Decisions, decisions

I have to give the CBC credit: they’ve done quite a lot right to remain relevant in new media circles.

The corporation’s efforts to make more content available to more people by creating an almost universal program for podcasting radio shows, and developing an ever-expanding web presence are exactly what the national broadcaster should be doing to fulfill its mandate in the 21st century. Their newest experiment in the technology of distribution, however, may go too far in responding to the pressures of the new media climate.

Certainly, a longer version of The National, a news broadcast that provides nuance and context to distinctly Canadian stories, and CBC’s new initiatives to make news available online, and for Blackberries and IPhones, is appreciated. However, the new web version of The National, in which users can customize their newscast by “selecting the news items they want to see and the order they prefer to see them”—admittedly a secondary feature in the Mother Corp’s National reforms—is potentially problematic. The initiative is not a new one, as CNN has had its own customizable webcasts on-site since 2007. The ability to select your own cast is a feature born from the idea that there is an Internet fuelled consumer mindset that pushes unfettered choice in what viewers deem to be important.

It isn’t that people have become total dictators over content so much as the curators feeding that content have become more numerous. The Internet has been a boon for the broadening of things like musical tastes, not because the people consuming it have been given unfettered choice, but because we have access to more curators than ever before, and the tools to create true mass movements around particular artists and sounds have been democratized. Bands like Grizzly Bear and Vampire Weekend have played arena-level shows thanks to blog buzz. Certainly, people are consuming more news, too, from more sources than ever before.

But unlike music, more gatekeepers in news media have not created a general broadening of perspective, but instead a sharply partisan understanding of current events. That this is symptomatic of the news-on-demand decade suggests that perhaps, in the end, we might not know what’s good for us after all.

This is not to infer that institutional news has to remain the same. Stagnant, “objective” news organizations stand to gain nothing from staying the course in the middle of technological upheaval.

Instead, institutional news media can take on a corrector’s role—an authoritative voice that can bring prominence to issues of genuine importance and try to rectify the pervasive myths of hyper-partisan blog media, rather than to re-report them, as was so prevalent during the 2008 U.S. presidential election. Network news could have been the voices that helped put the Obama-as-secret-terrorist-Muslim story to bed, instead of being the bodies that brought the issue into prominence during an organized debate (thanks again for that, George Stephanopolous). There may be no money for middle-of-the-road reporting any more, but I wager more people would come to prefer a cold, sobering shower in their news to the “shouting across the void” as Obama describes it.

There is certainly a role for institutional media in the age of the Internet, and the CBC’s experiment is likely a first step in reforming the way that institutional media provide information to the public. However, it cannot be the last one.

Sit-in has students fearing Hotel California

Seventy UC Santa Cruz students occupied an administrative building last Thursday after the university approved a 32 per cent increase in student fees. In June, UC’s board of regents had raised fees by 9.3 per cent effective immediately, after an earlier 10 per cent hike in the same fiscal year.

The University of California is the fourth largest public university system in the U.S. Its 10 campuses have suffered massive budget cuts, resulting in tuition hikes and reduced student services.

alt text

Protestors issued a list of seven demands, including amnesty from protest, protection of undocumented students and workers, a freeze on all layoffs, and guaranteed funding through employment of fee remissions for students who have lost TA or work-study positions.

Students spoke with administration throughout the day Saturday. Executive vice-chancellor David Klieger later decided that the university would make no concessions until students vacated the building.

Students and faculty could come and go from the five-storey Kerr Hall until Saturday night. When protestors learned police had been called, they used a refrigerator to barricade the building.

“Ironically, the administration building was much more accessible to students when it was occupied by students than it normally is,” said Don Kingsbury, a media contact for the protestors.

Kingsbury added that much of the negotiations occurred through faculty members who supported the student campaign.

“The way that administration treats students and thinks of students, it is much more effective to have faculty approach them. The administration has been very clear that they don’t really care to interact with students.”

Faculty and staff have also been severely affected by cutbacks at UC, said Bettina Aptheker, a feminist studies professor who observed the occupation in and outside the building on Sunday morning. All faculties received a seven per cent pay cut earlier this year.

“Our local administration has closed child care for faculty and staff effective Jan. 1,” said Aptheker. “We are the only campus to do this.”

Campus and local police in riot gear announced 6:30 a.m. Sunday morning that protestors who didn’t leave would be arrested. Students surrendered and moved to Kresge Town Hall, a campus student space, to have a debriefing meeting.

None of occupiers were arrested or have since been arrested. One bystander, an assistant professor, was injured after he lost footing on a railing while trying to make room for protestors exiting the building.

On Monday night, the group held a town hall meeting that drew 300 attendees including students, faculty members, Santa Cruz residents, members of the Brown Berets, and Pajaro Valley educators, according to Kingsbury. The group plans to launch a defensive measure over American Thanksgiving, asking friends and family to call the university and demand charges not be pressed.

“Future direct actions also aren’t off the table, but it’s important to emphasize we don’t want this to turn into committing offensive acts throughout the school year,” said Kingsbury.

On Wednesday the Santa Cruz Sentinel reported that the university has estimated damages conservatively between $50,000 and $52,000, not including wages of cleanup crews or police. “That’s hard dollars that have either already been spent or we know we are going to spend,” said Barry Shiller, a spokesperson from the university.

Kingsbury suggested that the estimates may be inflated.

“The graffiti that students put up was done with blue painters tape,” said Kingsbury, “students have been very focused on the struggle for public education and we aren’t going to get anywhere by trashing the infrastructure of our universities.”

While neither academic nor criminal charges have been pressed, many students are apprehensive. Kingsbury has expressed a concern he may face academic or criminal prosecution for his role in the incident. Students who left personal belongings in the building as they fled are lobbying them to be turned over to a third party. They are concerned that the university will compile a list of protestors as they retrieve belongings from the police. Administration has so far refused to grant this request.

The future of arts and science

There are few opportunities at this university for students to get directly involved with the apparatus of our education. As one’s years here add up, more and more situations arise which elicit our baffled response, “Why?” Every student here has a similar story of a moment where some facet of our institution reared its ugly, seemingly unplanned head. Must it be so hard to make a distinguished university that’s obviously full of talented people work for its students?

Currently, the faculty of arts and science on the St. George campus—which represents around 26,000 students—is undergoing an academic planning review. What this means is that the future of the faculty, the largest single division at our university, is being planned out right now.

The current plan, 2004’s Stepping Up, focused strongly on the student experience and the role of interdisciplinary programs. One of the largest concerns within the faculty at the time was the impact of the large number of Ontario high school students who had entered the university after the elimination of grade 13 in 2003. The focus on smaller programs, and research-based courses helped to assuage the influx of students into the campus.

The financial situation of the faculty is quite different from where it was in 2004. The recession has cut into funding, and this budget crunch is reflected in the mood set out in the planning outline provided by the dean, which provides context and a guide for departments. There is also the reality of President Naylor’s Towards 2030 document, which envisions the St. George campus as research focused and with fewer undergraduates. The priorities of 2004, which stressed equity, interdisciplinary programs, and connections to surrounding community, will most likely change with the new academic plan.

The eventual academic plan is not a fait accompli. Right now, every department, college, and program is creating its own plans to present to the administration. These documents will stress where each department sees its own future, and how it can best accomplish its goals. It is these plans that will eventually make up the faculty’s next five years. As students, one of the best ways to ensure that final plans reflects our needs, is to make sure each department or college program presents a document that reflects not only the needs of its students today, but the needs of students five years from now.

Like much at this university, the planning program is bloated and convoluted at best. Course unions are trying to cut through the bureaucracy by organizing events for students to voice their ideas for improving the faculty. The success of these events will be reflected in the final document submitted by each department, as, conversely, a lack of student involvement in the planning program will show in the final academic plan.

Along with feeling this university could work better for students, is the idea that hoping for change is futile. This defeatist attitude does a disservice to those who are actively campaigning to change our university for the better. The university can work for students, but it takes the active participation of those students to make this change possible. This current planning process provides a direct and tangible outlet for students to work to improve our learning experience, and an opportunity to not be dismissed out of hand. If we ever want to see improvements in the faculty of arts and science, students need to engage and educate themselves about the workings of the institution they belong to. Through being involved in academic planning, we can bequeath to future students a university that works—a university we can take pride in.

Gavin Nowlan is president of the Arts and Science Students’ Union.

Alberta students could see massive fee hikes

The Alberta government is allowing cash-strapped universities and colleges to apply for tuition fee increases, despite a 2006 pledge capping tuition rates to the inflation rate for 10 years.

Doug Horner, Alberta’s advanced education minister, said tuition hikes will be considered on a case-by-case basis. “I have told the post-secondary institutions that it’s our intention to maintain the cap on tuition,” he told CTV Edmonton. “We’re open to fair and equitable proposals that are brought forward.”

The University of Alberta is reportedly considering applying to the province for tuition hikes, as is the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

Increasing university revenue is provincially regulated and tied to the consumer price index. U of A was expecting a six per cent funding increase from the province. But due to a record provincial deficit of about $10 billion, the government decided to freeze funding.

U of A is struggling to cope with a $59 million budget shortfall. According to its student union, proposed hikes for professional programs could go as high as 66 per cent.

“A substantial tuition fee and professional program fee hike would discourage high school graduates from pursuing higher education, and may cause currently enrolled students to drop out of school,” said fourth-year U of A student Laura Rivera, who studies immunology and infection. But, she said, it would not deter her from applying to the faculty of medicine.

The most recent Statistics Canada data available, from 2005 to 2006, show that Alberta had the lowest university participation rate for students aged 20 to 24 in the country. At the time, only 17 per cent of Albertans in the age group attended university. By comparison, 28 per cent of Ontarians in the age group attended university.

Watson Scott Swail, president and CEO of the Educational Policy Institute, said the province should have created an education fund as a safety net when its economy was booming, instead of handing out cheques to Albertans because of the budget surplus. “When there’s less college and university access, there’s less diversity in the workforce, and society’s ability to change and evolve is limited,” Swail told the Calgary Herald.

Ian Armstrong, a third-year neuroscience student at U of A, took a more sympathetic view. “I’m not happy about the tuition hike, but I think that it’s a reasonable response to the deficit that the university is facing,” he said. “It’s not unexpected that Alberta’s economic boom would eventually end and the government would make cuts in funding to postsecondary institutions, so I’d be willing to shoulder the extra fees.”

Who’s afraid of Sarah Palin?

alt textConservatives who value intellectual vitality no longer have a party to call their own in the United States. The line-ups outside bookstores and endless media coverage of Sarah Palin’s new memoir Going Rogue drives home this gloomy point.

It’s easy to dismiss Palin as an outlier in the Republican Party. Her gaffes on the campaign trail (we all remember that she can see Russia from her house), her affinity for rural pastimes like hunting (from her helicopter), and her repetition of buzzwords like “maverick” make her fodder for satirists. However, with the conservative movement at its lowest intellectual ebb since the 1960s, and with the Republican Party now home to Joe-the-Plumber-style populism, there’s a credible threat that Palin could become the next Republican nominee for president. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss her.

Palin’s no-apologies style of conservatism has positioned her as the choice of deeply conservative Republican activists—the same ones who vote in primaries and choose presidential nominees. But she also has the ability to engage voters who would otherwise stay home. Republican moderates have virtually been eliminated from the party. There is the recent example of Dede Scozzafava—a Republican Congresswoman Congressional candidate from New York who is pro-choice and for gay marriage. She was forced to end her campaign due to lack of support. A far right candidate challenged Scozzafava, and was subsequently endorsed by several notable Republicans, including Palin. In another election, Florida’s Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who has a moderate record on environmental and economic issues, opted to run for the Senate in 2010 and is facing a challenge in the primaries from conservative Marco Rubio, who has criticized Crist for being too liberal.

However, the most striking example of the rightward Republican shift has occurred in New England. The last Republican members of Congress from New England were defeated in the 2008 elections, marking the first time in nearly 150 years that the region has not had any Republican representation. While New England voters tend to vote Democratic, other factors have erased Republicans from the region—mainly inadequate financial support for moderates, and challenges by more extreme conservatives preventing moderates from running at all.

While Republican moderates would be unlikely to support Palin, the sad truth is that very few of them exist to oppose her.

There are no credible candidates likely to seek the Republican nomination. Mitt Romney is an alternative, but the problems which plagued him last time he sought the nomination will not disappear. He is still an unapologetic member of the Republican Establishment—the people who officially run the party—running with a moderate record. But in a conservative, anti-Establishment climate, that record will hurt him. Newt Gingrich has never been popular nationally, Mike Huckabee will once again not get the support of the fiscal conservatives he needs, and Tim Pawlenty barely registers with voters outside of his home-state of Minnesota.

All of these factors lead to the unhappy conclusion that Sarah Palin is a serious contender for the Republican nomination. She should not be dismissed, lest we find ourselves with a President Palin. That would certainly be no laughing matter.

Illustration by Cristina Diaz-Borda

Peter Mansbridge, quizzed

Peter Mansbridge brought his distinct baritone voice to UTSC on Tuesday morning. A longtime journalist, Mansbridge anchors CBC’s flagship nightly newscast, The National. He also hosts Mansbridge One-on-One, where his guests include politicians, musicians, and lately, Olympians. This time, he found himself on the other side. Mansbridge was interviewed by Drew Dudley, founder of UTSC’s Leadership Development Program, which brings high-profile speakers to campus.

Mansbridge dutifully gave his thoughts: “Good leadership is knowing where you want to go. It’s knowing yourself and not waiting to hear what other people think is going to happen.”

Born in 1948 in London, England, Mansbridge immigrated to Canada with his family. He dropped out of high school, left the navy after two years, and ended up in Churchill, Manitoba, working odd jobs at an airport. A local CBC producer who heard him making a flight announcement asked him to work at the radio station. Mansbridge quickly moved up the ranks and ended up hosting The National after Knowlton Nash, the previous host, stepped down.

On Tuesday, Mansbridge recalled what happened after producer Gaston Charpentier heard his flight announcement. “I hadn’t finished high school, never went to university,” Mansbridge told the audience. “I said yes [and] started the next night. I had a one-hour training course, and that’s how it all started for me.”

He said much of his journalism training was self-taught. “I had to teach myself how to write and how to interview. I listened to the shortwave radio and to other broadcasters from different parts of the world [and] I learned about different interviewing styles. It was later that I went into formal CBC training.”

Mansbridge believes his success comes from the qualities he already had—qualities that all budding journalists should have.

“You have to be fascinated with what is going on around you, whether it’s your community, or around the world,” he said. “You have to ask questions and challenge assumptions about issues. You have to be able to communicate with people who are also interested. This is then fine-tuned with education and experience.”

Nash, Mansbridge’s predecessor, is credited with keeping Mansbridge in Canada. Asked if it was true that Nash gave up the job for him, Mansbridge responded, “Well, he was planning to retire in two years anyway. I was probably going to take the CBS job. He called me over to his house one [night] and said he would push up his retirement [and that] I could have his job. I agreed.”

“It paid about a quarter of what the U.S. job did but it wasn’t about money. […] My decision was for other reasons. The CBC had taken a gamble on me. […] I still owed them.”

Mansbridge initially used notes in his interviews, but soon ditched them. “I found I was focusing on [my notes] and not listening, which is a fatal flaw in an interviewer who doesn’t open the doors that answers present.” He also remarked that he had never drawn a blank.

Mansbridge rounded off with an anecdote on how he deals with his “celebrity” status. “When I want to keep myself grounded I think of a cop who stopped me,” he said. The officer recognized his name and remembered that they were in the scouts together. “At the end, he asked me what I did now. I still got the ticket.”

The Ins and Outs of the Everything to Do With Sex Show

“Do you mind if I mention my cause?” asks Elle Patille as I approach her for an interview. She is signing photos and posing for pictures at this year’s Everything To Do With Sex Show, dressed in knee-high leather boots and the tiniest bikini imaginable.

“Sure, absolutely,” I say, perhaps too effusively, as I try to remain smooth and even-tempered in the presence of a nearly-naked woman.

“My name is Elle Patille, I’m a former Playboy cover model, born and raised in Toronto, and have recently moved to Honduras…and I was with the locals when a little baby leopard as well as jaguar pelts were being sold on the black market for $200. So, the little guy [the jaguar] had an upper respiratory infection, dislocated jaw, and now I am sharing a one-bedroom condo in Honduras with…a jaguar. So now I’m up in Toronto for one week bringing awareness to endangered species as well as the illegal animal trade. All proceeds that are made during this show will be going toward the animals.”

I have never before interviewed someone in such a state of undress, and journalistic etiquette goes out the window as my eyes blatantly dart towards her lower regions, where her skintight bikini outlines the crevices of a certain key body part. I’m in way over my head.
alt text

“Uh…” I stumble over my words, and she giggles. “Well, y’know, I gotta say… I could never imagine wearing…” I point in the general direction of her bikini. “Uh, I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s great that you can, but… I mean, I’m sort of a shy guy…” my voice trails off pathetically.

“Well, if you want you can try it on!” she laughs. “Nobody’ll say anything. You are at the Everything To Do With Sex Show.”

• • •

The ETDWSS pretty much lives up to its name, with dozens of booths offering hundreds of goods and services for every conceivable sexual scenario, and plenty of inconceivable ones. There are dildos, vibrators, penis rings, linens, massagers, “Sticky Dickies,” thongs, douches,
anal douches, whips, paddles, and enough condoms for a thousand water balloon fights. Though tempted by a pair of singing plastic breasts called “Jigglin’ Jugs,” I limit myself to a $3.99 sexual energy drink called Sex Shots. “Drink one serving, wait five minutes—FEEL THE POWER!” promises the label. Consumer report: it doesn’t work.

There’s even a booth for Glitz Professional Teeth Whitening, whose inexplicable presence I find so fascinating that I request an interview with a sales representative named Keith three times before he finally relents. “They sit for 10 minutes under the lights,” says Keith, point-
ing to the customers at the booth, “then we re-apply some gel, they sit for another 10 minutes, then rinse, and they’re done. We guarantee they go up a minimum two shades.”

“I guess I’m wondering…what brings you to the sex show?” I ask.

“Oh, it’s people. All we need is people walking by.” alt text

To the side of the convention hall is The Dungeon, where women in thongs are tied onto elaborate contraptions and brought to orgasm through complicated and I daresay dangerous means. Just outside, Lady Victoria demonstrates a vacuum-sealed, sensation-heightening bed, though the demonstration goes awry when the test subject begins yelping and wriggling with panic for release. I’m not so sure that having an orgasm is worth this much effort.

• • •

I used to wonder how the rather simple act of putting one’s penis into a partner’s vagina could sustain and justify an entire convention. Now I realize that the Sex Show is more about contrasting attitudes than a mere physical act. Serious seminars on a plethora of sex-related topics are held in makeshift auditoriums on the sidelines, while the main stage, where the biggest crowds gather, is more like sex vaudeville, where beefcake strippers alternate with amateur pole-dancers and professional acrobats.

“Who can give me the best fake orgasm?!” yells the emcee to a whooping crowd. He rushes over to an impossibly attractive brunette woman at the side of the stage. “Come on, baby! Give me your best fake orgasm!”

“Ooooh baby!” she moans into the microphone. “Uhn….Uh….UH….UUUH…yeee-EEEEAAAHHH! …uuuuuhhhhnnnn….”

“Alright, that’s a nice orgasm!” the emcee hoots. “The guys in the audience are all like, ‘Uh…do I cheer?’” He spots another woman in the audience at the front of the stage.

“Oh, baby…. Yeah….yeah, baby… Oh my God…Oh my GOD….UUUU-HHH… Oh, baby….”

“Short and sweet!” he says, clapping heartily. “Short and sweet!” Another woman raises her hand. “Alright, let’s have one more! Give us your best fake orgasm!”

She inhales, be-fore letting out a blood-curdling shriek: “Uuuh-AAAAAAAHHHHH!!!”

The crowd goes wild. “That was re-e-e-ally short!” says the emcee. “I wouldn’t want any of that.”

• • •

More than anything, the Sex Show is a veritable goldmine of porn. From expensive Blu-Ray releases to grubby two-for-$5 bins filled with titles like Black Poles Filling White Holes and Stretchin’ the Brown Hole Is Our Goal, you can barely walk five feet before being assaulted by another extreme close-up of anal penetration.

alt text

Good For Her, the venerable Toronto women’s sex store, is here selling “female friendly porn.” “It’s where women get their fair share of the pleasure,” says storeowner Carlyle Jansen. “Where you don’t have the long, up-close genital shots, you see more faces and bodies during orgasm, you see more authentic female pleasure rather than fake female pleasure. It can show a diversity of bodies, a diversity of people of colour, people of size, and people of different ages without fetishizing them.”

Representing more traditional fare is porn star Maxine X, here representing her Maxine X Productions website (, FYI). I find her at her booth, holding a whip and wearing a bustier that struggles mightily but ultimately fails to conceal her areola.

“It says on your sign that you’re Canada’s top fetish porn star. This might be a weird question, but…what do you specialize in?”

“Bondage and forced orgasm!” she says, grinning widely. “So, basically it’s like bondage ’til you come. There’s a lot of toys. It’s a lot of… like, for example—” she points to a DVD box. “See, here she’s, like, tied up, and say if I’m the dog I would make her come, and she’s tied up, and… and there’s a lot of squirting, that’s my next specialty. And I have a lot of Asian stuff, squirting, bondage, but I also have a couple of boy-girl films.”

“What do you think is your best work?” I ask, acutely aware that she is being double-penetrated on the TV monitor.

“Well, I definitely love my fetish and bondage stuff, right? But my favourites are the squirting stuff. I lo-o-ove to squirt.” She points to a DVD called Hurtin’ for a Squirtin’. “This is Jada Fire, she’s a big squirter and a big porn star in the U.S., and I shot this in L.A. with her, and we both squirted and stuff.”

She happily poses with me for a picture. In the picture she is wearing her sultriest facial expression while holding her whip against my body. Meanwhile, I’m all-to-clearly staring at her protruding breast. I’m in way over my head.

All photos by Tom Cardoso

Living Arts: Contact Improv Dance

My hipbone digs into the shoulder of my contact improvisation dance partner. My trembling hands are extended towards the polished wooden floor, and as I tentatively extend my legs towards the ceiling I find myself balancing like a teeter-totter in what, to me, feels like an imminent state of freefall.

Although realistically, I can’t be more than five feet from the ground, I’m overwhelmed with a boggling head rush and a sensation of flight. Somehow I’ve managed to find myself quite literally picked up out of my sedentary—and largely misanthropic—urban lifestyle, and lowered into a tight-knit community of dancers who thrive on communication with strangers through touch, movement, and eye contact. I’m the kind of girl who pretends to text on the subway to avoid awkward human interaction—and now I’m balancing precariously on the shoulder of my stony-faced, six-foot dance partner as he takes slow steps around the gym of the Trinity St. Paul Centre.

alt text

I slide back down to the floor, and with my feet safely planted ask my partner sheepishly for some feedback. He advises me to “commit more,” which essentially means that the next time I swing my weight onto his shoulder, I need to reach for the floor. This seems like a surefire way to take advantage of the universal health care system in Canada with a smashed nose or broken neck, and, needless to say, I’m not wild about this critique. Instead, I take a moment to survey the room.

The high-ceilinged, makeshift dance studio is filled with about 20 other students of contact improvisation, a hodgepodge of men and women of various ages and physical types. Although I’m probably the youngest person in the room, I can only watch with envy as the part-
ners complete their lifts with impossible grace, shifting their weight, rocketing into space and then returning to the ground with an overriding sense of serene concentration.

“The best contact dancers are usually in their sixties,” instructor Suzanne Liska explained to me before the class, “It’s because they were around when the form of dance first started. You don’t need any technical training for contact improvisation, but it still takes
years to perfect.”

Contact improv began in the early 1970s as a project of Steve Paxton at Oberlin College in Ohio. For this kind of dance there is no choreography; instead, it requires the dancer to engage with his or her surroundings and partner with an emphasis on gravity, momentum, and resistance. In laymen’s terms, that essentially means that people support each other’s weights through lifts as they attempt to move together through space, typically in groups of two.

Liska, who was introduced to contact improvisation in St. John’s, Newfoundland, continues, “Contact improvisation really heightens your senses: it’s all about choreography in the moment. You have to be in touch with your body and your partner. There’s an endless range of things that you can do. It’s really new territory in movement.”

Toronto also plays host to the longest running “Contact Jam” series in the world, based out of the Dovercourt House. “Jams” are a common way for contact improvisers to perfect their skills, engaging in an hour or two of completely spontaneous movement among peers. The Dovercourt House runs a jam on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. And although the jams are open to newcomers, I wanted a little bit more structure for my introduction to the postmodern dance form.

In theory, contact improvisation is right up my alley. It emphasizes expressing yourself through authentic movement, without the constraints of technicality, or having to be a pawn in someone else’s choreography. Instead, you are completely free to move your body in accordance to your own vision and your own emotions. With years of technical dance training under my belt, and a penchant for relaying my emotions to friends with impromptu interpretive dances, I thought that I would be the perfect candidate for a form of dance that just required me to express my emotions through movement.

Turns out, the hardest part about contact improv is the contact. Working with a partner to simultaneously express your perspective and tell a story requires sensitivity and com-
promise. Partnering happens organically, which means that as you start to dance, you have to get a feel for the person who is moving at your pace and moving in the same direction. Making eye contact, and touching another person with both force and sensitivity while improvising a dance that you want to look at least a little bit graceful is intimidating as hell—and when my partner asked me what it was that I wanted out of this partnership, I almost screamed that I wasn’t ready for anything serious right now.

But God, when it’s done right, it’s done right. In moments, I managed to lose my inhibitions and get a sense of the organic rawness that makes this form of dance unique. But watching Suzanne Liska work with partner Pam Johnson, a jam facilitator at the Dovercourt House, I realized why this is a form of dance that, while it doesn’t necessarily require technical prowess, takes years to perfect. The two of them managed to move effortlessly across the floor, forming shapes with their bodies, and hoisting each other’s weights in impossible positions, creating an emotional movement that was both fluid and dramatic.

Inspired, I turned back to my partner, this time determined to leap onto his shoulder with the same effervescent ease. And hey, although I’m sure it wasn’t perfect, at least I managed to commit to something without snapping my neck.

Photos by Alex Nursall