WELCOME!  Global Underscore (GUS) promotes the practice of the Underscore all over the world.

The Underscore, a long-form dance improvisation structure created by Nancy Stark Smith, incorporates Contact Improvisation (CI) into the broader arena of improvisational dance practice. GUS focuses around a yearly event in which the Underscore is practiced simultaneously for a 4-hour period by people all over the world near the summer solstice (northern hemisphere).

55–70+ sites participate in GUS.

Near the beginning and at the end of the Global Underscore practice, dancers at each site do the Stand/Small Dance (a standing meditation) together facing the next site around the globe, making an energetic line that spirals around the earth. These are called the Facings.

The Underscore, which has been evolving since 1990, is a vehicle for incorporating Contact Improvisation (CI) into the broader arena of improvisational dance practice; developing greater ease dancing in spherical space—alone and with others; and for integrating kinesthetic and compositional concerns while improvising. It allows for a full spectrum of energetic and physical expressions, embodying a range of forms and changing states. Its practice is familiar yet unpredictable.

The practice progresses through a broad range of dynamic states, including long periods of very small, private, and quiet internal activity and other times of higher energy and interactive dancing.

There are 20+ phases, 12+ connections, and 7 aspects of the Underscore—each with a name and a graphic symbol—which create a general map for the dancers. Within that frame, dancers are free to create their own movements, dynamics, and relationships—with themselves, each other, the group, the music, and the environment. Each Underscore is unique, providing rich and often inspiring experiences of the human and artistic phenomena of dance improvisation.

To participate in an Underscore, one should have some experience of Contact Improvisation and attend a Talk-Through of the Underscore, which often takes about an hour. The Underscore is generally not led with verbal cues; the idea is that people “know” it already and are coming together to share the practice. Participants come on time and stay for the duration of the event.

There are several options for participation for GUS so a dancer or GUS Site facilitator can choose what level of involvement they want. Explore this website to learn more!


GUS organizes these yearly events:

  • Online In-Depth Talk-Through of the Underscore: by many teachers from across the world, discussing the Phases, Connections, and Aspects of the Underscore.
  • GUS practice (the main event): supporting 50–70+ GUS sites around the world dancing (mostly simultaneously) a 4-hour Underscore.
  • “Catch-All” Zoom: Underscore practice online (hosted by Nancy Hughes and Colleen Bartley) during the GUS time frame. The “Catch-All” is considered a GUS “site”.
  • GUS Meta-Sharing: sharings from the GUS practice, Underscore discussion, Underscore visions/ideas, and Nancy Stark Smith teachings — with some movement time and a score to focus the sharings.

GUS also supports the legacy of Nancy Stark Smith’s work, including events and Nancy’s website. In addition, GUS sells CQ dance kneepads, CI Sourcebooks, and Mike Vargas’ 86 Aspects of Composition Cards, and gives a portion of the proceeds to Contact Quarterly (CQ), an online dance newsletter/resource/archive/digital-store website for Contact Improvisation, dance improvisation, contemporary dance, somatics, and other related work. CQ closed its office and stopped selling these items on December 1, 2020. Now Wesleyan University Press is selling many of the books CQ used to sell, including Nancy’s book, Caught Falling.


Claire Filmon proposed the event to Nancy in 2000 from a desire to connect dancers all around the planet to dance and to compose together in the moment.
Global Underscore coordinators:
2000–2010: Claire Filmon, with the help of Laura Blackburn, Aline Leclerc, and Anne-Claire Lafait.
2011–2012: Jesse Johnson, Brandin Steffensen, Rebecca Bone, Mark Messer, Dey Summer.
2013–2016: Brandin Steffensen, Nancy Hughes, with Lucy Mahler in 2013-2014.
2017–2019: Nancy Hughes, Patrick Crowley, with Brandin as advisor.
2020: Nancy Hughes, Patrick Crowley, Sarah Young, Colleen Bartley, with Brandin as advisor.
2021: Patrick Crowley, Sarah Young, Colleen Bartley, with Nancy Hughes and Brandin as advisors. GUS Coordinator Team bios.
Nancy Stark Smith was an advisor until her death in 2020.

– This text is taken and slightly adapted from Nancy Stark Smith’s website

For more information, read the Underscore chapter in Nancy and David Koteen’s book: Caught Falling: The Confluence of Contact Improvisation, Nancy Stark Smith, and Other Moving Ideas, available through Wesleyan University Press.