A wave of change
CQ Contact Improvisation Newsletter Winter/Spring 2014 Vol. 39.1
CI in India: A Wave of Change: Goa Contact Festival, by Erica Kaufman
Since 2011 I have been teaching CI in India to Indians. But this past summer, while at the Goa Contact Festival, I found myself teaching 125 people from around the world, 30 from India.
The festival was started four years ago by three European friends who had previously met at other festivals and jammed on the beach together in Goa—Iris Raipala (also goes by Ma Prem Tara), Katri Luukkonen (also known as Vega), and Volker Eschmann. (Volker produced a film made by Gareth Hoover at the Goa Contact Festival 2013 which is posted on YouTube and on the festival’s website.)
My main interest in teaching Contact Improvisation in India comes from my curiosity about what happens when cultures collide. I’m finding that it reveals a fabulous mess filled with new opportunities—exposing hypocrisies in human nature at every turn. It is extremely interesting to be within that “mess,” feeling the western CI principles of investigating movement clash and excite the Indian dancers/movers.
More than ever before it was apparent how my teaching—along with the other non-Indians, and Indians who are now deeply engaged in the form—is part of a wave of change in India.
In India, touch between genders is not public; in fact, it is taboo. There is magnificent man-to-man touch that is allowed in India—relaxed bodies, holding hands, arms around one another, hugs. But that is the public limit.
When I teach CI in India, I’m providing a space to explore touch and pierce the deprivation of cross-gender touching in public, and it brings me relief to witness this breaking of such strong taboos. Iris and Vega shared that they also see the joy and relief that CI offers local people.
Volker and I spoke about this tender point where Indian culture and the culture of CI intersect and inevitably push boundaries. I hope that awareness is heightened in both directions and that the goal is not to impose western CI on the East but rather to share the principles and see how it evolves.
One evening at the Goa Contact Festival, I sat in a grass sleeping hut with Vega, Iris, and Volker. There, the four of us shared our curiosities and discoveries within CI and about how CI uniquely unfolds in India. They told me the story of how the festival came to be.
Iris and Vega knew each other from the Finland CI scene. Iris had traveled to India many times, and in 2004 they went together to the Osho Ashram in Pune, India. There they danced CI. Others saw them and were interested, and they ended up teaching CI classes at the Resort.
Osho [formerly called “Rajneesh”] was an Indian mystic guru, a professor of philosophy, and a controversial critic of organized religion and Mahatma Gandhi. He was outspoken in his beliefs that humans were being suppressed by cultural pressures, such as belief systems, religion, and socialism. Due to his open attitude toward sexuality, he became known as the “sex guru.”
I asked if staying at the Ashram in Pune changed their relationship to CI. Vega said that it made her see how amazing the form is and how much it has to offer people not experienced in CI: “I see it (CI) as a beautiful form of dance practice, where you can allow all your being to be part of the dance.”
In 2010, Iris, Vega, Volker, along with Irene Sposetti (who had been actively teaching CI in India with her partner Johan Nilsson) met at the Ibiza Contact Festival. At that time, there was not much CI in Goa. They posted a 3-day jam in Manhem Goa as a Facebook event—and 60 people signed up. After this, Iris, Vega, and Volker organized an official Goa Contact Festival, which has become an annual event.
Abhilash Ningappa was one of the Indian dancers who showed up at that initial jam and has been instrumental in helping build trust between the festival and Indian dancers. In this same vein, the organizers have set up funding to support and subsidize the participation of Indians at the festival.
Most but not all of the Indian participants are professional dancers interested in CI. I spoke with Nirupam Gyan, a North Indian farmer (rice and wheat), who was dancing at the Goa Festival for the second year in a row. He saw Iris and Vega dancing at the Osho ashram years ago and felt drawn to learn more. I asked him how his family and friends would feel about his dancing, as they do not know he is a dancing farmer. “They will be shocked when they come to know about my other life. They will think I’m crazy wasting money and life with all this.”
He only started to study the principles of CI at the Goa Festival. Before that, it was a way of expressing in the moment. “It was an extension of meditation. I was amazed how the energy was changing each moment. I had the experience of no mind while dancing contact. My body felt like not a body anymore but a venue of oneness of energy.”
The people who work with me at farms are not able to understand about meditations and dance. CI is important for me because I feel myself present in that very moment.... I watch the movement of energy in my body and allow it to happen...the beauty and truth of that moment which I cannot explain in words because there are no words needed for that.”
CI in India is not only a new form of dance but perhaps a new way of experiencing our human commonalities. As CI dancers, we experience together the body; the mind (busy, entangled, or quiet); the emotions; and within all this we are learning through the dance.
Next year’s festival: January 27–February 3, 2014.
Erica Kaufman is a CI dancer/teacher, a yogini, and owner of Lila Yoga Studios and Teacher Training.