I am more and more intrigued by the mystery of focussed spaces. I guess it is a mayor part of my dedication to Contact Improvisation. I am almost getting used to being in a space, where people follow their own interests, diving into a personal investigation that is still in touch with the group. Moments when this dense and generous atmosphere disappears make me realize how special and also fragile a focussed space is.

In a good jam or a well created dance frame in a workshop I feel the space to go for what I need and the freedom to do what I want. I guess most contacters share this experience. But how aware are we, that it is actually not true? We are very much not free to do whatever we want! I’d say it is essential to know that the sense of freedom we experience is based on certain limitations we agree on. We could call them rules, but they are not fixed. It is more complex than that. A good jam can hold huge variety of different needs and energies. But it somehow needs to be balanced – like a complex mobilee.

What I wish for is that we keep an awareness about what we put into space and what we take from it. Everything I do has an effect on the whole, it counts. It is not just about me and my actions. On the other hand the whole doesn’t depend just on me. Often there is something like a critical mass, that is needed to stabilize a complex system or to have it tilt or collapse from one moment to the next.

Classic challenges for a focussed space

Sounds and words have a strong effect on the space. No one can escape from an acoustic impact. We can’t close our ears. A bit of talking doesn’t always kill the general focus or working atmosphere, though it can. The more people are focussed in their activities the more talking a space can hold without falling apart. But talking is contagious. Words easily activate a certain mindset, that challenges our ability for physical sensations and spacial awareness. Easily others fall into that more mental or social mindset until the whole space tilts. And it is hard to restore it.

Of course it also depends on the quality of talking, the volume, if it is part of a dance, if it is happening on the side while watching what is happening in the space or if it is just private and disconnected from the rest.

If I lie still in the jam space without the ability to react to what is happening around me I potentially limit the movement options for others. I put more responsibility on the others to not step on me. That is not wrong in general. Depending on the group and the general energy it can integrated.

If I mentally collapse, disappear in my own bubble of tiredness, stuckness or trauma, I will suck energy from the whole. That can be ok, if the others are willing and able to keep investing in their practice. But I wish that we keep an awareness of what it does to the space when we collapse. We might pull the plug of the bath and should be clear if that’s what we want.

With everything we put into the jam: if we have an awareness of the whole picture and see our activity as a contribution to the whole and notice the effects it has, quite a lot is possible, which goes beyond the general good jamming behaviour.

Clear rules?

There is always the safe way. We set clear rules, like silent jams, where social talking is not permitted in the space. No parking in the jam space, no grabbing, no jumping on others…

But – there is always a ‘but’! – fixed rules limit our options for alive spaces. Most prohibitions (Verbote) and fears can be openings for fantastic new possibilities. It is possible to put weight on joints or the head if we are listening carefully. Grabbing and hooking can open exciting and weird ways to lift, challenge and limit each other, when we know the extra risk for injuries, and abusive manipulations well enough. Lying silently on the floor can be a very powerful experience, noticing the small dance happening inside in connection to the concert of random sounds form the outside. This obstacle of stillness can become a fascinating architectural condensation point for the whole space. But I should notice if it is received like this or not.

On our Contact Festival ‘contact-meets-contemporary’ I am usually satisfied and at peace, when the first 90 minutes of the evening jams are somehow focussed. If people are starting to talk then, if the space becomes messy and unfocussed I can see it more and more often also as a need. We can’t always be focussed. There are also stupid, more anarchistic voices in us, desires for chaos and inner needs to break rules.

But in order to bend or break rules we first need to understand them and integrate them into our practice. Understanding as being aware, what the reason is behind a convention. If I haven’t questioned a rule I haven’t really understood it.

Understanding is more than a mental process, understanding is based on experience. Not-following a rule is an integral part of understanding it, I guess. But I’d wish curiosity to be the base for challenging set rules and not immature defiance (Trotz). We need to care.

We can try to control everything, but at the end improvisation is based on the permission to fail. I personally need to work on the permission that a Jam can fall apart. It is the willingness to learn from experiences that will eventually make the main difference.

The necessity to fail

It feels courages to write this, because I am very happy with silent jams. With no parking and no socializing in the Jam space. I have no problem to stay focussed for ages. But I see that people are different and that for the whole it can be good if there is the potential for explosions, outbursts or general collapse. A failed jam can also feed the research: What went wrong? What is it that we are longing for? First of all we need to care. We shouldn’t take things for granted. What we do has an effect. Our actions count.

Everything is part of the jam – as Nancy’s Underscore claims. Ignorance kills jams and focussed work. There are moments, where it is the right thing for me to take energy from the jam in order to follow my needs. I benefit from all the others, who invest enough so that I can be self-indulgent. But I expect from myself a sense of gratitude if I let the whole carry me. I can’t take this for granted.

I wish from all jam participants an awareness about the effects of our actions: ‘When do I put energy into the space, when do I feed the whole? And when do I suck energy, when do I weaken the aliveness and connectedness of the whole?

There is no objective truth. There is no clear right or wrong. No rule is absolute. Simple answers don’t help. But we need to care. ‘I don’t know so I don’t care!’ doesn’t count.

We can become over-caring, being over-obsessed with what the whole might need, and lose our own interest and passion. Good jamming and working as a group is a constant balancing process where everyone is asked to negotiate ones own needs with the needs of the whole. In a way I feel it doesn’t take much. It takes a general interest in researching how to be present. Healthy doubting and daring. The whole needs to be balanced and constantly readjusted. Like a contact duet or a chaotic mobilee.

It feels like a miracle to me, how often we succeed as a whole. It is such a complex balancing process, where everyone has his or her inner pendulums that move between clear focus and being lost, inner & outer awareness, giving and taking, initiating and following or supporting … I believe that finding my own curiosity and desire to move, is the base. And without much extra effort for some wider awareness I can integrate all the rest. Jams can feel like a celebration of human potential: the dance and human aliveness as an experience of community – without us really understanding how that is possible. I believe that this ability is a general human condition, a gift of a couple of million years of evolution of social intelligence.

But first of all we need to care.