Nancy Stark Smith (February 11, 1952 – May 1, 2020)

Such a force of beauty, this Nancy Stark Smith.

I felt her warmth whenever we connected. Though I was never close to her, I know her as a student knows a teacher or mentor, or how we might even feel close to an author because we grow in exponential ways from her writings.

I marvel at Nancy’s creativity and dance mastery, her deep understanding and endless curiosity about the process of improvisation. Her writing and editorship of Contact Quarterly manifests the joy of collaboration and demonstrates how elegant journaling can be. Over the years, the journal has given dancers an outlet to articulate the multi-faceted aspects of dance and improvisation. Each contribution, more creative than the next, invites the reader to join an in-depth investigation into the process of a phenomena that, until it lands on paper, has been an ephemeral somatic experience.

Contact Quarterly published its last paper journal this winter, announcing its transformation to an online journal. I could imagine Nancy was completely satisfied with her stewardship, and that she was not only saying goodbye to the paper format, but excited, too, to usher in a new wave of invention and delight in the online form.

I hold Nancy in high esteem. She influenced me in ways she could never know. She documented the components of a successful jam in the invention she called the Underscore. Those that dance the ‘score’ reflect in closing circle some verbal articulation of the experience. Whether participating in or leading numerous Underscores over the past ten years, closing circle remarks by both experienced and novice dancers alike invariably express how they experience the Underscore as a microcosm of life’s interpersonal challenges and joys. With awareness heightened, some point to a tapestry of compositional noticings. Others report a felt sense of nervous system shift to a level of contentment and calm. Yah, for me, as I dwell in the silence, the room’s tone like a veil of peace, I am aware of a soft throb in my cheek bones, a giving in to the floor, a befriending with gravity. I am witness to my presence within the matrix of the group.

Nancy’s Underscore exploration unleashed curiosity – a burgeoning of explorations by dancers around the world. For me, I became a better teacher, a more aware dancer.

She was the Queen – the real deal, a shining light, a model of how to be inventive, productive and fully present in this world. True to her principles, magnificent in body and spirit, I know I speak for this community by expressing gratitude to Nancy. She taught by example, broke new ground in what is possible bodily, what is possible in partnership and in community. She wisely insisted we take care of ourselves and take care of each other, as well. I visualize Nancy moving in the spirit world, telescoping her awareness and enjoying the gap!

Idelle Packer