A Short History

Contact Quarterly 1980English
Contact Quarterly Vol. 5 No. 3/4, (Spring/Summer, 1980): 43.

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During a Grand Union residency at Oberlin College in January 1972, Steve Paxton made a work for 11 men in which they threw, caught, flung, collided and fell among one another continuously for 10 minutes. Then they stood for a few minutes. The dance was called 'Magnesium'.

That spring, while teaching at Bennington College, Steve met with two students­ Leon Felder and Nita Little-who had been stimulated by a similar curiosity with the physical forces that affect motion, experimenting with lifting, falling and exchanging weight with mutual support. In June 1972, with funding from Change, Inc., Steve gathered about 15 "of the best athletes that I had run into in the course of a year or two of teaching," both men and women, to explore the principles and potential of communication first evident in 'Magnesium'. The first week was spent in rehearsal. The 2nd week was a public showing of the working process, 5 hours daily, at the Weber Gallery in NYC. This event was called Contact Improvisation. Among the participants were Laura Chapmen, Steve Christiansen (video), Barbara Dilley, Leon Felder, Mary Fulkerson, Danny Lepkoff, Nita Little, Alice Lusterman, Curt Siddall, Nancy Stark Smith, Nancy Topf and David Woodberry.

Inspired by this event, the work continued. A tour in early 1973 brought Steve Paxton, Curt Siddall, Nancy Stark Smith Nita Little and Karen Radler to the West Coast, performing and leading workshops in Contact Improvisation under the name, 'You Come, We'll Show You What We Do'. The ambiance of the work in performance continued to be informal: no music, special lighting or costume, audiences in the round, duets and trios interspersed with solo dancing. In June 1973, Steve brought a group to Europe for the first time to perform Contact at L'Attico Gallery in Rome.

By 1974, Nita, Curt and Nancy were in the San Francisco Bay Area teaching the form to others, creating more dance-mates and developing a context for the work's expansion. Joined by Steve Paxton, in 1975 they formed ReUnion, the first formal Contact Improvisation company, meeting once a year to tour the West Coast with performances and classes. The continuing dialogue concerning Contact's development soon included hundreds of other individuals and groups. The Contact Newsletter (now Contact Quarterly) was initiated by ReUnion in 1975, edited and produced by Nancy Stark Smith, to foster communication among the geographically dispersed teachers, performers and practitioners of Contact. Inspired by the work, the work continues.