Gender, Philosophy and CI

Philosophy, food for dancing:
Philosophy is a practice that tries to challenge our preconceived ideas. It’s often technical, sometimes boring, but from time to time, it can bring a lot of joy in new understandings of reality. For this CI Ground Research, our intention is to use philosophical texts as seeds for dancing and naming our dancers’ experiences. Our research catalysts, Romain Bigé and Kristin Horrigan, will propose several authors and notions to work on (texts from philosophers like Bergson and Merleau-Ponty, or dance improvisers like Steve Paxton and Lisa Nelson) as a way to trigger and illuminate our experience of dance. The intention is to dance with these texts and ideas, letting them give their weight to our practice, but also, letting our practice shape our understanding of them.

Focus on gender

As an addition to these philosophical perspectives, we would like to bring a special focus to our conversations, looking at gender dynamics in these, and reflecting more broadly on domination issues in the teaching and practice of Contact. Certainly, Contact promotes an equality in gender uncommon in dance and sports: women lifting men, relatively gender-neutral clothing, an absence of proscribed gender-roles… But even if we usually practice egalitarian “speaking circles”, even if non-violent approaches to exchanges remain common (“yes and…” instead of “no” or “yes but…”, speaking from one’s point of view, listening and not reacting…), gendered power dynamics surface when we come back to talking and/or organize around CI. Do those raised as “men” take up more space in conversation circles than those raised as “women”? Who feels comfortable speaking up quickly or interrupting? Do gendered styles of speaking lead us to take some ideas more seriously than others? Do we divide the labor of producing CI events by gender roles?

Framing research

Contact Improvisation is the practice that we share and love. It is our common language. CIGR is a unique opportunity for a residential in-depth practice of the form with a concentrated number of experienced practitioners. Our intention is to use this common language to research different areas of our expertise as dancers, body-workers, teachers, humans, citizens… Contact Improvisation, in this “Ground Research”, is not the answer to any question that we may ask: it is our way of communicating together to refine our interrogations. The gender issue, in Contact, is a good example of that: Contact is not an answer to gender domination (it does not erase it)–but the precise sensitivity required for the practice allows us to study when and how gender-bias emerges in our ways of relating to each other.

There are many ways to practice research through Contact Improvisation, and each participant will come with their own questions, states and methods. We propose to bring into focus a specific practice of research, that of using philosophical texts to illuminate experience, but we do not intend to control the content of our investigation. As facilitators, we will provide a selection of questions and ideas as a starting point; but Earthdance library is big, and participants will be invited either to share readings they find, or to bring books/articles/quotations/etc. that they’d be curious to research and expand on during the week.

Depending on the day, depending on the topics, each participant will have a different range of interest and desire to share in the research: some might prefer proposing structures, others might enjoy the ride along. It is crucial that we work within these differences. Negotiating with each other is not just a preliminary to research—it is the incubator in which novel ways of understanding the world can emerge.



Romain Bigé is a dancer, philosophy teacher and dance scholar based in Paris, France. An agrégé of philosophy, he is currently pursuing a PhD in the École Normale supérieure on the Poetics of Contact Improvisation and the concept of movement in contemporary French philosophy (bergsonism and phenomenology). He is interested in the way movement practices shape sensory cartographies and give way to original modes of relating to others.

He has intensively been exploring Contact Improvisation since 2012, throughout the US and Europe, but mostly in Paris where he co-founded L’oeil et la main (, a CI collective which hosts Paris annual Contact festival (RiCI). He is also part of me-lieu, an all-male improvisational and site-speci c dance collective based in Paris. Lisa Nelson, Nancy Stark Smith, Matthieu Gaudeau, Joerg Hassman were and are his main in uences, along with Steve Paxton whom he had the chance to spend talking time with while researching the archives of CI in the US.

He teaches an annual Philosophy of Art class in PSL* Research University (ENS-Henri IV), proposing to bridge the practices and works of art with contemporary philosophies. With Asaf Bachrach, he collaborates to the ICI Project –aka From Joint Improvisation to Interaction– a CNRS laboratory on neuroscience and danced improvisation (more info on He also teaches philosophy classes to dancers at the National Conservatory of Dance and has developed a quarterly contact & philosophy workshops series in collaboration with Matthieu Gaudeau.


Kristin Horrigan is a Professor of Dance and Gender Studies at Marlboro College in Marlboro, VT. She has been practicing, researching and teaching Contact Improvisation for 20 years, around the US and abroad in places such as Europe, Australia, Japan and Argentina. In her CI research and teaching over the past few years, Kristin has been focused on cultivating our ability to be interested, looking at the relationship between composition and play in CI, teaching CI technique in a way that preserves the accessibility of CI for people of all abilities, and most extensively, exploring the ways gender influences our CI dancing. A recent publication in Contact Quarterly shares some of her ideas about gender in CI: As an educator, Kristin works to help students bring together movement and critical thinking to deepen their practice as dancers, creators and scholars and to make progress in answering their own most pressing research questions.