By October 4, 2017 May 25th, 2018 Dance Diplomacy

“I can do things you cannot, you can do things I cannot; together we can do great things.” -Mother Teresa

We get taught to be present for our dance partner, to listen to their body and respond respectfully. Out of that mutual care, a precious bond is formed. Incorporate this form of listening and responding to your interactions and watch your relationships change.


Do you remember the first time you did contact improvisation? Awkwardly leaning on someone else and holding yourself up, unsure whether you should trust them or not. With your professor repeating things like, “Drape yourself, let go, push into them, they can take your weight.”

I don’t remember the first time I did contact improv, but there was one very memorable time which made me realize the power of movement. Similar to most dance departments, the Western Michigan University dance department, was one made up mostly of women. On Fridays, we would partner with whomever was dancing close to us, and that individual, most of the time, was another woman. As we all know, woman have huge variety of body types, so I got used to playing all different types of roles; being the base, being lifted, dancing with someone much shorter than me and taller than me. Every person moved differently, had a different energy, and even the same person could move completely different depending on the day. Each dance was a completely new experience. This was something I was used to.

What I was not used to, was contact improving with a man. I had done plenty of partner work with men prior to this point, but, as we who have done contact improv before, know that it is completely different experience.

I should mention now, that my past with men has not always included a mutual exchange of respect. These are experiences that I have spent a lot of time talking about and writing about – but I didn’t realize, until this very moment, that there was one more component to healing this wound, movement. I believe we hold memories in our bodies, memories of trauma, loss and while traditional ways of dealing with these things are necessary and effective, perhaps the most vital part is to release these memories from our bodies.

I put pressure into him and felt him yield, I felt him respond to my touch. He would gently put pressure into me, listening for my response. Nine thirty-six a.m. in Modern 2, my partner released me from a burden my body was carrying. I wanted to collapse and cry, I wanted to thank my partner. I didn’t know how to go on with the rest of my day feeling as light as I did in that moment. I felt the power of moving with someone, my partner changed my body’s knowledge of what it means to be touched by a man, and I will forever by grateful for that.

-Izzabella Irwin, Panama Fellow; WMU Movement Exchange Alumni

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