Key Takeaways from a Contact Improvisation Workshop
Apr 9, 2021
Two years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Patricia Kuyper’s contact improvisation workshop in Auvergne, France. What I learned from that workshop were things that I continued to practice up to this day. I would like to share these and hope that they will help in any way possible in finding ways around this exciting and beautiful, sometimes scary, world we live in.
One of the phrases that Patricia kept repeating during the workshop was listening. Listen to yourself. Pay attention to how your body reacts to everything around you. The advice is more demanding than we assumed, but it makes sense. Remember that notion about digging deep within yourselves? That is actually possible. It will however require you to work harder than usual.
During the workshop, we were taught to find a comfortable spot and position where we can be ‘still’ for a couple of minutes with our eyes closed while listening to our breathing. It was the most taxing activity for me. It was taxing for the reason that I am simply not the type of person who could stay put, much more for a couple of minutes. Nonetheless, the activity forced me to listen to what my body was doing or feeling and to what it was telling me. I discovered that there was a rasp when I breathed deeply (which slightly scared me), that the buzz in my not-so-good left ear gets a little bit louder when my eyes were closed, that the sound created by a friend's feet scratching on the yoga mat was disturbing for me (but was relaxing for her), that my right knee was hurting even more with the position I have chosen (which I copied from another participant who looked quite comfortable doing it), that I kept peeking at other people around me to check on what they were doing.
The activity required concentration with a specific focus on yourself. I have to admit that during the first few days, it was a challenge but the more I listened to my body, the clearer the messages became. If you listen intently, you will know what works for you and what does not. If you mind yourself and deviate from mirroring other people too much you will discover what you truly want and revel in it at your own pace. If you pay attention to where your mind drifts to, then you will most likely have an idea of what you would like to achieve.
If someone offers an opportunity to guide you, take it. Do not say, “I already know.” It is alright not to know everything, even the aspects that you specialized in. Take note though that this someone should be experienced and/or genuinely sincere, for there are always shoddy characters who would appear certain but might be as clueless as you are. Allow yourself to be guided but do not be guided blindly.
In some of the activities in the workshop, I have learned to follow my partner’s direction and to pay close attention to where her weight is, sometimes her breathing, and I found it easier to close my eyes when I do this. As a newbie, I was still groping around the concepts of contact improvisation and I allowed Patricia and the other participants in that workshop to guide me in exploring, albeit the struggle.
The reason why I am highlighting this is mainly because of what it was like when I was 16. I wish someone had guided me then. I wish I had someone who sat me down and discussed my interests. I am not talking about a 1-hour session. I am talking about a daily follow-up on my goals or skills because in truth, at that age, I knew nothing about how the world worked and I needed someone older to course me through a specific direction. Because I was left to fend for myself most of the time, I did what unguided juveniles did – got into trouble, cut classes, wrecked my grades, wasted time at the arcades or disco bars, and just did whatever fancied me at that time. Because I appeared I could take care of myself, many people assumed that I can manage on my own. I let people believe this but in truth, I was struggling. I needed help but I did not know who to turn to, where to go, and how to talk to the best candidates who can guide me through puberty and on to adult life.
As you grow older, you will learn that accepting guidance has no social, economic, and age requirement. Many times in your life, you will learn from people younger than you, who have less in financial gains but are richer in other ways, or whose body parts do not equal yours. You will learn and you will continuously do so until you meet The Man Upstairs. The learning experience is not a phase. It is a constant element in your life, so welcome it with an open heart and a sharp mind.
One of the things that I have promised was to never lie to myself. If I am confused or struggling, I will ask. I will raise my hand or walk up to someone who can clarify things for me. I will not be embarrassed to admit that this or that feat is a challenge even if admitting would mean for some close-minded people that I am the weakest link. I kept that promise during the workshop. I talked to people about my struggles, asked questions, and raised my concerns with Patricia.
But when I was younger, I put up the 'fake brave’ facade. In truth, I was terrified. Have you watched ducks swimming? Watch those ducks swimming so serenely in the pond – they looked so calm and collected on the outside, but paddling their webbed feet like crazy underwater. That was what it was like for me. I dared not ask questions, nor asked for help in general because I was scared that I will be laughed at or rejected. I was always made to believe that if you asked questions, you were either stupid or you were doubting those you were addressing the questions to. Asking for help meant you were either incapable or will be wasting someone’s time. I know this might sound ridiculous to many but there was a reason why these thoughts were ingrained in my head at a young age. I only unlearned these thoughts several years later. I wish someone assured me that it was okay to ask questions or to ask for help. There was no shame attached to it.
An additional piece of advice – after approaching the person, ask if it was alright to talk at that time or inquire about the best time for a talk. We have to consider that the person has his or her own schedule to adhere to and the kind of answers you will receive will be affected by how much time the person has.
This actually boils down to DISCIPLINE. Ah, this irritating sense of regulation is something that everyone struggles with. I still struggle with this sometimes. I have to constantly remind myself that whatever dreams I have conveniently created in my head will not come into realization if I did not push myself. If I wanted to continue earning money, I needed to report for work. If I wanted to earn my master's degree, I needed to attend classes. If I wanted to have a good performance, I needed to rehearse. If I wanted to travel to a certain destination, I needed to save money for that trip. If I wanted to learn a language, I needed to practice every day. If I wanted my relationships to be fruitful, I needed to nurture them.
This is also not limited to big goals. It should also resonate all the way to token dreams like if I wanted to build snow angels, I needed to brave the cold winter. If I wanted to have a happy refrigerator, I needed to walk back and forth to the supermarket for my groceries. If I wanted to make ube ice cream, I needed to learn the recipe and try. If I wanted to drink hot coffee then I would have to boil water. Everything requires me to move something, from one point to another, and to do the work. The gist is to show up for my dreams. To exert an effort and propel the universe to advance these dreams in a certain direction. Because even though dreams come true (never all at the same time), they do not happen on their own.
It would have been nicer though if someone told me this when I was younger. Minding that sense of discipline at an earlier age – discipline to wake up early, discipline to set study time in the evening, discipline to rehearse and review my technique every day, discipline to eat a balanced diet, discipline to read academic books, etc – would have gone a long way. If I had cultivated some of these every day many years ago, then they would have been a routine by now. As the elders always say, “It is always easier to nurture a sapling than pruning a primed tree.” This does not mean that as an adult you can no longer create and recreate routines in your life. It is still possible, only they require double the effort and triple the dedication because we are now talking about battling habits we have learned and re-learned along the way, which we will now need to unlearn.
This last part sounds like a piece of cake, a piece of the pie. Not exactly. It was not easy to drop one's guard down. This was one issue I shared with Patricia – that I honestly did not know how to just let go as easily as the others. I had trust issues which were probably why my defense was always up. It manifested physically with the way I sat, the way I breathed, the way I talked, the way I thought, the way I moved my body, the way I looked at people, and the way I followed her instructions. I did not know to relax. There was always something that I wanted to do, to say, to put in order, to fix, to build fences around my mind so as to protect myself from invisible monsters I have overthrown years ago. The fear of their return followed me around so the walls stayed up. I was worried that there was no structure in contact improvisation and the stillness or the freedom she encouraged everyone to make peace with was, for me, a disquieting experience.
But I will share what she told me which made all the difference. She told me that she could not advise me exactly how I can let go, or what the best way to relax was. Every person was different. She said that only I can do that for myself. Only I knew the true workings of my body and that I had to find that myself. She reiterated not to hurry for there was no rush and to take my time. I was not pressured and that there was no competition.
Again, it goes back to LISTEN and to sit back, but responsibly.
So, you do not know what you want just yet --- do not panic. It is not the end of the world. You have time. We all have time. It is what we do with the time that counts. As long as you are utilizing it to pursue happiness (and not borrowing someone else’s), then you are fine. Some people discover what they want at a young age, some people had an inkling of it at one period, some realize it much later but it always comes in God's perfect time. We do not have the same pace. If at one point you catch yourself hyperventilating because you felt that you were lagging behind or seemed lost, stop before you give yourself a heart attack. Take a breather and appreciate the place you are in. Feeling lost sometimes helps us re-evaluate our priorities. I do not encourage you to keep falling for this circumstance though. If you make a habit out of getting lost or losing yourself without taking into heart the lessons, then you are already making a choice to be irresponsible. Remember that we have a duty to find our purpose. God would have not breathed life into us if we do not have a role to play.
There, those were the lessons I placed in my basket during the workshop. I hope you will find meaning in them like the way I did.