Photograph by Brooke Hatfield
Partner dancing can be an intimidating thing: Swing has that complicated leader-follower business; salsa has way too many steps. But there’s one particular kind that requires zero memorization of difficult moves—because it’s made up entirely on the spot. Walk into the activity room of the Parish of St. Monica and St. James Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill on any Sunday, and you’ll see 10 to 20 people engaged in contact improvisation, a form that arose in the 1970s. “Contact,” as it’s called by the people who love it, involves two dancers sharing weight between their bodies through a single, moving point of contact. What it looks like is dancers leaning on and rolling with and lifting each other, and sometimes even flying through the air, supported only by a partner’s shoulder. Sure, it’s a little trippy and centers on touching strangers, which can take some getting used to. But the Sunday group is about as welcoming as they come, and after the uneasiness wears off, it starts to feel—surprise!—just like dance, the kind where you freely move your body through space without thinking too much.