Aikido and Contemporary Dance

When two people are in contact there is a flow of information between them.  Physical information (force, weight, movement), sensory information, emotional states (fear, excitement).

Many dancers have come to Aikido training through exposure to Contact Improvisation (CI), a contemporary dance form, as Steve Paxton, one of the pioneers of Contact Improvisation , was strongly influenced by his training in Aikido. If we look at some of the basic principles of CI their commonality with Aikido becomes immediately clear.

Contact Improvisation Steve Paxton

Contact Improvisation: An Intuitive, Non-Verbal and Intimate Dialogue

Contact Improvisation is based on the exchange of physical information through a point of contact. This information includes elements such as weight sharing, losing and regaining balance, and momentum.  Sensory information on our emotional and mental state is also transmitted. Both partners  ‘listen’ to each other physically.  To do this the first required element is a constant awareness of the point of physical contact. The intimacy of this contact allows a direct communication of our emotional state.

The second element is that of improvisation. Movements are unplanned and free.  Although  unpredictable, they happen within a known matrix of dynamics, gravity, momentum, centrifugal forces, support and mutual dependency.  This demands our complete attention and in doing so creates a situation for intuitive action and reaction.

Human touch unites the forces with the sensations they provoke. This interaction allows all the parts of the dancers’ bodies to move in harmony.

The ultimate goal is to create authentic and immediate expression through the information exchanged via the physical contact.

The movement in contact improvisation is totally free form, without any preliminary goal. Often our intention gets in the way and causes us to lose contact. This in turn reveals our own instinctive behaviours which arise out of our life experience. Training in contact improvisation we can become more self aware and one’s personal characteristics are revealed. Sensitive people who are good at listening to others will naturally be able to “listen” to another’s body.  They may also be more passive and reluctant to take the initiative. These tendencies become evident. Our perception helps us play with these behaviors. By becoming aware of our learned responses we can eventually learn to transcend them in our communication with others.

Many of these elements are present in Aikido training. Indeed it is fair to say that people who train in Aikido have spent years learning to listen to their partners through their points of physical contact.  The elements of momentum, balance, falling, and interdependency  are fundamental to the proper performance of Aikido. In Aikido the forms are, in their main lines, predetermined according to the attack and response being studied. Within these given forms however there is a great deal of improvisation and adaptation as we harmonise with each other’s physical and emotional states. This responsiveness and freedom is gradually attained through the study of Aikido techniques. We practice  how to take another’s and give our own balance, how to read our partners movement through the point of physical contact. In addition, a crucial point in Aikido techniques is that we must develop a natural understanding of how our body’s joints work  individually and collectively through the body as a unit. 

These qualities of Aikido training make it an art ideal for dancers who wish to further explore this aspect of movement.