Before I left Australia, I went on a date with a woman who did a form of dance called Contact Improvisation. She was particularly interested in the consensual aspect, and how people agreed what was and was not allowed during the dance. Otherwise, I’ve never come across this art form before my first night in Cuba.
It was a performance at the Fabrica de Art Cubano (Cultural Centre) on a Friday night. My friend had invited me along to a night of enjoying art, music and mojitos. The art was impressive and often confronting, displaying a lot of nudity and what I imagined was commentary on socialism, but I’m no art critic. For me, the highlight was the Contact Improvisation performance.
From the descriptions I’d seen, I imagined it would be sensual, but I had no idea it would be so erotic – and it wasn’t the occasional hand-on-breast that made it erotic. It began with four men and five women sitting on stools at the back of the stage, each slowly moving to the rhythm of the electronic mood music playing through the speakers. Over the space of a few minutes, each stepped or rolled off their stool and began their own individual dance, that was essentially peacocking to get the attention of the other dancers. When one person saw some moves they could engage with, they approached the other dancer, who may or may not respond to the first dancer’s advances. It was this seduction, the times of non-contact, that made the dance so erotic.
Throughout the hour they kept it up, I saw couples and threesomes form and disperse. I saw one man approach a lone woman dancing half into the crowd, only to be ignored, so another man broke away from his partner to dance with him. I saw one man standing on the side, intently watching a woman he wanted to join, when a woman broke away from another woman she’d been dancing with to join him. Her rejected partner went back to her stool for a rest, essentially dropping out of the game. The man ignored the woman, who eventually went back to her own stool, while the man moved from stillness to peacocking, never gaining the attention of the mate he wanted. When another man eventually sat down, one of the women who’d dropped out gave him a minute before dragging him up to dance with her.
The interplay of relationships reflected life: the obsessions, the love triangles, the rejections, the seductions, the nature of consensus (though on a different level to that which interested my date), the polyamory, homosexuality and sexual flexibility, the flow of partners and the varying lengths of those relationships. With so much to watch, an hour seemed too short, but I was exhausted by the time the dancers all sat down.