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 been central to its development as a dancer, teacher, performer, organizer, and writer/publisher, working extensively over the years with Paxton and others.
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 continues to coedit and produce with Lisa Nelson, as well as codirecting Contact Editions which produces and distributes nonperiodical dance and somatics literature.
Throughout all her activities, she explored the body-mind 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 in 2020.