New Book – Drawing the Dance: External Impressions and Internal Perceptions of Contact Improvisation

from “Drawing the Dance: External Impressions and Internal Perceptions of Contact Improvisation”– a book by Susan Arnsten-Russell
Large Format Landscape
Standard Landscape
Dance provides a deeper understanding of what it means to be a sentient entity existing in a human body. Although this deeper understanding is infused with clarity it is not easily articulated.  Furthermore it has ephemeral quality that is resistant to documentation or description. You had to have been there. Nevertheless I believe that creating a record of events is important so that something of what occurs when we dance can be made tangible, preserved and communicated to others.

My favorite form of dance in contact improvisation. Contact improvisation is based on the use of physical contact as a means of gathering and receiving information in order to create interactive improvisational dances.  Contact Improvisation dancers are also trained to focus on sensations and eliminate expectations while paying attention to maintaining a point of contact and engaging in giving and receiving weight. Ambition is replaced with curiosity.  Each dance is unique, created by the choices made at each moment by individual dancers. Although there can be predetermined parameters, structures or scores, there is no attempt to create a specific set of movements to be performed for an audience.

A performance of improvisational dance is an invitation to witness the process of creation rather than viewing the presentation of a finished product.  Although it might seem that improvisational dancers view dance an opportunity to engage in self-expression and self-discovery through movement we are also aware that every time we dance we are part of a performance. Even when dancing in an empty space there is an inner witness that is an integral part of the dance.

My interest in this phenomenon of simultaneously witnessing and participating in dance inspired me to attempt drawings of dance that include the view from within.  I wanted to illustrate how a dance feels as well as how a dance looks.

I have also been experimenting with incorporating improvisation into my drawing process. I begin with an intention, the intention to draw but my goal is to let go of ambitions regarding what my drawing will look like.  I let the drawing inspire itself.  I become the vehicle through which the drawing will manifest.  I relinquish artistic control the same way that the contact improvisation form replaces the artistic control of the choreographer with an excitement about seeing what choices might be made by each individual at each moment.

Photographs and video can provide a visual image of specific moments and descriptions can provide information about the conceptual framework in which the dance took place as well as information about the emotions and thoughts that occurred during the dance. I draw because I find that photographs, videos and/or descriptions of actual dancing are often unsatisfying and fail to adequately communicate the essence of an event.

I am always grateful and amazed when my drawings have allowed me to re-enter a place that I discovered and inhabited when I was dancing and transform it into a visual image.  In the same way that a true portrait succeeds in illustrating who someone is rather then what someone looks like, there are times when my approach to making a drawing succeeds in creating portraits of dance.

The hardest thing is beginning.  Making that first mark on the paper.  This is particularly frustrating because I am actually arrogant enough to believe that my purpose in life, the reason I am alive on this planet at this time is to make these images accessible to others through my drawings and my words.

If this is my purpose why donít I do it.  I have accumulated images that can be reproduced as archival digital prints.  Images that I believe illustrate important concepts or express something significant. Images that capture exactly a particular perception while at the same time are subject to more than one interpretation, images that change, however imperceptibly, and contribute to the fabric of the universe. Each of these images began as a sketch inspired by my internal as well as my external perceptions of a moment or an event. I continue to work on these sketches by scanning them and then using computer tools to create a finished product/work in progress.

These images rebuke me for giving them substance and then concealing them within the pages of books that are seldom opened.

For a portfolio of Susan’s visual art see


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