Thesis Thursday

Thesis Thursdays turquoise (1)








Hey Framers, it’s almost the weekend!

Why not start the end of the week with a good read?

Well… at least I think it’s pretty good, but I’m a little biased. Check out this second installment of my senior honors thesis written for Rice University’s Center for the Study of Women, Gender and Sexuality. It explores the topics of Contact Improvisation, Feminism, feminist performance art, and female empowerment through movement. 

Here’s a re-cap of last week’s initial post:

I will argue that CI is a complex feminist practice. The relationship CI has to feminism is complex because it is not inherently feminist, but enables women to have a feminist experience.

If you have time read the full article!


Part II of Points of Contact: Contact Improvisation and Feminism

I will substantiate my argument by focusing on facets of CI that its founders acknowledge as fundamental: gender non-conformity, rejection of sensual repression, rejection of hierarchical and commerce-driven demands on the production of art, and complication of the sexual consummation ideal. This will be accomplished through examination of interviews with founding members of CI, some conducted specifically for this project and some recorded by others, as well as an examination of the periodical Contact Quarterly, founded in 1975 as a forum for the discussion of CI as it was emerging. This evidence will be supplemented by secondary sources from authorities, including Ann Cooper Albright, Cynthia Novack and Cheryl Pallant. These authors highlight the egalitarian and anti-hierarchical nature of the dance form.[1] I link the history of CI to feminist performance art and the recent forms of CI to feminist theories of sexuality, gender equity and embodiment.[2] To accomplish this, I will draw upon accounts from practitioners who testify to the usefulness of CI in solidifying their sexual autonomy, helping them cope with gender-based violence and body image issues, and liberating their experience of gender from the feminine-masculine dichotomy.




I had a blast going through old articles from the Contact Quarterly – dating all the way back to the 70’s! 




My first chapter provides a historical analysis of the proximity of CI to the feminist art movement of the 1960’s and 70’s. The feminist art movement emerged in the late 1960’s precisely at the time that CI was conceptualized. According to dramaturg and English scholar, Jeanie Forte, “Within this movement, women’s performance emerges as a specific strategy that allies postmodernism and feminism, adding the critique of gender/patriarchy to the already damaging critique of modernism inherent in the activity.”[3] The “personal as political” became a mantra for many feminists of the time who sought to politicize their personal experiences of gender in order to draw attention to sexism and criticize patriarchy.[4] Also according to Forte, “Women’s performance art operates to unmask this function of ‘Woman,’ responding to the weight of representation by creating an acute awareness of all that signifies Woman, or femininity.”[5] To accomplish this, feminist artists made use of autobiographical narratives, their physical bodies, and emerging gender politics, which simultaneously opened up the nature of performance art itself. Carolee Schneeman, Yoko Ono and the Guerrilla Girls are recognized as significant feminist performance artists from the past few decades.[6]






I read Rainer’s autobiography, Feelings Are Facts, to give me more background and perspective on her work and relationship to CI. The book was recommended to me by Nancy Stark Smith in one of our conversations.




Chapter One focuses on the collaboration between feminist performance artist Yvonne Rainer and Steve Paxton during the inception of CI. To analyze feminist thought as it emerged in the feminist performance art movement and alongside the development and practice of CI, I will use writings by art historian, Linda Nochlin, feminist philosopher, Judith Butler and historian Alice Echols. These scholars outline the power of structural conditions, performativity of gender, and importance of representation. All of which are engaged with, in some way, by feminist performance art and CI. I will also look at video recordings of the first CI performances in order to analyze gendered politics of movement and partnering. I will discuss interviews I conducted with Nancy Stark Smith on her stance on feminism and CI. Her remarks reveal the politicizing effects of CI and contribute to my larger claim about the dance form as a complex feminist practice.

[1] Pallant, Contact Improvisation. Novack, Sharing the Dance, Contact Improvisation and American Culture.  Taken By Surprise, ed. Ann Cooper Albright and David Gere (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2003).

[2] Judith Butler, “Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 4 (1988), 519. Carole S. Vance, “Pleasure and Danger: Toward a Politics of Sexuality,” Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality, ed. Carole Vance (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984): 1-27. Alice Echols, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967 – 1975 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989).

[3] Jeanie Forte, “Women’s Performance Art: Feminism and Postmodernism,” Theatre Journal 40, no. 2 (May 1988): 218.

[4] Echols, Daring to be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967 – 1975.

[5] Forte, “Women’s Performance Art: Feminism and Postmodernism,”218.

[6] Geraldine Harris, Staging Femininities: Performance and Performativity (New York: Manchester University Press, 1999).


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