Sophie and ContaKids

by Itay Yatuv

My daughter Sophie was born almost five years ago, and from the very beginning, I was fascinated by the way she developed her motor skills. As a dancer, I was interested in how she identified and challenged her own limitations each and every time. At a later stage, when moving outdoors, I began noticing the behavior of other parents towards their small children and the way they gave their children the freedom to experience new things. I was most interested by the manner in which they dealt with what they perceived as “failure” or danger. For example, falling down.

I clearly remember times sitting at a public place, some distance away from Sophie, and leaving her to try to stand up on her own. Each time she was about to fall down, at least two adults would immediately bolt to their feet, with terror in their eyes, in an attempt to “save” her. I was always amused by this—not only by their glances at me, no doubt blaming me for criminal neglect of my child's safety, but also by Sophie, nonchalantly attempting to rise again, towards her next fall. And there were many.

I continued to observe parents and their children, usually just playing games together with a lot of physical contact. It became clear to me that when the parent was comfortable with the way he or she moved and with the physical contact itself, then the child was also comfortable and enjoyed the situation. When the parent was feeling apprehensive or under stress, then the child felt and reacted accordingly.

A short video of my daughter Sophie and I dancing, shot by chance by Aaron Brando during the IBIZA Contact Festival (2011), has received much attention and has aroused people’s curiosity about contact with kids, inviting them to jump into the happy waters of play and free physical dance with their young children. In the YouTube video, Sophie, age 2 years and 4 months, was already in her pyjamas, on her way to bed with Mommy and her pacifier, when she passed by the tent where a jam session was being held and ran inside to me while I was warming up.

For the past two years, I have been developing a method I call Contakids, designed for parents and their children ages 2–4 to share dance and physical play. It is based on various foundations of Contact Improvisation, derived from my 10 years of experience as a dancer and teacher of CI. During this time, I have led after-school programs for dozens of parents and children. We’ve rolled and jumped around, and on, each other; we’ve learned to breathe, listen, to make choices and let go—together! The feedback from parents and children has been wonderful and very inspiring. Most of all, it has been a tremendous learning experience, which has greatly exceeded my expectations when all of this began.

Ever since Sophie was born, I—as a dance researcher and an explorer of the various possibilities of movement that two human bodies have together in space (Contact Improvisation)—have been observing and experimenting with her in different forms, some of which I incorporate into our class. I include the following in our classes:

The child’s motoric development process. The manner in which she learns and experiments with new forms of movements—rolling, falling, getting up from the floor, etc. The numerous possibilities that physical play between a child and an adult can contain, emphasizing the manner in which the adult works with the child.

Experiential learning and “failure,” the best form of learning. Failure is a very important aspect of the learning process. I allow the child to experience everything, protecting him/her minimally. I aim to understand where he/she could really be hurt and interfere there. The rest is within the range of important experimentation. Falling is a very important experience. I allow the child to fall as much as possible.

Active responsibility of the child to hang on to his/her parent. As adults hold their children often, the child becomes accustomed to being held, being passive, heavy. When the child is solely responsible for being in the air, then he/she is active, holding his/herself, and aware of the “geographical” possibilities available to him/her on the body of the adult.

When I, the adult, refrain from using my hands in order to hold the child on my body, I develop my own motor skills by finding new angles that allow the child to remain on my body without falling. I awaken my own ability to sense and receive information through the skin—information regarding the child’s exact location on me, the manner in which the child is held, and the position that he/she is in (upside down, on her/his side, etc.).

Following the interest of the child. Mostly, adults seek to “do” things with the child (pick up, turn over, etc.). However, the environment is stimulating enough, and children can find out for themselves what is of interest to them. We need to set the child’s interests apart from the experience that the adult wants the child to have. The adult needs to practice giving up the “nice experience” that they want for the child, because this desire causes us to work in a very narrow manner, focusing on a specific goal. We can miss out on all of the other opportunities that are out there.

Equality of roles between child and adult. Dancing together aims at equality in terms of the roles that the adult and the child take on. Each has the freedom to choose his/her next move; nothing is forced upon the other side. The child develops his/her independence in the face of the parent, which allows for a more open dance/physical movement.

Children move through the world first and foremost in a physical manner. As adults, we lose our sense of physicality with time, when we develop additional ways to observe and learn with our intellect and imagination. That’s why the hard work right now is ours.

We need to reinstate the physical abilities and instincts that we were born with, and mainly, foster our physical confidence in our actions. Our confidence (or lack of) flows directly, in an unmediated (even energetic) form to our little partners in dance.

For more info about Contakids, visit our facebook page or email me.

Itay Yatuv is the artistic director of Hakvutza Dance School in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Itay Yatuv; Tel Aviv, Israel; itay@hakvutza.org.il