For most of his life Vivek Patel was terrified at the thought of dancing. He couldn’t even dance when he was alone in his living room. In this inspiring interview, Vivek tells us how he eventually overcame his fear and went on to become a dancer and dance filmmaker
Director of Toronto’s Contact Dance International Film Festival, Kathleen Rea, speaks with dancer Vivek Patel, upon the world premiere of his film “Contact Improv from the Inside Out” at the film festival on May 13.
K: How did you first become involved in Contact Dance Improvisation?
V: I started doing Contact Improvisation ten years ago. I was thirty-six when I started. I had been afraid to dance all my life, but inside I really wanted to. A friend of mine told me about Contact. He thought that because I do martial arts, it might be right up my alley. He said, “You know, there’s this guy who’s really friendly and really awesome and he’s teaching a workshop. His name’s Allen Kaeja. You should go check him out because even though I know you’re terrified, this guy can help you get over your fear”. And so I went to the workshop with Allen at Harbourfront, and I was just blown away by it. I’d never seen people move like that. I’d never seen people interact like that. You know, in the martial arts world, we pretty much punch and kick each other all the time [laughs]… I’d never been around people before being physical without that competitive nature. They were being cooperative and bonding, and it was just so beautiful. It touched my heart. From the very first day I was hooked but also terrified, because I felt like I was too old to get into something like that. But it touched me so deeply I couldn’t stop.
K: What martial art did you do?
V: I did, and still do, Ninjutsu, which is an ancient Japanese martial art. I was one of the first Canadians to study this martial art and I’ve been doing it now for almost thirty years. It’s a beautiful martial art that has a lot of flow. The principles are similar to Contact Improv, in terms of being in connection with the other person… connecting your own center to their center… feeling the connection to the ground and the strength and power the ground gives you. In both, Ninjutsu and Contact Improvisation, rather than trying to use muscle to force things, we try and use connection, flow, momentum, gravity, and relaxation.
K: What do you think your fear of dance was based on?
V: When I was very young, like maybe eight or nine years old, or even younger, I used to love to dance. And then one day, I had a few friends over and we were dancing in my living room. One of the kids started teasing me, saying “you dance like a girl”. Now, if somebody said that to me at this point in my life, I’d consider it an honour. But when I was seven or eight years old, it seemed like they were telling me I wasn’t masculine enough. I was being laughed at and derided for my dancing.
I didn’t have any kind of emotional foundation to deal with that kind of insult at that age. One of the main reasons I’m so passionate about teaching conscious parenting workshops at this point in my life is that I want to teach parents how to give their kids the tools to deal with things like that so that they’re not so devastated by it. It closed me up for thirty years. I couldn’t even dance when I was alone in my living room. It seems irrational, but that’s how the mind works. My fear of dancing went so deep, it terrorized me. When I went to my first [Contact Improvisation] Jam, I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up all over the floor. I just sat on the side of the room, watching. I didn’t even have the strength in my legs to get up. You actually came over to me and grabbed my hand and pulled me up onto the dance floor. You were the first person I danced with at a Jam.
V: I’ve always been grateful to you for making that initiation on that first day. That’s one of the reasons I make an effort to go over to frightened-looking people myself and give them a gentle and welcoming dance as often as I can.
K: What was it about Contact Improvisation that helped you get over your fear?
V: To be honest I don’t think there was anything in particular about contact Improvisation that helped me get over my fear. In fact I found it quite terrifying. It activated a lot of my insecurities. In some ways it still does! I think the thing that really made the difference was that I just decided to keep going no matter what. I knew this was something I wanted in my life and I could feel that there was no shortcut. So no matter how afraid I was I just kept going every week.
At first the fear would outweigh the joy, but I just kept going. Eventually the joy started to catch up to the fear and eventually overtook it. Now ten years later the fear occupies a very small corner of my brain. It is still there but doesn’t make quite the racket that it used to. These days when I leave after a couple of hours of dancing I feel happy, nourished and high.
K: What has changed for you since you started dancing ten years ago?
V: Hmmm… good question. It’s a question with a lot of answers. I think in my own personal self-development, I’ve learned to accept myself more. I’ve learned to accept myself in whatever state I’m in. In Contact, I’m finally starting to learn not to worry about how I look. Not to worry about whether something seems to be working out or not. But just to love the moment regardless of what it is. The more I love the moment, the more I experience and experiment. The more I play and become curious, the more joy I get out of it. This transfers to my life and transfers to my self-image, which is the thing that was damaged when I was a child. Also my physical capacity has increased dramatically as a dancer and as a martial artist. I am able to engage more with my daughter who is very athletic.
K: Some might say you were already embodied as a martial artist. What did Contact Improvisation give you above and beyond, or in addition to, what martial arts gave you? [long, silent pause] Are you still there?
V: Hmmmm… [further pause]………I’m thinking. I’m listening to the answers bubble up…
The first thing that comes to my mind, most obviously, is that Contact Improvisation allowed me to express a deeper feminine side than martial arts usually does. It allowed me to be softer. My martial art is very fluid, but it does have the intent to destroy my opponent [laughs], I’m merging with them with the intent to rip them apart in some way. Contact Improv is decidedly not like that. It provides the opportunity to express my physicality without that violent side. Now, I do love the aggressiveness of martial arts, but being able to explore my softer nature in a dance is also valuable to me.
I’ve been on a personal journey of developing my feminine side for many years. When I was twenty, I saw women as a collection of body parts and not actual human beings with hearts, minds and souls. That’s largely how men are conditioned. I’ve worked very hard to change. Over time I fostered a more feminist approach to politics and philosophy and my relationships with women. Although I was on a personal journey towards exploring the feminine I didn’t connect to my feminine side through movement until I started Contact Improvisation. And then when I brought that learning into my martial art, it just amplified how powerful I was as a martial artist as well….It has even made me be a better lover.
K: How did you have the idea to make a dance film? When did that seed start growing?
V: I was doing martial arts in the park last summer. This guy approached me out of the blue and told me he was a film professor at York University, and he wanted to film me doing martial arts. I said no, because I am camera shy when it comes to my martial art. But I said, “you know, I do this other beautiful movement form that I think you’d be interested in”. I pointed him toward the Contact community. He works with film and he uses chemical processes to create interesting colours and effects. He wanted to include the Contact Improvisation community into his work. And so we organized a day to dance in the park and about ten to twelve people showed up to dance while he was filming. At some point, somebody mentioned that you were looking for submission to the Contact Dance Film Festival. The moment I heard that, the whole idea for a film just popped into my head.
Another reason I love doing Contact Improvisation is that it’s connected me to a community of people that I care about and resonate deeply with. It’s given me a place that I feel is like home for me. So I wanted to honour and showcase that community and the depth that I see in these people who are my friends. I decided to give them a chance to express their authenticity and their relationship to this dance form. And so that’s where I got the idea to create a dance film where the people I dance with every week would write a piece of poetry that expressed how they experience Contact Improvisation and what the dance form does for them. Then they would dance while reciting their poem. This vision popped into my head and I knew I had to make it happen.
I’d never made a film before. I’d done some filming and editing of wedding videos and seminars, but I had never made a film. But I just said to myself that I’m going to throw myself into this and do it.
K: How did you feel when your film was accepted and to discover that your film was scheduled to be on the program with Allen Kaeja’s films?
V: Yeah, for somebody who’s never made a film before I was thrilled and at the same time, I feel like it’s hardly just me that’s been accepted… it’s the community I represented. And I’ll tell you [laughs], when the Film Festival accepted my film, it was a conditional acceptance. The film was twenty-two minutes long and they said that in order for me to have my film in the Festival, I had to cut it in half. When I heard that, I nearly passed out. I couldn’t imagine cutting this work of art that I had created in half. The process of doing so was really, really hard at first. It hurt. But the more I did it and the more I had to change things and let go of things that I had thought were really awesome, the more I started to feel the difference between what was essential and what was extra. What was really necessary to express the message and what was more like the wrapper on the candy. And that process, although it was hard, taught me a lot. Since then I have started to work with that same feeling in my writing and even in my dancing. I’m trying to keep more of what’s essential and less of what’s just the wrapping.
Come out and see the world premiere of Vivek’s film Contact Improv from the Inside Out on Wednesday, May 13, 2015 at 9:00 pm at Dovercourt House – 805 Dovercourt Rd Toronto. More info at www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Visit Vivek’s blog at www.meaningfulideas.com
What is Contact Dance Improvisation? Contact dance improvisation is a social dance involving touch, in which momentum between two or more people is used to create and inspire dance movements. The form is similar to martial arts practices such as Aikido that use momentum and rolling point of contact in defensive actions. Contact dancers use these practices, not to defend themselves but to communicate, dance and express. In Contact Dance Improvisation there is no set lead and follow as is common in other social dances. The dancers will sometimes follow and sometime lead and interchange between these roles seamlessly. With no pre-set roles, deep “listening” and responding in the moment, to one’s partner, is central. Techniques include rolling point of contact, balancing over a partner’s centre of gravity, following momentum, and “listening” with one’s skin surface. Contact dance improvisation is accessible to people with no previous dance training and to people with physical disabilities. It is typically practiced in a jam situation in which a group of people gather to improvise together. These jams occur around the world and include people of all ages and training levels.
2015 Contact Dance International Film Festival The Contact Dance International Film Festival returns to Toronto, May 13 to 15, 2015 for its second season with a program of 27 films from 12 countries. This festival, produced by REAson d’etre dance productions, celebrates films featuring momentum-based dance created by some of the top creators and dancers in the field of Contact Dance Improvisation. Three different screening programs will be presented alongside dance, classes, workshops, jams and parties! The festival is a unique opportunity for both film and dance lovers to experience the joy, chaos and intimacy of human connection through physical movement. From the expansive peaks of British Columbia, to the streets of Kiev, to the Festival Interplay in Torino Italy, prepare to be moved as dancers fly and bodies collide with force, grace and tenderness. More Info at www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Want to learn Contact Dance Improvisation?
Fundamental Skill Contact Improvisation Workshop
Teacher: Kathleen Rea
Date: Wed, May, 13, 10:00am – 11:30am
Location: 805 Dovercourt Road (third Floor)
Description: In this workshop, that is part of the part of the Contact Dance International Film Festival, Kathleen Rea will teach fundamental skills such as balancing weight over centre of gravity, sloughing and following momentum. This workshop is specially designed to be welcoming to beginners. Beginners and all levels are welcome
Registration Information: www.contactdancefilmfest.com
Film Still Captures
Dancers: Morgen Ross, Vivek Patel, Kim Hunter, Michael Nickson, Olivia Proudfoot, Matilda Carlsson, Puja Jones and Micheal Haltrecht
Photographer: Jim Bush
Dancers: Vivek Patel and Phil Wackerfuss