The Touch&Play project was born through many conversations with teachers from the Contact Improv Community Throughout 2008 and 2009. It was born as a questioning and a critic of the Classical CI form and containers that were the mainstream at that time. It was born from a personal journey full of doubts, surprises, confusion and joy but with little guidance or support.
The name Touch&Play came to me in bed at four or five in the morning while participating in a winter BDSM retreat in the snow covered forests of Western Poland over the Christmas holidays organized by dancer and choreographer Felix Ruckert. It was through conversations with him that I became convinced about my desire to create a space to publicly engage with some of the questions I’d been asking. Thankfully Felix took me under his wing and offered me his experimental arts space Schwelle7 in Berlin to host the very first Touch&Play festival during the spring of 2010.
The subtitle of the event was “Exploring the Chemistry in Contact Improvisation” and referred to Steve Paxton’s quote around dancing physics and CI. The event was a success with over 20 teachers from the CI community and other practices and over 140 participants from Europe and the US exploring and living together during 4 intense days. Our aim was to question the role of everything not purely related to our physical connections (e.g. emotions, sexuality, gender, consent, roles, sensations, power and more) that inevitably pop-up in our contact dances.
While the participants were thrilled about the ideas that were being explored a large part of the CI teacher community thought otherwise. There was anger, frustration and confusion with accusations that we were making CI unsafe and that surely what we were doing wasn’t contact improvisation. There was however also a small contingent that showed curiosity and openness and at the 2010 ECITE in Finland we formed a CI & sexuality working group to delve deeper into the matter.
The next year we decided to host another event, this time creating both a focused lab space for professionals and dedicated practitioners and a festival open to anyone. This format allowed for both a continued questioning without a concern for safety in a smaller non-hierarchical group of teachers and the sharing of our material and experiments with a wider audience in a safer container. The research frame was also large expanded to “Exploring the Edges of Contact Improvisation”.
From there on the Touch&Play started to take on a life of it’s own with different people picking up the baton to organize events in the UK, Germany, Catalonia, Spain, US, Guatemala, Canada and Australia. Local groups are asked to frame the specific event to questions or issues that our alive in the local community and thus T&P’s with very different flavors have developed (e.g. the relationship between parents and children, CI & Community, CI & inclusivity/diversity, a burner style T&P Camp, a T&P camp at a Buddhist festival)
Some things are however the same at all the T&P events: A Search for authenticity and freedom, a culture of embodied consent, a vision of life as a series of experiments that sometimes work and sometimes don’t (and that when they don’t we’re there to clean up the mess we made), a sex positive attitude and an acceptance of the inclusion of power, sensation and role play at the events.
Almost a decade later the project appears to be growing with multiple groups organizing T&P events in different countries throughout the year and a recent interest to provide a more organized central structure to support such autonomous groups. While there are still people in the contact community that take issue with our work some of it’s founders have given their tacit or explicit blessings to the project and it appears that while be it as the black sheep we have somehow found a place for our selves in what has now become a jungle of post-contact fusion forms.
More importantly the project has supported many people in their personal journeys in finding more authenticity, freedom, resilience and connection. Our work is also slowly contributing towards a shift in the community discourse and practices around consent and sexuality and hopefully is doing it’s bit to create a more compassionate and happier world.
Dr. Daniel J. Hayes
Founder of Touch&Play
Dr. Daniel J. Hayes was born in 1977 in Baltimore, USA to a Dutch mother and an Irish American father. He grew up living between the Netherlands and the east coast of the US. After finishing his medical degree in Amsterdam he ended up living in Barcelona where after a few years of squatting in the city joined the Can Masdeu anarchist intentional community in the Collserola park on the outskirts of the city. From there he finished a PhD in epidemiology at the Liverpool School for Tropical Medicine. Barcelona was also were he first saw and practiced contact improvisation back in 2001. While living in Formentera he met Lina his current partner and the mother of his two boys. He currently affiliated to the University of Barcelona Mediation unit and completing a Masters degree in that same field. He’s a teacher of Non-Violent Communication, an undisciplined practitioner of Zen Buddhism and an apprentice in the shamanic traditions of the Kamentsa people from the Putumayo in Colombia. After giving up his academic appointment in 2016 he’s been Leading the Vidalia project which is building a large scale ecovillage in an abandoned milltown an hour from Barcelona (www.vidalia.coop).
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