Qualia Holometabolous

April 02, 2020

Qualia – qualitative characters of sensation | Holometabolous – transformation

I have trained to be sensitive. sensorily, emotionally, empathetically. As a dancer, it was how I listened to my partners in rehearsal and on stage. These partners were the other dancers, musicians, poets, and painters, performing with me and of course the ever important audience who, by virtue of being, willed our stories into existence.

We were improvising – making stuff up – responding – playing. We really practiced communicating – not making stuff up. We were interested in creating connections, moments that channeled the charged energy created by gathering together. Good listening created dynamic emotional stories: lightning in a bottle. Poor listening created awkward moments at best and dangerous moments at worst.

This way of improvising; communicating through dance with touch and partnering is called Contact Improvisation. It was named in the 1970’s and is credited to Steve Paxton and Nancy Stark Smith. I discovered it in the 80’s at The American Dance Festival. After moving to NYC I found my way to classes and “jams” as they were called. Contact Improvisation is now practiced all over the world with a community network organized through Contact Collaborations Inc. They produce an online journal; The Contact Quarterly. Below is an excerpt:

Contact improvisations are spontaneous physical dialogues that range from stillness to highly energetic exchanges. Alertness is developed in order to work in an energetic state of physical disorientation, trusting in one’s basic survival instincts. It is a free play with balance, self-correcting the wrong moves and reinforcing the right ones, bringing forth a physical/emotional truth about a shared moment of movement that leaves the participants informed, centered, and enlivened.  ***CQ Vol. 5:1, Fall 1979

I left the contact community because I was uncomfortable with some of the physical communication in the jams I was going to. The questions I asked then are all too familiar to women receiving unwelcome touch in pedestrian life. Was I not communicating well? Was my communication ambiguous or was the person whose touch I did not want to receive just tone def or worse didn’t care?  I’d like to connect with someone in the current “Contact” community and hear their responses to the issues of consensual and non-consensual touch brought to light by The Me Too Movement before COVID 19 sent us all to our rooms. I’m curious too, how the contact community is doing right now without physical contact. How are safe spaces being created and held in the time of Me Too and Covid 19?  I am sure something creative is coming of it. But that’s for another blog post. All things considered, body reading is a pretty good skill to have right now.

Sullivan County, NY has a number of glorious old railway lines that have been turned to nature trails. There are rail trails extending in two directions from The Hurleyville Performing Arts Centre.  I walk these trails regularly. Lately, from six feet away, I notice the uncertainty in other humans I pass and I wonder about the future of touch. I have concern for the artists who rely on touch and their trained sensitivity; artists who live with their hearts wide open.

Leimay Ensemble performed Qualia Holometoboly, June 22, 2019 on the HPAC lawn and Alius Bodies August 3rd in the HPAC Ballroom August 3, 2019


Draw your thoughts to a sunny warm day where 60 people have gathered lazily on a bucolic hillside in the country. There is a cool breeze that feels like whispers on the skin. You’re sitting on a blanket with a friend’s legs draped over yours, watching dancers improvise in 12 foot tall kinetic sculptures. The sculptures are made of evenly spaced lines of cotton twine that, where grounded, form a circle and extend upward to a suspended meeting point 12 feet above. The twine they are made of is so light in color their lines softly suggest that we consider the space between them.  The sculptures, the humans in them, the breeze, and the green grass canvas on the hill rising behind them are all angular until the breeze shifts then they bend and dance in a momentary synchronization of curves. When all else stills itself the dancers appear to be speaking to each other, alone from within their pods; listening, responding and empathizing without touch or words.

The performance was beautiful, meditative, spacious, calming slightly melancholy and relentlessly repetitive. It was meant as piece one passes by, a moment or a scene in a larger experience, but we were transfixed. We were mesmerized; too polite or self conscious to move. Thinking of it now drops my shoulders and fills my heart with love for artists and for the community that shared that day. Thank you Artists. You are our true shamans. #staystrongmakeart. We need your open hearts.

Thank you Leimay.

Leimay will be back at HPAC 2021.

— Erin Dudley
Contact Improv Blog
Leimay at HPAC
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