I am writing these lines because I have the feeling that most of the studies concerning contact improvisation are focused on “how to do it.” How to manage the body, how to move it, how to root it, how to lift, how to roll, how to listen, how to solve, how to use the center etc .., a nice package of information, essential, which I believe should be practiced and studied.

Before the “how”, however, there is the “what”.

The “what to do” is fundamentally governed by two approaches: the choice and the reaction system, and they are not the prerogative of the body (skeletal/muscle), but of the nervous system. Obviously it will use the body as an instrument for the dance. Anyway, before doing something I have to make a decision or instinctively react to a stimulus.

What I say here does not consider the very probable eventuality that the tissues themselves have an intrinsic intelligence of their own, but here we go into spheres that are difficult to analyze from an objective point of view and I do not go into that here.

Our nervous system has a voluntary branch (which we can control) and an involuntary branch (autonomic nervous system). The second controls the so-called vegetative functions. Of course I can choose, in part, how to react to stimuli, but only after a certain time (the time to make this choice), in the meantime the autonomous system will have already played its game.

In summary, when I choose to make a movement I will be in a state of voluntary nervous system, when I react I will be in an involuntary state.

Now, what is improvisation? From wikipedia:  By  improvisation  we mean in a generic sense the act of creating something while doing it, spontaneously or randomly.

It therefore consists of a development or execution that is carried out with immediate invective and with ease. Improvisation comes from “sudden”. Contrary of “expected”. The more I foresee, pre-organize, premeditated, the more I am far from improvisation.

Contact Improvisation is the only kind of dance that I know that has as its peculiarity the continuous changing of the space around us. I cannot predict the type of movement of our partner (who is part of the space around) and I will therefore be forced, wanting to adapt (dance with him) to create something while I perform.

For this reason, in contact improvisation, we are even almost forced to improvise, under penalty of loss of connection with dance.

Small parenthesis. Of course, if we already know how our partner is going to move, everything changes. The creation of a shared, recognizable and therefore predictable language is the worst enemy of improvisation. Establishing aesthetic or functional patterns limits the possibilities by tracing movement back to familiar patterns and forms that risk framing the unexpected, and therefore improvisation, as an error.

Returning to us, the sudden (improvisation) is caused by our partner and by ourselves then to follow.
Is there time to make a choice? In the absolute unexpected no, we can only react. (autonomic nervous system)

Absolute improvisation therefore gives no possibility of choice. The voluntary nervous system does not have enough time to analyze the matter and make a choice. Obviously this is a limit point, but the closer we are to this idea the more we are improvising. We will always make choices, but they will be the stimuli for the real dance of improvisation, of resolution  in contact  with the unexpected .

The reacting system in any case can be trained, practiced, deepened, in order to decide “what to do” in the direction of improvisation.
The “how to do it” will complete the sentence of a delicious improvisational dance. As always, contact improvisation proves its completeness:

Contact = Voluntary nervous system
Improvisation = Autonomic nervous system