This is a transcription from a workshop Jesse conducted at the RiCI Paris - Rencontre Internationale de Contact Improvisation, a Contact Improvisation Festival in Paris on July 22, 2017. Many of the voices in the conversation were European dancers, mostly French. There were about 25 people in the room and most of them spoke. In this transcription, we will refer to each of the many voices as Dancers except for Malcolm Manning. Malcolm shared a unique perspective as a teaching member of the festival. It has been edited for readability as a text. Note: If you don’t know what Contact Improvisation is - alternately "contact", or "CI" - you may want to take a look here.
Jesse: I want to say first what brings me to this topic [of contact improvisation and money]. I started practicing contact improvisation when I was 18. That was 19 years ago. I’d been practicing contact a long time before I was really responsIble for paying for myself. At that time, I wanted to be an artist. I studied art in college and had unconsciously claimed the starving artist identity. I was like, “Yes!!!! I don’t care about anything else as much as I care about art. So, that’s what I’ll do and I don’t care if I don’t make money doing it. It’ll be fine.”
Then I moved to New York City. I had to get a job to pay the rent and for many years I experienced that division of doing something “okay” to make money and feeling my passion elsewhere.
This sacrifice that I was making all those years [separating my passion and my work]: I see it everywhere. It’s embedded in the culture of art-making, spiritual work, and transformational work. And it’s very unusual to see an example of someone who is really shining their light and making lots of money doing it.
Dancer: Can we say, “Making a living?” Because making money sounds…
Jesse: I appreciate you asking and I’m going to say no.
I’m going to say ‘money’ today because I think it is the word that we should be playing with.
Dancer: Okay, fair enough.
Jesse: In thinking about this talk today, one of the things that came up for me is that I think contact improvisation as a form, as a community, and as a field of study - up until now - has been playing with a restricted score that we won’t include money in this space. If we have to include money, it will happen before the dancing begins so no one has to think about it once we’re dancing. If there’s a fee, it happens outside, before the dance. Then we come in and we have these amazing experiences creating a culture where money is not relevant. It’s a beautiful experiment.
My seed for us today is to consider what it would be like if we thought of our experience so far as one score, and now today, try another. We’ve done the score where we feel what is possible when we take money out of the equation. Now let’s try dancing contact and bringing money back in. What would that mean?
Where do we stop? Where do we resist going? Even using the word, “money.” It’s almost like a bad word.
Close your eyes for a moment so you can go inward and imagine that you have some grand amount of money. Think of a number. It is in your bank account or your wallet now. Notice the number that comes up. Maybe there’s a few different numbers that come up. Notice the sensation in your body as you imagine being someone who has that amount of money.
What parts of you relax and soften? What parts of you contract?
Now, clear all that. Come back to your body. Imagine money coming to you as a dance partner. How do you want to dance with money? You might notice what your current relationship already is. Maybe there’s something that comes through right away. Or maybe there’s just a new awareness that this is an entity outside yourself with its own thoughts and opinions and feelings and sensations, its own gift to offer and resources to bring to the table. Its own dance.
Then, when you feel ready you can open your eyes and come back to the room.
It would be great to hear some of what you noticed and experienced in that.
Dancer: I relaxed my back. I felt it there and I was so tense in my front. I felt like crying for some time.
Dancer: I felt like I was floating in most of my body. My breath and my mind were tensed as I thought I had money. My breathing was difficult. My mind was a bit tense when my whole body was floating.
Dancer: I also felt like crying. I cannot talk about body parts or physical experience, but I relate to the confusion you named earlier in between my passion and the way I earn money. And I cannot quite picture money coming into my dance, but I can picture dance going into where I make money. That’s as far as I go now and I wish to transform that.
Jesse: Will you share the number?
Dancer: Sept cent mille [700,000]
[Laughing and chattering in the room as the workshop attendees share their experience imagining an ideal number in their bank accounts...]
Dancer: I also felt a big relief in my lower back, imagining money in my account, and at the same time, I was shrinking or blocking something—felt like in my heart. And I had a very clear vision of a dance with money as a partner. I was really picturing a whole dance, which was going quite fast and spiraling for a while. Then this partner came just in my back and I stayed still for a while and I was just walking, but really feeling it was always behind me. And I could just … go.
Jesse: There’s a theme of this kind of pushing and pulling. Many people are saying that. That bringing in the energy of money just in our minds brings a feeling of relief and support. Even, a lot of you said, in the back, and then a contrasting feeling in the front—of tension. This is very common. It’s like there is a betrayal of someone, or something in claiming the support, the ease, specifically around money. If we do that, we’re somehow selling out, we’re doing something wrong, there’s something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about.
And this is absolutely incorrect. The more money each of you have, the better positioned you are to be present in your life, to serve generously, to take care of yourselves so that you can take care of other people, in whatever way that means for you. This is another piece that you can play with in your dancing because your dancing is a tool you have to really test out what’s the truth.
If you had €700,000 in the bank, what would it mean about you? Who would you be if you had that money?
Dancer: When you have money, the way of taking care of yourself usually involves isolating yourself. And when you don’t have money, the way of taking care of yourself usually involves creating community.
Jesse: I think that is one way of doing it. But why would that be the only way?
Dancer: Because it’s easier. It’s easier to go and buy what you need rather than go and negotiate. It’s easier to have your own rather than negotiate.
Jesse: I would argue that that very thing is the reason why it’s so important for you all to have money: because you would do something different.
Dancer: We might not. We might just take the easy route. It’s easier to buy it. If you have the money you might find it easier.
Jesse: This idea is a really helpful seed we can play with, which is around understanding the power of your thought and intention. Malcolm came up to me in dancing this week at some point and moved my head up. I was not aware until he did that that I was looking down all the time. All the time. So I was seeing all kinds of possibilities here [looking down], but I was completely missing all the possibilities here [looking up]. And not only was I not seeing them, but my whole body was organizing to go down, which as you guys know, means I wasn’t organizing to go this way or go back. There’s so many things that are changed through the lens through which you’re looking. One of the things that you can play with is just setting the intention. “I would like to feel supported. I would like to feel taken care of. I would like to feel financially relaxed. I would like to feel connected in community that is also financially relaxed. I would like to feel just as juicy in my dances, my expression as an artist, my integrity as a person.”
Dancer: How can you forget that if you have €700,000 for yourself and the other ones don’t have it? How can you forget this?
Jesse: Why does you having €700,000 mean that I don’t have it?
Dancer: Because I know. If I have so much money, I don’t need so much money. I keep it somewhere where the others don’t have it if I have so much. It’s because it’s not shared. I have much.
Jesse: Again, I hear the assumptions in the stories that you’re sharing. This is why we don’t have it because if we claim it, then it means all these things.
Dancer: But yes, there is a limited amount of money and resources.
Jesse: I don’t think so.
Dancer: I had the same question. There was a restricted amount and I recently discovered that it’s increasing every day. A bank, for example, if you go to the bank and you say, “Please, I would like a million dollars for a house and stuff,” they put plus $1 million and they create $1 million for you, and then you owe them. So when you give it back, they have $1 million more. And it’s like we are building everyday, the amount of money so we can have, all of us, $2 million, $3 million and we will share. We are not taking from the people. We are not taking from the people. We are just creating abundance.
Dancer: You’re not taking from the people, you’re taking from the future. It’s called credit economy and what you do is you know that in 20 years you will finish paying for your house. You buy a house and you finish paying for it, so you’re borrowing from the future. They’re creating money based on the fact that you can return that money
Jesse: Let me ask another question that will lead is in a little bit of a different direction and respond to this energy that’s coming up.
In what way are we served - individually and as a community - by not having enough? What do we get out of that?
Dancer: Maybe we change our way of consummation by this step.
Jesse: Talk about this in small groups for 3 minutes.
Close your eyes for a minute and feel it in your body. When you don’t have money, or you don’t have a lot, or you don’t have more than you need, even if you have a little less than you need - whatever that spot is for you - What do you get out of that? You, personally? How does that serve you? What are you free to do, or not? What are you blessed with because you don’t have quite enough or you have only enough?
Then stay with that sensation, but now expand your awareness to the contact community, globally. What does the community get out of having only just enough, or maybe not enough?
Let’s hear from every group. What are you aware of getting out of the lack of money - either individually or as a community?
Dancer: Less responsibility for the world. We don’t have the money to take care of what we see as wrong so we don’t do it.
Dancer: If I don’t have things then I don’t have to take care of them. I don’t have a flat I don’t have to take care of it. I don’t have precious things then nobody wants to have it. Feeling of lightness.
Dancer: Less to protect. Less to manage.
Dancer: You have to choose how to spend. You have to make choices.
Jesse: There’s a theme in the room that if we have a lot of money then we have responsibility. If we don’t have so much money, we have less responsibility. That’s an oversimplification of what you guys are saying, but there’s a leaning in that direction.
J draws this:
So we have experienced as a community, we cultivate freedom by not having enough money. This is a familiar place for us. We have an idea that if we had more than enough money, we would have lots of burden. This is what I wrote here, “burden.” Carrying around Tommy on my back all day everyday. Especially because you guys are contact improvisers, I am inviting you to expand your concept of what is possible. That, in fact, as you just said, not having enough money can feel quite burdensome, also. I think everyone has tasted that. These are places we know.
And this place where we have more than enough and we feel free, powerful, loyal, loved, respectful, generous, and we feel whatever it is we want to feel: that whatever it is you want is here for you.
Dancer: But why not open the possibility down here as well? Why not open the possibility of feeling free with not enough money.
Jesse: I don’t think you guys need help with that.
Dancer: Like you said, it is difficult to feel free when you don’t have enough.
Jesse: If what you want is to not have enough and feel free, great! That’s what you’re practicing already. And if that’s what you want to practice, by all means. I have no moral judgement about this.
Dancer: The thing is not to have the money also, but when I was talking about the stress I was talking about getting the money is stressful. You cannot dance your way out there unless you’re one of the very few ones who has caught the eyes of the one who has money.
Jesse: This is actually what I teach. Let’s say this is the more than enough up here and let’s say this is just enough or less than enough. And over here is easy and hard. We are taught that making money is hard. You work more hours, you get more money. You work harder during your hours, maybe you get more money. You can do that only so far and then you don’t have any more hours. You can’t work more to get more money. And so this box here [freedom and more than enough $] is what I practice and what I teach. And it’s very connected to the practice of improvisation and contact. Right? When we’re muscling through, manhandling our partners to get them up on your shoulders. When we’re using all of our muscle energy, then we make it very hard for ourselves. When we feel the ground through our partners and we track that support - which is available all the time - many, many things are easy.
Malcolm: When somebody asks me to come and teach, they ask me what my minimum is and I say, “€100 an hour.” I never get that. I get half of it. So I don’t feel like I’m not asking for it. How do I get my €100 an hour?
Jesse: The first step is to not take less.
Malcolm: I’ve tried that. What’s useful is that sometimes I say, “I do 100 an hour,” and then they go, “The best we can offer you is—from our institution or our festival—the best we can offer you is this. So then I get the best offer because I feel like the money is not available in these institutions. If I work in the university, €15-€16 an hour in Europe.
Jesse: Do you like working in the university?
Malcolm: I love working in the university. I’d like to get more money. I like working at this fest and I’d like my fee to be doubled. But I know the money is not available there, but it doesn’t stop me from asking. I feel like I’m not shy with asking. I’m inviting people to pay me more. And then sometimes it’s happened where I’ve taught in a therapy training or in a business setting and I got €1,000 a day. Once I got €1,000 for a day of five hours of teaching. So, I’m curious about the conditions.
Jesse: There is a cultural aspect to this. What if all of us decided we’re not going to buy into that anymore? We want the money piece to be above board. We commit to designing budgets that think about all the things we need to pay for - including how much Malcolm wants to be paid. And because we honor him, we’re going to raise the price or get more people here. As a community, we have a power to change the paradigm.
And the thing that is strongest, in my experience of this conversation today is the strength of resistance that I feel from you all and that is the thing that I think deserves inquiry. When we have that resistance, that is what is keeping us here. If we, as a group, decide that we want to change that, then we’ve made our first step. And if we don’t have the desire, then we won’t change it. My personal desire is for each of you and the community to have more than enough.
Dancer: What’s wrong with enough?
Jesse: When I sleep 9 hours instead of 8, I dance differently.
I can dance on 4 hours.
I could dance on no hours, too.
What’s possible when we have even just a little bit more than what we need, is exponentially greater. I believe so much in the work that we are doing. I don’t think there’s anything more important, and part of what I wish is for this work and work like it to be visible.
It benefits Donald Trump for all of us to feel like we should be poor. It is to his benefit for the people who are doing transformational, powerful service in the world to feel like they are only good—they are only doing their service—if they’re doing it at cost, not making a profit.
It’s radical work and I love talking about this the most!
Do you love to talk about this, too? Let Jesse know.