duet interaction.  This step may not be appropriate for each session and may not be in this order of the session for each client.

     The duet occurs merely by both of us being in the same space.  By being two people in a room working together we have created a duet relationship.  I may work with eye contact.  Being seen by another and maintaining contact is difficult for many clients.  I guide clients to respond as they need to.  Sometimes he/she might hide or run or cover parts of her/his body.  Then there is usually a pause, a waiting for my response.  The client realizes that she/he has been seen.  I wait for the space to move without interfering. I've helped people cover up, I've sat and waited, I've added music; all of which is responding to that particular client in the moment.  Other times I've joined the client under the pillows. This may establish a playful relationship or may let a client know that he/she is not alone.  For some clients this is a new experience.  Other ways I've worked with this is through drawing; literally having a conversation on paper.  Having established our relationship, I may then take the drawing into movement.  I've also worked with mirroring each other or reflecting similar movement or shadowing the other person.  In mirroring I literally mirror a client's movement as if he/she were looking into a mirror.  In shadowing, I may be close and moving similarly but generally to the side or behind.  It is important not to interfere with the client's movement.  This establishes a duet.  Other ways I've worked on a duet is through directing an activity and focusing on accomplishing together.  There is a sense of cooperation in this.

     I've created or sculpted relationships through movement that were surfacing for a client during a session.  I would have the client mold me as the person she/he's in a relationship with and have the client be him/herself/.  I might switch this so she/he could experience both roles.  She/he would set up the physical distance between the two, the posture, add any gesture, any phrase, etc.  I have found that working with other relationships in the context of our duet is useful and adds a new perception for the client in her/his role in that relationship and other relationships.

     Communicating fears, joys, conflicts and other feelings with another present is often a new experience for clients.  There is a sense of intimacy.  Especially for people with eating disorders these steps are difficult and a part of the healing.

D. Touching

     "The communications we transmit through touch constitute the most powerful means of establishing human relationships, the foundation of experience." (Ashley Montagu, Touching, p. xv)

     The next step is touching.  Being a contact dancer I know that touch is an integral part of my choice to be dancing this form.  Being a contact teacher I also know that while touch both brings people to the form it also keeps people away from the form.  Being a movement therapist, I know that touch can either access a person to be more open or cause them to respond by withdrawing.  Touch may elicit sexual fears, sexual excitement or fears related to earlier abuse.  It is important to explore the intention of touching as a therapeutic tool.  The intention of healing or of dancing or of just being with a person can elicit a natural touch or contact that is separate from either sexually touching or violating him/her.  I am not denying however that for the client, student, or partner a sexual or terrifying reaction may arise.  I also am not suggesting withholding touch because of that possibility.  I believe a genuine response of touching the person (client, student, partner) is right and the response of the client, etc. may need to be responded to directly and clearly.

     There are different kinds of touch; sexual, aggressive, nurturing, playful, supportive, gentle, etc.  A therapist needs to be clear in her/his intention with touching.  I have found opportunities in sessions to talk about different kinds of touch.  I give a client clear power to say "no" and to talk about feelings that surface around touching and being touched.

     I may work with pillows or cloth as an extension or buffer to being "really" touched.  Most clients long to be touched, to be held.  A gentle touch often brings feelings to the surface or even if a client acknowledges, "I want to be held," sadness, pain or loneliness may surface.  I have worked with clients who have been physically and or sexually abused.  For them, touch has a strong meaning that is most often scary.  I have not found it necessary to hold back touching a client as a natural response.  In fact withholding touch most often reinforces that he/she doesn't deserve to be touched, held, or that touch isn't safe.

     I do not recommend touch just for the sake of it or if one is not comfortable with touch and being touched.  Touching is powerful and communicates a message.  "Other means of communication can take place at a distance, but touch is the language of physical intimacy.  And because it is, touch is the most powerful of all the communication channels." (Stephen Thayer, "Close Encounters",  Psychology Today, March 1988, p. 31)  As a therapist I am clear with this communication; "I care", "I support you", "You're not alone", or "Feel this".

     The purpose of the touch needs to be clear.  It can be nurturing and supportive.  It can simply be contact.  I bring a client's attention or focus to a particular place through touch.  It can be healing.  It can be directive, "Breathe into this part of your body."  Touch can give a clear message of a boundary.  "This is you."  Touching is a basic human need. "We are created in the union of two bodies and stay connected to the body of one until the cord is cut.  Even after birth, we need touch for survival." (Stephen Thayer, "Close Encounters", Psychology Today, p. 36)  In our culture there is a deprivation of touch.  "But on touches for soothing, holding and play, American children had significantly less contact than those from the other cultures." (Stephen Thayer, "Close Encounters", Psychology Today, p. 31)  Being held, getting stroked, feeling a body close is healing. 

     Being clear with the touch, I communicate that I too am a human being.  I remain authentic and genuine in my interactions.  Clients respond to this authenticity.  I work with touch simply and naturally.  Trust must be well established before this step.  It may not be an appropriate step for everyone.  At least, it must be approached sensitively.  The physical touch can facilitate one to feel deep emotional feelings, to feel 'touched'.  "People who were comfortable with touching were more talkative, cheerful, socially dominant and nonconforming; those discomforted by touch tended to be more emotionally unstable and socially withdrawn.  People who were less comfortable about touching were also more apprehensive about communicating and had lower self-esteem.  Not surprisingly, another study showed that those comfortable with touch were likely to be more satisfied with their bodies and physical appearance." ( Stephen Thayer, "Close Encounters", Psychology Today, p. 33)

     I use touch specifically and directly.  I may touch a chest that is sunk in, place my hand on a shoulder or jaw that is tight.  I may take a hand and squeeze it or invite a client to run or jump higher.  I might hold a client in my arms while she/he sobs.  I might push against a client's arms or legs to give him/her resistance or something to push up against to or to feel a boundary.  Touch is an invitation for a client to feel.  There is support.  There is caring.  The first time I intentionally touch a client I usually ask, "Is this okay?"  I listen for the response or hesitation.  I've never heard "no."  This reflects  both the timing and the sensitivity of the question.

     "Although there are clearly some risks, perhaps more therapists should consider 'getting in touch' with their clients by adding small tactile gestures to their therapeutic repertoire." (Stephen Thayer, "Close Encounters", Psychology Today, p. 34)

E. Giving and Receiving Support

     Touch is one way of supporting a client.  Giving and receiving support is the next stage or step.  To support is to hold up, to sustain or withstand (weight), to help or comfort.  As a therapist and as a partner, I support my client/partner.  In a contact improvisation dance the weight is more equal consistently than in a client/therapist interaction.  Although the weight fluctuates, as a therapist I take on more 'weight', more responsibility.  This refers not just to physical weight but also to emotional weight.

     In the stage of 'support', a client practices both giving weight and receiving weight.  I have found that most people have a preference.  They find either giving or receiving easy, the other very difficult.  Being comfortable in either role, giving or receiving, is important.

     In giving weight one needs to surrender and not control.  It is a vulnerable position.  One receives support physically by literally placing one's body on another's.  One exercise from contact improvisation that I've done is called 'surfing'.  In this one "catches a ride" by placing oneself perpendicular to a rolling person and as if catching an ocean wave glides over them.  Another exercise is 'the post or the table'.  In this exercise one person is on all fours.  The other person drapes his/her body onto the 'table' and is supported by this person to roll off.  There is also 'sluffing' in which partial weight is given to the 'post' who is standing.  The weight drops to the floor.  In learning and practicing to give one's weight one clearly receives the message that he/she can be supported.  It is important to work slowly and safely into different levels of giving weight.

     For a person with a distorted body image or for a person who has always felt too big this is a powerful experience.  I have supported people more than double my size and had them sob.  "I've never given all my weight to anyone.  I didn't think anyone could support all of me."

     It is also important for the client to be in the role of 'supporter'. In receiving weight one has the opportunity to feel one's personal strength.  One feels one's own support structurally and experiences an ease in taking another's weight and in supporting another person.  A client may need to realize that he/she can support another or that he/she is strong.  The breath is especially important in receiving weight.  I work with this slowly...building confidence.

     It is important for one to practice receiving the weight one can handle and to not invite too much.  In a therapy session I sometimes use large pillows and heavy blankets for a client to feel the weight he/she may be carrying around.  I've place pillows on shoulders and backs symbolically representing the burdens, the guilt, the "weight" one carries.  I have used myself for someone to practice supporting another.  I am clear with creating a boundary or container for this work so that a client does not leave having just supported me.

     The transfer of weight-sharing is the fluidity of giving and taking.  I work with the breath in this, breathing in and receiving, exhaling and giving out.  This can be done alone or with a partner.  This is also done in an exercise called 'counter-balancing'.  This involves finding a balance of the weight.  There can not be one person controlling or overpowering the other.  There needs to be cooperation and sensitivity.

     Another exercise that works with give and take is the 'passive/active' exercise.  In this, one person surrenders totally to the other's control.  One person lies down and allows the other person to move him/her around.  It can be frightening for one letting go of control and it can be nurturing feeling cared for.  It is important that the active person is trustworthy.  As the active person, one gets to experience nurturing another and/or controlling another.  For some people, being the active person is valuable and for others who have difficulty receiving, the passive role is more important to experience.  This exercise can extend to exchanging roles and to creating a balance of letting go and taking charge.

     An emotional release often follows a physical release.  To emotionally support a client I simply am present and let the client know that whatever surfaces, I can support him/her.  When the client feels the physical support, it establishes the possibility of emotional support.  Words can assist, yet I have found that the physicality of support speaks clearer.

F. Taking Risks

     Each stage of this work may be a risk for a client.  By taking this risk a client is exposing him/herself to the chance of injury or of loss or to the unknown.  In this step, 'risk taking', I focus and draw attention on this chance.

     The purpose of this stage is to experience one's full range of movement and full emotional expression.  This is the stage of change that often leads to transformation.  This may not occur in each session or may occur on a smaller scale.  This is not a time for the therapist to push, but rather to give encouragement.  A client needs the space to move into taking risks by her/his choice and readiness.  It is the momentum of the previous work that gives the impulse for the risk.

     This stage is individual.  A risk for one is not a risk for another.  One way that I have worked with risk is through falling.  I focus on falls through the space as well as from up to down.  Another way I work on risks is through 100% weight exchanges or giving all of oneself to the moment.  I also have worked with range of movement; for example being as wide as one can be or as small, as fast or as slow, etc.  For some of my clients being strong and direct is a risk, it might bring up anger or feeling their potential power.  For others being spontaneous, indirect, or giving all of their weight brings up fear of loss of control.

     It is important that the client clearly make the choice to take a risk.  This is an area that may need to be developed through time in little increments.  I have noticed that after a risk is taken, there may be a tentative stage for a client of needing more support, more nurturance.  After time, this new possibility becomes integrated.

G. Round Robin /Spontaneity

     The next stage, 'the round robin', is the stage that works with the fluidity of change.  A round robin is a form used to change or rotate partners.  In contact improvisation, the group forms a circle.  A dancer begins moving in the center, another enters and they begin a duet.  At some point a third enters.  The first leaves and the second and the third dance. This structure continues with a fourth person joining and the second person leaving, and so on. The dance is always changing.  There is a sense that each dance transitions into the next.  This is a practice in beginnings and endings.  Because of the round robin structure, the dancers are obliged to let these endings occur.

     In a client/therapist relationship rather than working with changing dance partners, I work with changing states.  A state is an expression of a particular emotional condition or a response to an environment.  In the round robin form one connects to the partner one is with and then moves on to the next partner that cuts in.  In changing states we play with inspiration, impulse and spontaneous expression.  As an emotion or feeling comes up, I encourage a client to move with that feeling and then let it go, to move on to the next feeling or state.  I encourage kinetic versus static energy and changing or moving on versus staying the same.  It is a practice in 'beginning' and 'ending' emotional states, letting the experience move freely and letting each moment be fully experienced for what it is and can be and allowing simple transitions.

     This is also the integration of the session's work.  We practice what has already surfaced in the session.  It is a time of practicing endings and letting go.

     In this stage I encourage a client to feel his/her impulses and to follow them.  I may guide a client in changing or letting go with verbal cues or with music.  I may join in and then leave the dance.  I might encourage the client to use props in the room such as scarves, balls, pillows, or cloth in supporting the changes in character.

     This may not occur in the same form in each session.  I play off the session itself, improvising as a partner to my client, responding to the cues from the client.  The round robin is preparing for the unknown by being spontaneous and responding without inhibition... and then letting go to move on.

H. Closure or Warm down

     The last stage is the closure or 'warm-down'.  A client needs time to warm down both physically and emotionally.  The closure or warm-down is the time just before the session is to end. 

     The purpose of this is to slow down, provide a 'ground' for the client so that he/she can leave the session.  Often I leave the client time for relaxation and self nurturance.  It is important that the client is ready to move out into the rest of the world.  It might be useful to integrate the session verbally and to check in again.

     I begin slowing down the pace gradually.  I may guide my client in a 'body check' similar to the 'making contact' stage.  This may be standing or lying down.  I might focus on breathing and feeling what is happening presently in the body.  We might do a drawing of this.  I may use soft music and guide a relaxation or guide her/him to initiate self care.  I would say, "We need to end soon," before it is time to end and then let the client ask for and get what he/she needs before ending.  I also set up the next time to meet before we leave and I walk the client out.  Often there is a hug or a hand squeeze.  The talking is sometimes lighter, more animated at the end of a session.

     At the close of therapy treatment I would focus on this stage for a few weeks.  I would find out what a client needs, create an ending together and practice it.  It is important to have enough time, so that this stage is not hurried or cut short.  The closure or 'warm down' needs to feel clear, grounded and spacious.

     Having used this paradigm over time with clients and with partners, I would like to present experiential material.  This will include two case studies, a brief discussion on the use of the paradigm within a dance studio/class situation, and my own personal healing with the work.


A. Brief Overview of Anorexia, Bulimia, Bulimarexia

     I have been anorexic.  I have also been bulimic.  I have hated my body.  I have always thought that I was too fat.  I know few, if any, women who would not say the same thing.  I know no woman who hasn't "watched her weight," "dieted", "exercised to tone up or to get off a few pounds.  There are phases of anorexia that most women have experienced.  "Those of us who do not go on to become anorexic inherit the same difficulties in our relationship with food as those of us who do."  (Marilyn Lawrence, The Anorexic Experience, p. 30)

     One of my phases of anorexia took the form of purification, needing to cleanse my system.  I fasted for what ended up being two months.  I got hooked into feeling empty and light.  I had experienced several loses in a short period of time.  There were emotional issues surrounding this which supported its continuance.  As I began eating, I used herbal intestinal cleanser and enemas to continue the emptiness.  I also biked sixty miles a day.  I was lucky.  The most intense part of this only lasted six months.  Six years later, I feel on the other side.  One out of three woman has reported a similar story, and this story is mild.

     Anorexia, bulimia, bulimarexia were words no one heard of ten-fifteen years ago.  Now as I am walking by two young woman joggers I hear one say, "You don't have to vomit to be anorexic."  What was once a "rare disease" is now widespread and close to epidemic.  Mostly woman are identified with anorexia, bulimia, and bulimarexia.  "It is a disorder that springs from the very midst of a woman's experience of the world." (Marilyn Lawrence, The Anorexic Experience, p. 21)  The duration ranges from two months to thirty or more years.  Is it a disease or a response to a culture?

     There is much literature, many views/philosophies and various treatment modalities.  The studies and information are growing.  It is not the intent of this paper to cover this material.  That would be several papers in itself.  I would, however like to define the terms and present I will briefly discuss and present an overview of the clientele issues quoting a few experts in the field whom I have found most useful, Susie Orbach, Geneen Roth, Kim Chernin, and Marilyn Lawrence.

     There is a behavioral theory, a systems theory, a feminine theory, a nurturant-authoritive theory, socio-psychological theory, psychoanalysis, etc.  I have found the feminine perspective most interesting and useful for my purposes.

     Anorexia involves an obsessive pursuit of thinness, characterized by some form of starvation and compulsive exercising.  It often involves malnutrition, irrational thinking and behavior patterns, and, if not properly treated, can be fatal.  Bulimarexia is characterized by compulsive eating binges, followed by purging of the food, usually through self-induced vomiting or laxative abuse.  The binge-purge cycle, often done in secret, is an addictive cycle that can progress from once or twice a week to ten times a day.  Without treatment, bulimarexia can cause such medical problems as dehydration and electrolyte imbalance, severe dental disorders, ruptured esophagus, bowel lesions and constipation.  Bulimarexia can also lead to death due to cardiac arrest or kidney failure.  Bulimia involves compulsive overeating characterized by repeated attempts to lose weight and frequent weight fluctuations.  The medical complications associated with bulimia are extensive and life-threatening, and include hypertension, diabetes, respiratory difficulties, and organ damage.  The emotional consequences of all eating disorders can be devastating.  Low self-esteem, depression, despair, and thoughts of suicide are common. (Boulder Memorial Hospital Advanced Eating Disorder Program pamphlet)

     These feel like outrageously ambiguous labels.  Although my clients have labels, one anorexic, the other bulimarexic, I perceive them each as individuals with individual issues.  In the work of contact/movement therapy, there is room for individuality and for one simply being as one is. We honor shifts and changes as they occur.

     In my experience at the clinic where both of these women were patients, the label was given for insurance purposes.  There were only two choices, anorexic or bulimic.  They were both given anorexic labels for the insurance form.  An anorexic was given more insurance money and had an easier time filing.

     In our culture a compulsive eater or bulimic is thought indulgent.  She needs a diet, self discipline.  She is thought lazy.  An undereater is thought more sick.  We want to take care of her.

     In actuality compulsive over eating and obsessive under eating are not so different.  "Anorexia nervosa is the other side of the coin of compulsive eating.  In her rigorous avoidance of food, the anorectic is responding to the same oppressive conditions as compulsive eaters." (Susan Orbach, Fat is a Feminist Issue, p. 167)

     There are some issues that many people who are in a phase of anorexia have in common.  These may manifest in different degrees or ways.  Some of those issues include personal power and strength, a need for space or fear of space.  There tends to be inaccurate body image and low self esteem.  People frequently feel a need for control.  There is often fear of spontaneity.  People at times feel a need for protection and have unclear boundaries or very rigid boundaries. People sometimes isolate, feel lonely and need nurturance.  There may be other abuse either through unhealthy relationships, family, sexual or other substance such as alcohol or drugs.  Rage and sadness are often present.

     My experience in working with people who are in a phase of an eating disorder is that they are starved for love.  The reasons for this unsatiable hunger varies.  The ages of people I have worked with varied from thirteen to fifty; weights from seventy pounds to two hundred and fifty pounds.  99% of the people that I have worked with have been women.  For purposes of simplification, in this section of the paper I will use the feminine pronoun.

     Women's image of what they should look like is created by a multi-million dollar industry.  There is much at stake in women buying this image.  Fashions, the diet industry, diet salons, diet foods, exercise clubs, aerobics, the motherhood industry are all profiting from women trying to fit this image.

     Little girls are clearly given the message.  Growing into a woman's body is not necessarily an attractive prospect.  There is a mixed message, be strong and yet be small petite, feminine. The idea of femininity seems in itself confusing.  There are conflicting ideas about what a woman's body should look like; little breasts or large breasts, no hips or round hips, tall or short, etc.

     "...Instead of being raised and educated by women who told them the truth about their bodies, the girls were taken from their villages and put in schools where they were taught to keep their breasts bound, to hide their arms and legs, to never look a brother in the eye but to look down at the ground as if ashamed of something.  Instead of learning that once a month their bodies would become sacred, they were taught they would become filthy.  Instead of going to the waiting house to meditate, pray, and celebrate the fullness of the moon and their own bodies, they were taught they were sick.  They were taught the waves and surgings of their bodies were sinful and must never be indulged or enjoyed.  By the time the girls were allowed home to their villages, their minds were poisoned, their spirits damaged, their souls  contaminated..." (Anne Cameron, Daughters of Copper Woman, p. 61)

     Issues of inaccurate body image, low self esteem and lack of personal power are common amoungst all women in our culture.  It often shows up for women in the form of an eating disorder.  Rather than love their body as it is, woman most often are critical of their body and try to change it.  There is a self consciousness that has developed through our cultural consciousness.  A woman's body often express how she is feeling about herself.  "Her body will have to express whatever uneasiness she feels about her life." (Kim Chernin, Obsession, p. 67)

     Women are sometimes abusive towards their bodies in response to a culture that disempowers them.  "They use their bodies as their battlegrounds; they know that in our culture women's voices may not always be heard, but their bodies will still be noticed." (Geneen Roth, Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating, p. 213)

     There are often fears around control; either feeling out of control and/or a need to control.  A woman may fear her impulses.  Boundaries are often unclear.  A woman often feels a need for protection.  "Thinness becomes a statement of power." (Kim Chernin, The Obsession, p. 48)  This shows up sometimes with extra weight or through the protective outer shell of anorexia. It may be isolating, yet it feels safe.  There often is a need for nurturance and a fear present that there will not be enough.  There is a belief present that she is too much, that her needs are too much and that she will overwhelm people with her needs. 

     An anorexic may have found that through the restricting of food she has some control over her life.  There is an intelligence, a wisdom; she may be doing what is needed to survive.  There is often a dysfunctional family system that she is responding to.  In both of my case studies this was the case.

     A person in a phase of an eating disorder frequently does not want to be seen.  Intimacy is difficult.  The person may have had no experience with intimacy.  When a person is focusing and obsessing on food, "it is difficult to find time for intimate relationships." (Geneen Roth, Feeding the Hungry Heart, p.36)

     Whatever her age, an anorexic is surviving the only way she can at this time.  She clearly asking for help; to be fed.  She does not know how to nurture and to feed herself.  She is starving physically and emotionally.  Her self perceptions are usually inaccurate.  She is often out of touch with her feelings and with others.  She does not know how to receive support.  She is afraid.  Her life has become a series of rituals so that she can survive.  She is however dying, slowly killing herself.

     "Characteristic of those with eating disorders is a distortion of body-image, and a misperception regarding body size and body boundaries accompanied by impoverished self-esteem and resultant problems with interpersonal relationships.  These disorders often are compounded by difficulties in identifying feeling states, or by the individual's efforts to disassociate from bodily sensations and the attendant loss of body functions." (American Dance Therapy Association pamphlet)

     Contact/movement therapy addresses the body directly breaking through the pattern of isolation by establishing a relationship that involves trust, intimacy and support.  This helps to establish boundaries, more realistic body perceptions and a stronger sense of self.  It provides an opportunity for one to experience the spontaneous expression of the body by responding to and adjusting to the movement of one's feelings.  Making contact with oneself, developing trust in oneself and in another, sharing with another, giving and receiving support, taking risks, improvising, and having clear endings are ways the body learns to practice and trust in a relationship.

     In the next section, I will present two case studies; Anna who has been diagnosed with bulimarexia and Susan who has been diagnosed with anorexia. I see this paper and my work with contact/movement therapy as an opportunity of looking at this dilemma with a fresh perspective.  In these studies I worked with contact movement therapy as a treatment.  I will also discuss my work with a partner and my own personal healing process.

B. Case Study One: Anna

     I have been working with Anna for eight and a half months.  We began working while she was involved in an inpatient treatment setting for advanced eating disorders and have continued with out-patient treatment in individual sessions.

     I was drawn to work with Anna from the first time I saw her.  She was quite withdrawn, weighed ninety pounds, had loose clothing and darting eyes.  Her body posture was distinctly down and drawn inward as if she were hiding, protecting herself and very scared.  She joined my movement therapy group about three weeks later.  She has been anorexic/bulimic for seventeen years.  She has had conflict with her mother for as long as she can remember.  Being touched was threatening to her.  She remarked in our first session that if her skin was touched she would die.  She did not trust me nor any other in the group.  The group itself was extremely difficult for Anna.  She withdrew into a corner, looked terrorized and would not move.  She refused to talk to anyone about this except to say, "I'm scared, leave me alone."

     After two weeks I began individual sessions with Anna.  She was angry, "Why are you doing this to me?"  At the end of the second session she was crying in my arms.  She felt very young.  I was aware that there were developmental needs that were not met.  She was scared and yet she had made contact and was working with me.

     The third individual session was in a different setting due to weather.  She was anxious when I arrived.  Although she did not admit it, she had questioned the nurses because she was afraid I would not come.  Abandonment is a key issue for her.  In this session the work was mainly about trust.  She became frightened and hid under a blanket.  Again she seemed very young.  She refused to move during the next group session.  She approached me after the session in tears.  She was afraid that I was angry and wouldn't work with her anymore.  It was familiar to her that someone would get angry and leave her.  She might have had to test that issue with me.

     In our next session she began to move more.  This frightened her.  It broke a belief pattern, "I cannot move."  Her body withdrew.  She told me that she was confused whether to trust me or not.  There had been a number of losses in her life recently (a lover, a dog, two cats, friends taking space, the possibility of her eating disorder.)  Trusting that I would not leave her was present in our initial sessions.

     The main issues that I see in Anna seem to be  fear of abandonment, fear of loss, emptiness, emotional splits(good/bad), harsh self-judgements, undirected anger, deep wounds related to her mother, fear of intimacy, lack of support, fear of trusting, lack of spontaneity, unclear boundaries. 

     Anna is forty years old.  She has been in only one intimate relationship.  She feels betrayed and angry at her lover for leaving her.  She is unable to bear the thought that she might be alone.  She has had and continues to have short-term relationships, none of which has been intimate. (This would include friend relationships, employer relationships, landlord, etc.).  She also does volunteer work with people who have been abused and works forty hours a week teaching school.  Her time is filled.  She is afraid of her own neediness.  If she is in control, in charge, then she can get by.  She is afraid of what might happen if she is not.

     Her anorexia/bulimia began seventeen years ago when she weighed 210 pounds.  She feels she was born wrong.  Her mother wanted a cute little graceful girl and "got a fat, clumsy, stupid one."  She describes her mother with two distinct sides.  One side being wildly intelligent and humorous, the other as angry.  She doesn't trust the one side and hates the other.  Her mother's anger was abusive both physically and emotionally to Anna.

     In a recent series of art therapy drawings, Anna drew herself before she ate and after.  The first drawing in all cases is a faceless character that is reaching into emptiness with a tiny dot of bright color in the corner of the page out of reach.  The other is a faceless person curled up with a red hole in the middle of its body with black arrows pointing to it.  This person is either in a box or a stone walled cave with no room to move.  It is black all around.  She says that reaching out is too vulnerable.  If she reaches out for what she wants, it will go away.  As she said this, she covered her stomach and chest with a red pillow.  She would not reach out or even begin to move in this way.  When she eats, she is filling a hole, an emptiness.  Afterwards she is afraid, she hides, she does not feel the pain.  If she eats, she purges.  She needs to be in control.

     Anna's relationship to her eating disorder is similar to her relationship with people.  I feel she is feeding her hungry heart and cannot take in the nourishment but rather throws it up.  She does not make nurturing, healthy choices with food.  She snacks, nibbles and does not explore possibilities that might be satisfying.  Similarly she is afraid to explore the possibility of trusting herself to explore the depth of a relationship.  She is afraid to try new ideas with food.  As in other relationships she is obsessed with it.  She is not eating out of hunger for the food.  She eats when she is alone, she eats to fill a hole, an emptiness.  She is not satisfied.  She eats to numb herself from her feelings.  She eats so she won't feel her rage, her anger, her uncontrollable feelings, or her deep sadness.  Yet she will not let herself keep the food in.  She purges leaving herself emptier, lonelier.  She also controls this relationship.  She will not eat for days or weeks, restraining any contact with food.  She is in control, she chooses and yet feels out of control.  She is terrified of letting go.  She blames food as her problem.  She cannot leave it.  It engulfs her life and yet it does not give her what she needs.  There is a cycle of emptiness and unexpressed rage.  She continues to rage on her own body passively hurting and killing herself.  The good girl doesn't eat.  The bad girl does eat and purges.  This sets up a split in her self perception.  As in relationships with people, Anna isolates with food.  She is afraid to keep it in or to bring people close to her.  She is afraid of being rejected or abandoned and therefore pushes away first.

     My therapeutic relationship with Anna is an unfamiliar one to her.  She often is confused.  She is afraid to like me or trust me, yet she continues to work with me.  The unfamiliar part for her is that I don't leave, don't push her away and remain consistently available to her during sessions.  I remain in contact with her. (This is not necessarily physical contact.)  Often the sessions are about playing together.  I follow her movement, responding to the child in her that seems to want to come out and be loved.  I feel part of our work is in reclaiming that child and actually moving through the developmental stages of the child experiencing the separation/individuation stage of child development.  Since we are not mother and babe but rather client and therapist, we create ways to work that is in the context of our present relationship and Anna's present age. 

     Contact Movement Therapy

     I began working with this client using what I am calling "Contact Movement Therapy."  In the following pages, I would like to describe some of my work with contact movement therapy.

     This particular dance form works specifically with relationships. I feel the main issues for the eating disorder dilemma revolve around relationships.  This movement form integrated with movement therapy, seems appropriate and healing for a person currently in a phase of her life with an eating disorder. 

     Making Contact

     I begin each session by making contact with Anna.  I allow her time to arrive physically and emotionally.  To make contact I need to give Anna my attention.  I become aware of her present state, her body posture, and her movements even as she walks into the room. I then may guide an activity to bring us into contact with one another.  One way that I've done this is through drawing.  I spent my first sessions having conversations on paper with Anna.  For Anna, drawing was a safe way to begin to express her feelings and to share this expression with me.  It was after the second session that she spontaneously moved into my arms to be held.

      Making contact with herself is a process that continues through each session for Anna.  I witness or observe nonjudgmentally throughout the sessions reminding her to stay in contact with her feelings, her body, etc.  I have facilitated her movement through exploring the "small dance."  In this, Anna begins to feel the subtle movements in her body. I would ask her to be aware of her breath as it moves through her body and to feel her weight as it drops through her body and into the floor.  In doing this, I would ask her to notice any areas of her body that might be tense or want attention, etc. 

     This step has been difficult for Anna.  Making contact brings up her fear of intimacy and then abandonment.  Being in contact and staying in contact as her fears arise is unfamiliar to Anna.  This is a part of every session for Anna.


     Trust would be the next issue I would address through movement.  Of course trust was/is involved in making contact.  However at this point in the session or in treatment I would directly work with trust.  For Anna the question of trust arises each week; can she trust me.  She says that she has never trusted anyone.  She does not trust herself.  I work with this beginning in small steps.  This step would work with body awareness.  I would suggest that Anna notice the little changes that happen in her body as she brings her attention to them.  I would have her notice her breath as it moves into different parts of her body.  This would be a time for her to notice what her body needs (e.g. to move, a pillow, etc.).  At this point I might have her lie on the floor and notice the different areas of her body that are in contact with the floor.  I would have her begin rolling very slowly and to notice the surfaces of her body in contact with the surface of the floor.  I might have her roll over pillows or a large soft ball.  This might evolve into falling from the ground up.  This means that I would have her begin on the ground and move upward.  Gaining in the confidence and trust of her relationship with the floor falling back down would easily follow.  I would be falling, rolling also.  I have found that Anna wants and needs a model.  I have encouraged her to explore and yet I stay available and accessible to her.  In this stage Anna could work with her fear of falling and  trusting herself.  In this she confronts issues around control patterns on a physical level.  In order to fall one must let go and to allow oneself to surrender to gravity. Trust continues to get tested through each session yet it is important that is be well established before continuing.


     Our duet breaks the pattern of isolation and emptiness for Anna.  By staying with her as her emotions surface and by responding to her without judgement or without leaving, we are creating a possibility of a relationship that Anna has not known.  Although we've been in a duet during the entire session, at this point, I specifically focus on our duet relationship.  I begin to draw attention to our relationship with one another. This has been both frightening and healing for Anna.  It confronts her belief system, "If I get close, you'll leave me."

     We initially did drawings.  Sometimes these were done by her alone and sometimes we did drawings in which we dialogued.  We "talked" and "moved" with crayon and paper, making contact.  This was less threatening than having her body move, therefore she was able to make contact with me in this way.  We also have recently been making contact with her "little girl" that is afraid of playing, of coming out, of being hurt and left.  We invented games and rituals to heal this little girl.  The focus is on cooperation, sensitivity and moving together.  In one session we threw the tension out the door.  We created a movement improvisation in which we were moving in and out simultaneously.  Through peripheral vision, we were able to stay together yet move separately.  I make contact and dance with each layer of Anna as the layer becomes available to unpeel and become known.


     The next step that I explored with Anna was touching.  Anna's first response to me was, "If I am touched, I will die."  I respected her belief and moved slowly.  At that point I suspected prior abuse but she was not ready to confirm this.  Trust must be well established before this step begins.  For some people this step may not be appropriate at all.  It is important for the therapist and client to feel confident and comfortable before using touch.

     We played a game in which she would move away from my finger.  I assured her that I would not touch her.  I could only come within four inches.  Anna established four inches as a comfortable boundary.  She would have the power to tell me to stop at any point.  She agreed.  She initially enjoyed this and then became very frightened.  I stopped as she became frightened and asked if she wanted to continue.  She withdrew terrified.  She could not be comfortable with the intimacy and closeness at this time.  We talked for a while and then exchanged roles.  She enjoyed the role of toucher.  She would use only her fully shoed foot.  Skin was too dangerous for her.  I used this session to talk about the texture, intention and genuineness of touch.  We spoke of healing, of longing and needing touch.  Touch had been equated for her with either intimacy with a lover (and now meant emptiness) or with rage (her mother's anger).  To be touched would stir up her feelings.  During that early session she could not work fully with these feelings.  Her body, however, clearly longed for healing through touch.

     One session following we used a pillow between us. The object was not to touch.  During that session we were pushing against one another.  Her rage at her lover (and mother) for leaving her surfaced.  She was determined to "win". At one point the pillow slipped and we did touch.  At that point fear of touch was no longer  the issue.

     I have worked with Anna in encouraging her to stay in contact with her feelings as she is touched.  I might place my hand on a body part as she breathes.  This has been powerful way for her to touch in with her feelings.  I began slowly working with touching her back or an arm.  Then I moved to placing my hand on her chest, heart, etc.  Now she is comfortable being touched, breathing through that part of her body, feeling her feelings and also touching my hand, holding my arm, etc. when frightened.  Our sessions nearly always end by her asking to be held or by her initiating a hug.


     Another stage of our work has been with support.  This stage involves both "weight giving" and "weight receiving".  This is not just physical "weight" but also emotional "weight".  It is difficult for Anna to give over her weight and to trust the support.  We have only explored this in little steps.  One day we played with the concept of me being active and her being passive in movement.  I was the mover and she was like a rag doll.  I moved her around supporting her weight.  She laughed and enjoyed the image of a floppy doll.  Another day I was supporting her in standing and she froze.  "I can't trust you to be there.  You'll leave."  We worked through this by using other supports such as chairs, walls, etc., until she felt ready to try me as a support again. In being able to trust herself in finding support, she could then trust me.  We began lower to the floor where she felt confident to fall and slowly worked upward.

     I also support her to move away from me when she wants to dance, to move or to just be alone.  I stay available for her when she needs the physical support or the support of my presence.  Part of our work is in her developing comfort in both receiving support and in supporting herself.

     Risk Taking

     Support intertwines with another stage, risk taking.  For Anna all the stages have felt like enormous risks; getting support, trusting, staying in contact.  I feel the places for her to continue with risks would be to allow herself to fall, to express her emotions through full movement, to express her "little girl", to play fully and to move away and dance on her own.  This is not a stage for the therapist to push.  My way of working here involves giving Anna the space to fall into, allowing her room to make the choice when she is ready to.  I continue to be there and yet encourage her to take the steps she needs away from me to trust herself and care for herself.  I have given her "home assignments", drawings, play explorations and I've had her create her own assignments.  For Anna, moving alone and being seen is very scary.  I continue to let Anna know that I am here, she can call, etc. and I give her the space to choose.  I encourage her progress and respect her process.  I give her the encouragement to take her steps away when she is ready and I am there when she needs support.

     Some of the risks that Anna has taken have included vocalizing while moving, moving alone, throwing a pillow and fully expressing herself.  Afterwards, she usually withdraws.  Recently however, after moving alone, she came up and put her head in my lap and cried.  She told me how scary it was to move alone.  It also was a step forward for her.

     Round Robin

     In the duet of working with Anna the 'round robin' is just beginning to take form.  We are working with play as our focus.  To be spontaneous and impulsive she needs to trust herself and me.  This breaks a deep pattern for her.  In this dance she needs to give up where she has been to get to a new place.  She cannot know where she is going.  We work with changing states by playing with inspiration and impulse.  As an emotion or feeling comes up, I encourage her to move with that feeling and then to let it go and to move on to the next feeling that comes up.  I also see Anna working with this outside the session.  Since she has had many losses recently she is working on trusting other "dances" or relationships. (This includes intimate friends both male and female, roommates, employers, support groups, the possibility of another lover, etc.).  In our session she comes in sometimes to work through feelings associated with these new "dances" or around old ones ending.  I encourage her to move with the feelings to allow herself to let go of the old dances, to allow room for new ones, to allow herself to change and to move forward with curiosity into the unknown possibilities.  This also is a break in the cycle.  Recently we worked with a pattern in a relationship that she was stuck with.  We used a big pillow to represent one person and she took the other role of hugging and merging with this person.  We worked with her letting go of the pillow and standing alone and then choosing to pick up a pillow in different ways.  The focus was on letting go and moving on.  This phase has not fully integrated for Anna.

     Closure/Warm Down

     The last phase or stage is the closure or warm-down.  This phase is present within each session and would be focused on specifically to terminate the therapy treatment.  For Anna this is the part of each session that brings up her fears of abandonment and/or rejection.  I work with this in several ways.  I use this time to integrate the session's work.  This means either talking or having her move around alone with the intention of finding a completion for that sessions work.  I also tend to slow the session down some.  I let her know that we'll be ending soon.  I would cue her to initiate movement to take care of her body/self before leaving.  In the past she has wanted to curl up next to me using my knee for a pillow.  I've used music during this time that is relaxing (sometimes music that she brings).  I have found it important to leave enough time for the session to slow down without rushing so that Anna feels complete and  safe to leave.  She needs time to warm down both physically and emotionally before leaving.  We might sit together and breath or I might guide her to lie on the floor and lead a relaxation exercise.  She needs time to integrate the session's work before leaving and to be ready to connect again with the rest of the world. I check in with her, listen to any of her thoughts and may direct her in this process.  I clearly remind us of our next meeting.  I give her time to ask for any needs before she leaves.

     I am presently continuing to work with Anna.  The process of this work has been difficult and yet rich for me.  I have touched more deeply into my own journey and process in the course of being a movement therapist. 

     What has been clear to me in my healing and in my work with Anna is to trust the basic wisdom of the body and self in its need for protection.  It responds with intelligence in surviving emotionally and physically.  At some point the body screams for help.  It is then ready.  There is no hurry.  I feel quite strongly that many clinical settings do a violent injustice by labeling or boxing a client, by pushing a client, by restraining a client, or by numbing a client with medication.  I am not denying that some clients may need interventions medically and physically.  What I have seen with my client is that she has been denied her voice, her wisdom, and her experiences of her body by being generalized, labeled and medicated.  The injustice is that she believes that they may be right.  She struggles with the split of her bodily experience and of what they tell her to believe. 

     Contact movement therapy clearly acknowledges and affirms a client's body experience.  It recognizes differences in each person and allows space for a client to explore her needs, pace and to feel her body and emotions.  For Anna, allowing movement in her body has been transforming.  By just being present with her and accepting her, I am giving her an experience she has not had.  Working with contact is giving her the opportunity to physically feel the support of another and to move in relationship with another without losing herself.  I respect Anna's process by taking into account her needs, fears and energy level as I direct and improvise during a particular session.

     Anna has clearly affirmed my work.  She has remarked, "This is the most powerful and healing work that I'm doing or have ever done."

C. Case Study Two:  Susan

     I worked with Susan during her ten week stay at an inpatient treatment center for people with an advanced eating disorder.  Susan is 5'4" and weighed less than ninety pounds when I first began work with her.  She was 21 years old and diagnosed as an anorexic.  Her voice was barely audible.  Her movement was weak, light and small.  Her head was down.  Her father was alcoholic and sexually abusive to her for six years.  He furnished her for sexual favors for his friends while he watched.  The mother was emotionally absent and denied this happening.  At 15 Susan got pregnant by her father.  She stopped eating and miscarried.  In a situation in which Susan had very little control, she learned that the one area in which she could control was by not eating. 

     At 16, Susan attempted suicide by cutting her wrists.  She was taken to the hospital and given medical but not psychological treatment.  Although the immediate situation between Susan and her father ended at the age of 18 when she left the house, she continued the pattern of abusing her body.

     She had been taking rows of laxitives, dieuretics and sometimes diet pills.  Occasionally she vomited.  She said that food made her crazy or sick and that she never felt hungry, only full.  Her diet consisted mainly of diet coke with an occasional salad of just plain lettuce.  When she began passing out at work, she was brought in for treatment.  She did not attribute passing out to not eating.

     Her basic fear was in trusting both herself and others.  She was afraid of herself as a woman.  She did not feel that she was deserving.  She did not nurture nor take care of herself. She did not trust herself.  My experience of Susan was that she wouldn't allow herself to feel any feelings or sensations.  She was emotionally held in, had little breath, no tears, no laughter.

     There were blocks in her body.  Allowing movement, touch, trust, support, and spontaneity in her body was transforming.  I used stages similar to those with Anna.  Much of the work was the same yet due to the improvisational nature and the individualized nature of the work, there were variations.

     Making contact, being touched and supported were the most difficult stages for Susan.  She was having difficulty adjusting to the program and was refusing to eat.  I suggested to the team the possibility of doing individual movement sessions in body awareness.  This was accepted by the team.

     We spent the first two sessions making contact.  By this I do not necessarily mean physical contact.  In making contact we softened the boundaries between us and the boundaries between her feelings and her awareness of those feelings.  I guided Susan in becoming more in touch with what she was feeling in her body.  She felt numb and frozen.  She identified this yet, could not feel her body. Just identifying this was a big step for her.  It was frightening to her. She began talking about her father, the abuse that she experienced.  She was not able to feel the pain.

     The next session she lay down.  I could see the blocks in her body.  Her shoulders were up, her neck tight, her chest and stomach held in, her legs stiff, her lips pursed, her eyes looking around, her breath shallow.  I asked her if I could place my hand on hers.  She agreed and we breathed together.  She began to trust me and talked about her eating disorder and her pregnancy.  I placed my hand on her chest and she breathed into it. A few tears fell.  She talked about how scary it was to be in the hospital and if she got well she would have to go home.  She began to relax.  I had her breathe into different areas of her body.  Although the touch might have been scary, because of the trust and the contact we had established, Susan was able to relax and to use the touch to support her in feeling more deeply. 

     During this time outside our session Susan began being more in contact with others in the program.  She no longer felt like a 'victim' who had things done to her.  She became a participant in groups and began eating and participating in her recovery.

     She gained enough weight that she was able to join in the movement group.  At this particular clinic there were levels assigned to each person.  Part of the level differentiation was based on weight and body fat proportional to height, size.  From her arrival in the movement group, Susan was an active participant in the group. 

     There are two sessions that Susan was involved in that stand out for me as examples of the potential healing in working with contact/movement therapy.  In one, we did a passive/active exercise using a cloth.  Susan had a partner.  Their relationship was tentative, cautious yet caring.  At some point they chose not to use the cloth because they felt that it was easier.  I guided the exercise.  They were to each have a turn in each role; passive and active.  The passive person was to surrender her weight and allow herself to be moved.  The active was to be responsible when taking the other's weight and to move the person.  They were somewhat hesitant in fully embodying either role.  When this moved onto a fluid give and take relationship, the partner went to the bathroom.  I partnered with Susan.  Because of the trust that we had established she was able to become more daring.  I supported her weight and she surprised herself in supporting mine.  The dance was light and playful.  It reminded me of two little girls.  Susan laughed for the first time in this group.  When her partner returned they resumed this spirit in their dance.  At the closing or the warm-down they were nurturing and tender.

     A week or two later, I arrived at the group feeling upset.  I spent a few moments centering myself yet during this time I touched into a deep sadness. (This was early in my internship.)  I had the  group alone that day.  I was aware of my edge.  What happened in this session demonstrates a possibility from contact improvisation; that there can be an equal sharing of weight in a session.  The success of this experience is due to my training in both contact improvisation and in movement therapy.

     The group arrived and we began.  I guided people to walk around the room and while their were walking to notice how they each were feeling.  As I was walking, tears began welling in my eyes.  Although I was aware of the un-professionalism of crying, the authenticity of these feelings took over.  Susan was across the room.  Most people were involved in their own process and hadn't noticed,  She came directly across the room and put her arms around me and held me rocking slowly.  I allowed myself to be held and cried for a minute.  She too cried as she rocked.  The group slowly approached us, surrounding us with their arms.  I asked if anyone else in the group needed anything from the group.  Some wanted to be in the center, others wanted to have the group hum, etc.  We created an environment that was nurturing and available to everyone.

      Susan shared with the group that she had never been able to support anyone before.  She felt touched by my sadness that day and had been drawn to give me support.  This was a new experience for her.  She thanked me. 

     This experience indeed has touched me, as has working with Susan; watching her transform from a starving little girl to an animated strong young woman.  Her humor and sense of playfulness and independence emerged in the group.  There began to be a willingness to explore and take risks.  She interacted and was close with others in the group not only in movement sessions but also on the unit and in other therapy sessions.

     This incident is like the role of two partners in contact improvisation.  The mutuality, equality of giving and receiving is part of the healing.  Although 'taboos' on touch, or of a therapist crying, or of a client caring for her therapist, were present, this  was healing not only for me, but for Susan, and the group.  My vulnerability and strength allowed room for each person to feel her own vulnerability and strength.  I would never have planned this situation and probably at this point it would not happen.  I am aware of the possible negative effects of such an incident; a client merging with the therapist, of clients losing trust in the therapist, or dependency on the therapist.  Yet this did occur and was healing.

     A few weeks later Susan left treatment.  She hugged me and thanked me.  She had not become dependent on me.  She wrote me a letter before leaving the hospital.  I received this a few days after she left.  "I have felt very close to you since our private sessions together while was on level two.  You were the most gentle calming experience for me.  I felt a strange ableness to try to honestly express myself through my body because of some understanding contact I felt between us."  She told me that initially it terrified her to be moving in a group.  She had wanted to be perfect like a ballerina.  She realized she could be herself and was delighted to discover what that meant.  She learned to give and receive support and had learned to trust herself.  The team acknowledged that the movement work that I did with Susan was important in her progress in the program.

     The case of Susan is not unique.  As a therapist willing to be open, honest, trusting and vulnerable, I opened a space in Susan and the rest of the group to respond genuinely.  This experience was early in my training and interning.  I have not since been in such a vulnerable, emotional, personal process during a session.  However, I do remain open and vulnerable with clients and with partners in contact improvisation.  This experience was similar to the fluid roles that deepen the dance and the healing in a contact improvisation duet.

D. Contact Improvisation Partner

     I have been working with a particular partner in contact improvisation for four years.  In that time we have performed together ten to fifteen times, taught together and worked regularly dancing together.  This process has similarities to a therapy process.  However the roles are fluid.  There is not a  role differentiation; the roles switch spontaneously.  The weight, the support is mobile.  We are both in a state of readiness, to give and to receive.  There is a deep level of trust that has developed over the years both physically and emotionally.

     We begin each rehearsal or practice session making contact with ourselves and each other; through rolling, breathing, stretching and noticing any tensions in our body.  We sometimes verbalize about our lives, our day, relationships, work, our bodies.  We physically make contact.  We sink into ourselves and each other and remember the trust in our bodies.  We begin a duet, slowly in contact.  We are sensitive to each other, listening and responding genuinely.  The touch deepens, the contact becomes more fluid, and we begin moving.  We find places to support one another, offering ledges (hips, knees, shoulders; places for the other to move onto) we receive the weight and allow ourselves to be supported, to give ourselves fully.  The dance enlivens us.  We take risks, and survive.  We discover new places. Sometimes we add music which is like having another partner.  As our energy shifts, we let go of one position to move to another.  We change in response to ourselves, to each other, adjust, continue to contact.  At some point there is a shift in the dance, a slowing, a deepening.  We may move apart and then back together.  Because we  trust each other we can leave one another, let the other go and then reconnect easily.  We move through awkward spots, trusting the process.  We always warm down together, slowing the dance and begin to talk about the practice, our dreams, visions.  We exchange thoughts, ideas and hug leaving together.

     The intention of our work is different from a therapy session.  We come to dance together.  For both of us contact improvisation is a life practice.  Our rehearsals are both a place to meet socially and to share.  It is also a time to clarify our dance by working toward a performance.  In this situation no one is leading or facilitating.  No one pays the other.  The contract is to meet, to dance and, during this particular time, to create material and prepare for a performance.

     I would like to describe one way I supported my partner and took on more weight in a rehearsal.  In our last rehearsal my partner, whom I will call Debbie, arrived one half an hour late, sobbing.  The specifics of what had initiated this process did not feel important.  It involved a relationship and feeling stuck. She had some fear of ending it and being alone.  She was confused, sad and in pain.  Her question was "Can I get through this and work on it?"

     She cried for a while then got up to get a tissue.  I moved in that moment;  I actually felt light and open.  As she turned to move back, my arms were open.  She walked into my arms.  I held her as we stood; she sobbed.  We stayed in that embrace for about ten minutes, rocking, moving slowly.  There was a sense of establishing a base.  Our feet moved exploring this base; wide or small.  This became the dance.  At some point our base felt balanced, grounded.  We loosened our 'hold' and our faces met.  We explored a face/head dance slowly allowing our bodies to move in response.  We followed this until it moved into arm, shoulders and then the entire body.  The weight followed and we began partner supports that became fuller.  We danced for about forty minutes.

     As we slowed down and again let the weight deepen and soften, Debbie said, "How did you get me here?  I never thought when I walked in that I'd even be able to stay, let alone dance.  I feel so different."  I said, "Who got who here?"  We laughed both knowing that it was both of our sensitivity, acceptance and trust of ourselves and of each other that allowed the mobility of the dance and the transformation of the state.  Sometimes one of us needs the other to initiate or to support.  We both give to and receive from this partnership.  It continues to grow.

     I did learn from this session, however, the possible side effects of taking "more weight" or of switching the contract of our work without a clear agreement.  Although I enjoyed the dance I left exhausted, aware of the extra weight.  Debbie and I had been preparing for a performance.  Perhaps because of my willingness to take on more of a supporting role; she felt less responsible to that contract.  She cancelled one day prior to the performance.  I have realized my role in this and the need for clarity in a contract.  We are partners, with equal responsibility or we are in agreement that one of us will take on more responsibility and more weight and the other will pay in some context.  It is important to clearly recognize and respect the contract.

     In a class situation or a therapy session I clearly am the leader, or the facilitator.  The definition of my role is in nature not equal. I take on more responsibility and weight.  I do not use the time for myself, yet I bring myself fully to each situation.  I bring my partnership to the class or to the session.  Although the boundaries are different than with my partnership with Debbie, I am totally present with my partner and invite her/him to be present with me.

     I have students who continue to come back to my classes.  They find the work healing.  They feel it is a place that they can be themselves and explore deeper who that self is.  We have a contract in a class to be present, honest and responsible for oneself (in safety). For me, in contact improvisation the dance is the deepening exploration of contact in relationship with another.  Although the inherent agreement in a contact improvisation session is not to work with the emotional material that arises, my experience is that in order to dance in contact with another the emotional issues will need to be acknowledged and moved through. 

     As for being both a therapist and a teacher at different times, I find the therapy role more strenuous, more work.  As a teacher I am lighter, I participate more equally and move more freely.  I still am integrating the two roles, allowing the spillage, the mixture.  The one clear difference that is consistent for me is that the monetary pay for the teacher is less than for the therapist.  As a teacher the pay takes other forms; joy in students, thanks, hugs, smiles.  I also feel that there is a clear difference in the intention of the work, the contract and the weight that I take on differs in each role.  I continue to learn this balance.

E. Personal

     Contact improvisation and dance have been a major part of my healing journey.  I truly love the physicality, spontaneity, and play of this dance.  It feels risky yet nurturing.  There is not a right nor wrong.  I feel free to explore my own movement while I receive physical support and contact from a partner.  I have learned to trust my partner and more importantly to trust myself and my dance.  It continues to feel fulfilling.  I continue to grow more aware.  This has brought me more in touch with myself and with others.  My dance has grown more sensitive.  The phases and stages of my journey are similar to the stages that I have described earlier in this paper in relation to Anna and Susan.  Mine are somewhat different.  I never had an issue with being touched.  I did however hide my personal power by intertwining with another.  Being seen and out in the open while making contact with others is the most difficult stage for me.  I have worked with this more intensively by performing contact improvisation.  The journey continues.

     Contact improvisation has been healing for me.  I continue to deepen into contact with myself, the outer layers peel off.  This enables a deeper contact with my partners, students, clients.  I feel the process for me is an awakening into my body and  myself. 

     I continue to come to the phase of trust, and explore what this now means.  It is really about trusting myself and my choices as a dancer, a teacher and as a therapist.  I need to be honest and in the dance.  There are times that I am uncomfortable in a dance or times that I cannot trust a person or a situation.  I need to acknowledge this.  I need to trust that I can bring myself into a group and trust the group enough to be myself; trust myself with who I am in front of people.  What is safe changes with each dance, with each partner.  I know my limits and I need to honor them in each dance.

     I find that I am drawn to working with a partner in a duet establishing a dance relationship that has trust and history.  We allow ourselves to be vulnerable in the dance and  to be present.  We are equals in this dance.  We witness not only each other but also ourselves.

     The touch in this dance continues to heal me.  In one of my journals I wrote, "At the moment of physical contact, even though I had resisted it, stubbornly - I felt instantly 'at home' in myself, my body - I felt myself more fully, truly than in a very long time."

     Touch enlivens my body and liberates it to 'be touched.'  I feel a deepening into my body when I am touched and a deepening into my feelings.  I feel the possibility of new pathways.  It seems to clear the channels from the surface of my body and move into the core of my being.  To dance contact improvisation I allow someone to touch me.  I need to trust the intention, the basic goodness of my partner, to be open and yet, I need to discriminate allowing myself to move towards or away from a particular touch.  I need to trust my intuition and body knowledge to know what is safe and appropriate and to communicate this clearly to my partner.

     I continue to need the support of my partner or of the group that I am dancing with.  It has changed over the years.  As I become the teacher/facilitator I feel confident to be dancing, teaching, supporting.  Yet as I move with my peers in the dance I still notice my shyness, nervousness.  It is the emotional support that I now seek with a partner.  After a dance the anxiousness is not present.  It is present during the inertia before I enter a dance.  Once in, I  trust the dance.  The physical support, however, is still healing.  It translates.  In taking some of the weight off of my body I feel different possibilities in relation to gravity.  I feel lighter.

     What are the risks now?  I have conquered most of the physical fears of the dance.  The 'tricks' no longer entice me.  I do not fear falling.  A risk for me now is to stay with moments in the dance that feel awkward which might lead me to new territory.  Another risk for me is to stay with the dance as emotions surface.  It is vulnerable for me to bring this to performance without hiding.

     I allow the spontaneity to spill from the dance into my life.  How do I bring all of myself to the dance and the dance to my life?  This continues to be a question for me.  As I enter each dance I  bring the freshness of each moment to it and  allow the dance to change.  This practice seems invaluable to me.  Endings and beginnings are very pertinent in my life right now.  Also the transitions of change feel important to me.  To stay true to myself and to take the ride feels difficult and necessary. It is important to let go.  Sometimes things are still good and no longer useful.  I learn to trust that the next dance will begin.

     In studying improvisation I have learned to trust the process.  Holding onto an agenda may narrow my focus and negate many possibilities.  There are often moments in a session or a class that I cannot predict.  It has been invaluable for me and sometimes difficult to not know what might be needed or what might happen.  This continues to be a practice for me; to breathe and let the 'not knowing' be present.  There is freedom and life in this place.  After eight years of practicing contact improvisation, I know there are infinite new places to go.


     I have found the skills of contact improvisation invaluable in my training as a dance/movement therapist.  They have helped me both personally and in my therapeutic relationship with clients.  It has affected my body awareness and sense of confidence in myself.  I have learned to trust myself and my spontaneous impulses through experience and practice on a physical level.  I have learned to feel a deep level of intimacy with others that is not sexual.  I have become aware of what I need to be present and ready with myself and with another.  I have learned to be comfortable with disorientation.  This allows me to see the world from many angles and sides while continuing to be aware of myself and another while still moving.  My peripheral vision has expanded.  This enables me to see and include what is occurring in the entire room while still being in touch with myself.  Most important in  practicing of contact improvisation I have learned to play and to create and to move spontaneously while being in relationship with another.

     The benefits of contact/movement therapy for a client have been stated throughout the paper.  The paradigm expresses clearly the way that I utilize contact improvisation and movement therapy.  That which works for the client will also work for the therapist.  I feel it is essential for anyone working with movement and therapy to explore his/her own comfort and edge in the area of contact with another.

     Because of the level of intimacy in contact improvisation, it is necessary for one practicing this dance to explore one's own issues and fears around physical intimacy, relationships, one's comfort and boundaries with touch, with one's own weight, in supporting and in being supported, in trusting, in taking risks, in being spontaneous.  Since the nature of the work is improvisational one is always involved in one's self in this relationship.  The therapist can practice these skills on a physical level.

     These tools are useful for the dance/movement therapist.  The individuality inherent in contact improvisation allows for personal process.  This is important work for the therapist seeking better understanding of client/therapist relationships and seeking clearer more direct communication with another person.  The physicality of the duet gives immediate direct feedback to each partner.  If one is not present in the dance the partner or oneself may fall, one can feel the support and the attention through the body.  It is also a way of communicating that necessitates sensitivity and honesty in the interaction.

     The practice of contact improvisation is informative.  It very quickly teaches you what you need to learn.  Not only has the form of contact improvisation been healing for me but also a great teacher.


     Coming to the closure/warm down, I find myself slowing down.  I am preparing to leave this partner, this paper.  This place feels vulnerable.  Completing this paper is a big step for me.  We have been partners for over a year.  There is much left unknown with this dance ending.  Beginnings and endings have always been difficult for me.

     As in a contact improvisation dance, I know the practice of letting go of this one and trusting the next dance.  I do trust the ambiguity, the space and still it is scary.  I feel the aloneness and do not know what the next dance will be, but I am beginning to feel the attraction into the unknown next dance.

     It is time to move forward.  My work feels clearer.  I feel confident that it is important work, powerful for me and for others.  As my dance grows, and as this process grows, so does contact/movement therapy.  The paradigm and perspective in this paper will shift and change as I continue working with it and with myself.  It is the nature of the work that it grows with me.

     My personal style is prevalent in the work.  I know each person brings the accumulation of oneself into his/her work.  I have brought my love, my passion for dance, play, Tai Chi, yoga, breath, my love for mountains and lakes, my personal belief of wholistic healing and of macrobiotic living.  Living in balance is a life practice.  At one point I wanted to combine all these interests into one paper.  They seem integrally related within me and important to mention as I am continuing to bring them into my work.

     I am exploring connections with nature and the environment and with contact/movement therapy.  Contacting the earth has felt like the greatest healing for me.  I recently co-led a workshop in an area surrounded by 14,000' mountains.  We moved with the land, with each other and with the deep core of ourselves.  This work feels like a direction that I'll continue to move in.

     I will continue exploring my personal relationship with contact improvisation and its use as a tool with dance/movement therapy.  I find the process of this dance/work exciting and inspiring.

     Even though the shape of the work may change, the hypothesis remains intact.  The therapist/client interaction in a dance/movement therapy session in many ways parallels the interaction in a contact improvisation duet.  The contact form provides a rich source of resources for the dance/movement therapist.  The dance/movement therapist can learn about her/himself in relationship to another through this work.

     There is more to discover.  As I leave this paper, I stand alone.  The next dance is unknown.  My present dance is awkward in spots, yet full, vulnerable, genuine.  I am moving on.

     "If you want to get to a new place,
you can't know where you are going."

(Steve Paxton)


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