Steve Paxton was born in Arizona in 1939. He began his movement studies in gymnastics and then trained in martial arts, ballet and modern dance. In summer 1958, Paxton attended the American Dance Festival at Connecticut College, where he trained with choreographers Merce Cunningham and José Limón. Soon after, he moved to New York City. He was a member of the José Limón Company in 1959 and a member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company from 1961 to 1964. He was a founding member of the seminal dance collectives Judson Dance Theater (1962–64) and Grand Union (1970–76). Throughout his career, Paxton’s singular investigation of improvisation has opened new ideas in creating and composing choreographic work. It was during his time with Grand Union that he first formulated Contact Improvisation, a dynamic, partner-based dance that is now practiced worldwide. From Contact Improvisation, he developed the movement practice Material for the Spine in 1986, which examines movement outward from the core of the body.
Paxton’s work has recently been presented at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012); Tanz im August, Berlin (2013); Španski Borci Cultural Centre, Ljubljana (2014); 9th International Contemporary Dance Festival, Venice (2014); and Tanzwerkstatt Europa, Munich (2014). In 2013, Dia Art Foundation presented Night Stand (2004), a work by Paxton and Lisa Nelson, at Dia:Chelsea in New York City. Paxton has received two New York Dance and Performance Awards, or Bessies, in 1987 and 1999, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts; Rockefeller Foundation; Contemporary Performance Arts Foundation; Change, Inc.; and Experiments in Art and Technology. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1995 and, most recently, he received the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement from the 2014 Dance Biennale, Venice. He has been a contributing editor to Contact Quarterly and published the DVD Material for the Spine in 2008. He lives in Vermont.