Nancy Stark Smith
photo © Roger Kose
Nancy Stark Smith
NSS and Steve Paxton
Naropa Institute, Boulder, Colorado, 1984
photo © Bill Arnold
Nancy Stark Smith
Seattle Festival of Dance and Improvisation, Seattle, WA, 2000
photo © Carolyn Lee

Nancy Stark Smith

Nancy Stark Smith first trained as an athlete and gymnast, leading her to study and perform modern and postmodern dance in the early 1970s, greatly influenced by the dance/theater improvisation group the Grand Union and the Judson Dance Theater breakthroughs of the 1960s in NYC. She graduated from Oberlin College with a degree in dance and writing.

In 1972, she danced in the first performances of Contact Improvisation in NYC with Steve Paxton and others and had continued to be central to its development as a dancer, teacher, performer, organizer, and writer/publisher, working extensively over the years with Paxton and others.

Nancy Stark Smith
NSS, Moscow, 2010
photo © Alfiya Rakhmanova
Nancy Stark Smith
NSS with musician Mike Vargas
video still: Jennifer Kayle

She traveled throughout the world teaching and performing contact and other improvised dance work at festivals, schools, and art centers, working with many favorite dance partners and performance makers including Ray Chung, Karen Nelson, Andrew Harwood, Julyen Hamilton, and musician Mike Vargas.

In 1975, she cofounded Contact Quarterly, a vehicle for moving ideas, an international dance and improvisation journal, which she coedited and produced with Lisa Nelson until 2020. In 2020, CQ ended being a print journal and went to being only online. CQ includes Contact Editions which produces and distributes nonperiodical dance and somatics literature.

Throughout all her activities, she continued to explore the bodymind states that are generated while dancing, the life cycle of form as it manifests in improvisation, and how any of this research can be communicated in performance and in print.

She lived in western Massachusetts, in the northeast of the U.S.A until her death from cancer on May 1, 2020. Tributes to Nancy are on Contact Quarterly’s Nancy Stark Smith Harvest Facebook page.


Her book, Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas, made with David Koteen, came out in 2008.

Her writings appear in the book, Taken By Surprise: A Dance Improvisation Reader, published by Wesleyan University Press. Her work is examined in Melinda’s Buckwalter’s book, Composing While Dancing: An Improviser’s Companion and in Kent DeSpain’s, Landscape of the Now: A Topography of Movement Improvisation.

Articles and interviews in Contact Quarterly by Nancy Stark Smith are listed here.

Nancy Stark Smith
The Confluence of Contact Improvisation,
Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas
a book by David Koteen and Nancy Stark Smith
with a Backwords by Steve Paxton
Order book through CQ
Nancy Stark Smith | The poetics of touch

The film, The Poetics of Touch (2007/2013), is a portrait of Nancy Stark Smith and Contact Improvisation, shot at Casina Settarte by Sara Pozzoli and Germana Siciliani.

Nancy Stark Smith | An emergent underscore

She is also interviewed about the Underscore in the video, An Emergent Underscore (2013), produced by Marlon Barrios Solano.