a long story: begin, pause, continue. reflect. grateful to my teachers.
Karen Nelson’s 40-year dance and performance practice has been directly influenced by Steve Paxton, Nancy Stark Smith and Lisa Nelson, and their respective work in Contact Improvisation, Material for the Spine and Tuning Scores, and through collaboration with many others in venues around the world. As a dancer/choreographer, performer, teacher and organizer, she co-founded Joint Forces Dance Co, Breitenbush Jam, Dance Ability, Diverse Dance Research Retreat, and the performance group Image Lab, among other projects. Image Lab, including Scott Smith, K.J. Holmes, Lisa Nelson and Karen, intensively developed Tuning Scores for nearly a decade in the 1990s. They performed "observatories" in the US, Europe and Asia, spawning other Tuning projects that continue to this day. Karen was an annual guest teacher for many years at the Schools for New Dance Development in Amsterdam and Arnhem, The Netherlands, and made numerous visits to Bates Dance Festival, Seattle Festival of Improvisation, Movement Research, Moving’s View, Acapella Motion and other festivals and schools in North America, Europe, South America and Asia. Her current studies with various others include Russell Delman’s Embodied Life ™ fusing meditation, Feldenkrais ™ Awareness Through Movement and Embodied Dialogue/Focusing. She first graduated from the Embodied Life School in 2014 and teaches this work both stand alone, and happily entwined with dancing in retreats, workshops and on-going classes. She has recieved awards for choreography and research from National Endowment for the Arts, Oregon Arts Commission, National Performance Network, Wild Woods Foundation, Vashon Allied Arts, On the Boards NW New Works and private supporters.
From 2002-10 Karen worked full time as Rural Operations Manage at a meditation retreat facility-under-construction in Washington State, USA. During this time she continued to practice and research improvisation in performance with dancers in Oregon at Breitenbush Jam and Performance Works North West; at Seattle Festival of Dance Improvisation, SEEDS/Earthdance, Danza Sin Limites in Argentina, and in Europe with Lisa Nelson at L’Imparfait. She was a guest intensive teacher at the 2011 Freiburg Contact Festival where she was invited to talk about history of Contact Improvisation from her own perspective and experience. She continues to tour and teach in North and South America and Europe.
Karen first learned about Contact Improvisation in 1976 when a friend she met at Naropa Institute Summer Dance Program sent a letter with instructions and drawings describing basic principals of Contact Improvisation. This letter launched her dance journey. Later that year she worked with Nancy Stark Smith, Curt Sidall, Steve Paxton, Danny Lepkoff, and Andrew Harwood, (the latter, who helped her to finally experience what “giving weight” meant). In the mid- 80’s after years of practice, teaching and performing, questions regarding “what is contact improvisation vs. other improvisation” drove her to detailed study of Steve’s original proposition. Videos edits such at “Chute”, “Soft Pallet”, and “Peripheral Vision” as well as writings published in Contact Quarterly were very supportive in clarifying the subject. Her passion for improvisation based composition and choreography led to performance practice; collaboration with Lisa Nelson since the mid-80’s has encouraged invention of “senses-based” scores/games for dance making.
Over the years, several of Karen’s writings and reports about the Breitenbush Jam Teachers Conferences and Diverse Dance Research Retreats, as well as her article “Touch Revolution,” have been published in Contact Quarterly. She authored two chapters in the forthcoming book, Dancing with Dharma: Buddhism, Movement, and Dance in the West (McFarland Publishers) entitled "Doing Being, Tibetan Buddhism and Postmodern Dance Improvisation," and "Tune in, Stand Around, Four Postmodern Dance Improvisation Scores."