What Happens at Our Jam

The following talks about what we do for the open-jam portion of our sessions, from 3:00 to 5:00. Our CI class from 2:00 to 3:00 starting in October 2022, will help provide more guidance. On the first Sunday of each month the entire session is devoted to an Underscore, about which you can read more, see Our Monthly Underscore page 

Contact Improvisation jams are loosely structured events for people to gather and practice together. Like CI in general, it can be difficult to describe exactly what to do. That leaves room for uncertainty about how to start, whether you're doing the right thing, and so on. Uncertainty is ok. It can lead to questioning and exploration, which are essential and often fun aspects of this practice. But uncertainty can be daunting. We can't prevent that – it's an intrinsic to improvisation – but we can offer some perspective on the jam process, to try to reduce unnecessary uncertainty and support finding your way in.

(Starting in October, 2022 our regular sessions start with a contact improvisation class for the first hour or so. This is part of our agreement with our studio hosts, Dance Place, in order to be included on their adult class schedule. We're very happy with this arrangement! On the first Sunday of each month we do not have a separate class, because we continue to hold an Underscore. That sort of has the class built in.)


For our 2:00 to 5:00 pm Sunday jam, many arrive around 2:00 for the class and most who are attending that day are around soon after 3:00. (If you're just there for the jam, though, you can arrive at any time.) It varies, but it helps the jam work well for people to make the effort to be there near the start.

When people arrive for the jam they may chat a bit or they may go straight into their personal warm-ups, transitioning at their own pace from the busy-ness of daily life to activating their bodies and attention to moving. It's important to give yourself whatever time you need to notice how you are in the moment, and what it takes for you to arrive and be ready to dance.

It's important that everyone chooses for themselves how and when they share their personal space. To support that we maintain an informal agreement that the edges of the space are for solo moving while people in the interior of the space are available for partnering. See Organizing the jam space for the specific score.

If you're inclined to chat, realize that some of the people around you might need quiet space for themselves. Please don't get carried away with it — we're there to dance! (-:

Our insurance requires that everyone sign a DC Jam Liability Waiver - we'll have some there, but bringing a signed one helps...

Finding Dances

The process of finding dances is, itself, an improvisation.  There's a lot of opportunity to wonder what you're supposed to be doing about connecting with others, and no cut-and-dried guidelines. It's good to know that there's not a lot that you must do.  If you can tune into how you're influenced by stuff within and around you, you can have plenty to do just moving on your own and in response to what's happening around you. The ability to be receptive to what's happening within you and around you is really key. As you and others get into this mode, connections happen.

It can be doubly challenging to notice both what's happening within your self and also what's happening around you, and not have one focus preclude the other. Balancing these two is an art, and can ultimately be very engaging, if you're willing to give it a try.

The way I generally like to start is by seeking the dance I have with myself, at that moment. That could involve exploring the edges between balance and imbalance, momentum and (dis)coordination, sluggishness and levity. It may be different for you — the idea is to try things that lead to tuning in to yourself, and your sense of being present at the physical place, the jam space. Start with what you find in yourself at the moment, rather than what you expect you should be doing. The material you find will be what is personally engaging for you, and will be something that works for you in sharing with others - it will be most within reach of where you are.

Ken Manheimer says something about  Solo Contact Improv?↗︎.

Connecting with others can happen accidentally, when your sphere of attention overlaps with someone else, or it can happen by choice — seeking out someone doing something that interests you, or vice versa, or practicing a familiar warm-up with a friend.  It can be nice to sample connections, dabbling in various interactions on before sticking with any one, or just dive in to an exploration with someone.

This sampling approach got a name, early in CI practice: "Grazing". Nancy Stark Smith included it as a specific element of her CI-based ensemble improvisation recipe, the Underscore↗︎ - see Our Monthly Underscore for more about this.

For Real Invitations, "No" Is Always A Valid Response — Respecting Boundaries

Good connections are based on the free choice of all participants. The possibility of a full hearted "yes" is only present when "no" is properly and fully respected. Building on that, it's essential that there's no obligation to explore or stay with a particular connection.  In order for everyone to have their choice about what they accept, how they continue, and when they're ready to be done, they must be able to turn down offers as well as to accept them.

You might find yourself ready to join a dance but your prospective partner isn't. Vice-versa, you might not be ready, and it's fine to refuse an invitation, or part as soon as you are ready to do so. It's crucial that an offer is an offer, not an insistence. In order for each of us to choose the invitations that we do and don't accept, nobody gets to choose for others what they do and don't accept.

This principle is the basis of healthy mutual cooperation.

We can't emphsize this enough: Contact Improvisation is based on mutual cooperation rather than externally imposed control. Good dances as well as general jam safety and vitality depend on Respecting Boundaries - please read.

Connection with The Underscore

These suggestions are all similar to those embodied in an ensemble movement improv recipe called The Underscore↗︎. The Underscore was developed by Nancy Stark Smith, and many groups around the world continue the exploration and development, including the DC Sunday jam. The Sunday jam Underscore happens on the first Sunday of each month.  The added structure of the Underscore can help express what goes on at the less explicitly structured open jams.

See a video of Nancy delivering a full Underscore talk-through at the Somatics 2019 conference! (In case the conference takes down that page, you find just the video on Vimeo as long as it, itself, is around.)

In the underscore, participants agree to follow a shared progression, making it easy to identify activities that are separate from the score, including chatting. In a regular CI jam the boundaries and agreement are less clearly set. It's a friendly situation, with room for some chatting. Still, the more that each of us focuses on being present for contact improvisation, the more we support and strengthen one another's pursuit of it.

Closing Circle

We conclude each Sunday jam as a group, gathering in a circle at 4:30 to share names and have an opportunity to share anything we would like about our experience in the jam that day. It's also a time to discuss jam business like studio news or schedule changes.

In our jam, sharing a focus on Contact Improvisation enables us to support each other in pursuit of this physical play for the sake of play — an extraordinary opportunity.