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. Global Underscore (GUS) centers 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).

70+ sites participate in GUS.

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.

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

It is important that one does a “Talk-Through” of the Underscore, which often takes about an hour, before dancing the Underscore. 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 in the Global Underscore, so a dancer or GUS Site facilitator can choose whichever level of involvement they want.

For more information on the Underscore, go to Nancy’s website or 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.


The GUS Coordinator team is composed of volunteers who seek to provide a global communication and information hub in support of ongoing GUS events. We set the time and date for GUS each year, help sites connect, organize the ritual of the Facings, create an archive for a collective Harvest, and fundraise for the work and resources involved in sustaining the GUS practice. We encourage anyone to join the GUS Team — please email us with your interest!

GUS organizes these yearly events:  (2024 GUS Events)

  • In-Depth Talk-Through (on Zoom) 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 70+ GUS sites around the world dancing (mostly simultaneously) a 4-hour Underscore.
  • “Catch-All” Zoom:  The “Catch-All” is a virtual GUS Site, for both individuals and other GUS Sites, during the GUS practice time.
  • Meta-Sharing (on Zoom): sharings from the GUS practice, Underscore discussion, Underscore visions/ideas, and Nancy Stark Smith teachings — with some movement/embodied time.

The GUS Store sells Mike Vargas’ 86 Aspects of Composition Cards. In addition, GUS also supports the development of the Underscore, Contact Improvisation, Contact Quarterly (CQ), and the legacy of Nancy Stark Smith.


Claire Filmon proposed the idea of a global Underscore to Nancy in 2000 from a desire to connect dancers all around the planet to dance and compose together simultaneously.

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 Steffensen as advisor.
2020: Nancy Hughes, Patrick Crowley, Sarah Young, Colleen Bartley with Brandin as advisor.
2021–2023: Patrick Crowley, Sarah Young, Colleen Bartley, Nicole Touzien with Nancy Hughes and Brandin Steffensen as advisors.

Current GUS Team bios.

Nancy Stark Smith was an advisor until her passing in 2020.