Class recap: 3-hour Fundamentals class, Sun., 2010/6/19, at the Zen Buddhist Temple, Ann Arbor, MI

These are my recollections, based on notes, of what we did in my Fundamentals class on Saturday. The detail errs on the side of being fanatical; nevertheless, I’m sure I missed things or got things wrong. I would love comments on errors, missing details, or different recollections. Notice of typos and spelling mistakes is also appreciated.

Thanks to Milagros Paredes for organizing everything and for encouraging me to teach, Stefanie Cohen for assisting with demos, Jim Gilligan for set-up help, and the Zen Buddhist Temple for hosting us. I really enjoyed the experience.

Opening circle
Warm-up phase
Weight-sharing pt. 1
Weight-sharing pt. 2
Setting Boundaries: Come, Stay, Go
Rolling Point
Floor Work
Some free dancing
Closing circle

Opening Circle

  • name, why you’re here and what you hope to learn (anything in particular?), name
  • injuries, name
  • information
    • if it’s your first time — thank you for giving me the privilege of being your first teacher
    • warnings about the space (floor, pillars)
    • I will probably talk too much and give you too much information. You only need to remember three things
      1. take care of yourself: keep tabs on your own body, ask for clarification or sit things out if they feel uncomfortable
        • demonstration with Stefanie on requesting paying attention to body sensitivities or asking for clarifications on exercises
      2. CI is weight-sharing. This is a falsehood, and I’ll tell you later why. But for this class today, this take this as the truth.
      3. the answer to everything else is “wait, then relax”

Warm-up phase

Lying-down meditation

  • [Guided meditation with releasing into the floor is a feature of many, many contact classes; this was a hodgepodge of different influences and some ideas of my own]
  • settle in, be here, let things go
  • let other distractions go away
  • visualizations
    • with eyes closed, visualize the space that you’re in
    • visualize now the space in the city of Ann Arbor… see the whole city in your mind’s eye, and this space in it
    • visualize the whole world, and all of Ann Arbor in it, and this space within that
  • bring focus back to yourself, and your breath
  • more information
    • you don’t have to remember any of this:
      • sometimes I’ll be giving you ambiguous instructions; just try it, don’t worry too much if it doesn’t make sense and don’t worry about doing it “right” the first time
      • sometimes I’ll tell you why we’re doing things, sometimes not; you can ask me later if it’s not clear
      • sometimes things come up emotionally in this practice; that’s okay and normal
      • embrace the awkward
  • one big inhale, exhale, and relax

Releasing into the floor

  • going through the body toe to head, bring awareness to that body part and try to relax the muscles, releasing the body into the floor
    • a few details
      • Release your hips. Let your legs splay out more if they want to
      • Release your neck. See if it’s holding your head from falling to one side or the other, and see what happens if you release it a little more
      • Release your tongue, not so much that it falls into your throat, but as much as you can
  • Feel the ground supporting you. For however much you weigh, you are exerting the force of that weight down into the ground. Newton tells us that the ground is pushing up on you with an equal and opposite force.

Rolling side-to-side, moving in and out of the floor, to standing

  • [This is based on an exercise that I learned from Julia Rae Antonick of Chicago, who may have learned it from Nancy Stark Smith.]
  • roll side to side, slowly
    • like your body is a bag of sand, and the sand is trickling slowly over
    • like sand through an hourglass
    • don’t worry if it feels awkward; embrace the awkward
    • you can always go slower
    • see what happens if
      • you bend your legs vs. keeping them straight
      • you separate your legs
      • you lead by reaching a leg or an arm
      • vs. with the head, or your pelvis
    • now start allowing yourself to roll all the way over
      • if you end up touching someone, it’s no big deal
  • going in and out of the floor
    • now add a little momentum, so it’s more like the pendulum of a grandfather clock
      • with a little speed in the middle, and then slowing down at the ends
    • and start allowing a part of your body to go up every now and then
      • and notice that when you do, that another part of your body is usually pressing down a little more into the floor
      • continue the sense of a pendulum, or a parabola/roller coaster, with your body: up, slowing, down, gaining speed, releasing into the floor
      • and now as your body part comes down, allow the momentum of its descent to carry you forward on the floor
    • and start letting yourself go higher, to low crouches and knees
    • to getting your feet under you
    • to being on your feet, but your head still hang
    • to standing, and still going in and out of the floor
      • and as you go back into the floor, greet the floor like a long-lost lover, or an old friend, or a favorite bed
      • on one of these times going up and down, imagine that you’re incredibly graceful, the most graceful thing in the world
      • and on the next time, make fun of the last time
      • on one of these times going up and down, see if you can make it awkward (but gently, without hurting yourself)
      • and then on the next time, make fun of your awkwardness
      • try to steal some ideas on getting in and out of the floor from someone else
        • discreetly sneak a peak at someone else
          • and copy something that they’re doing
          • maybe a particular technique
          • or a gesture
          • or something about their style
        • but subtly, so they don’t notice
    • and come to standing still


  • starting walking at a normal pace
  • notice the room
  • notice the pillars
  • make a few sounds if you like
  • notice the people in the room, say hi to them non-verbally
  • now as you make eye contact, pretend that you have a secret with each of them
  • pick up your pace; if it was a 1 go to a 2
  • and then a 3
  • walk between yourself and another person OR a person and a pillar!
    • [This is a version of “The Scramble,” a choreography of Simone Forti’s which has become a standard contact warm-up. I was doing this for years in various CI classes in Los Angeles before I saw a reference to it in a newspaper article as being a piece of hers. I saw Simone use it in a class of hers, and asked her later, “isn’t that exercise a piece of yours?” She responded, “Well, I suppose. But it’s the sort of thing that just seems to have been there all along.” (Quotations very approximate.)]
    • somehow no one ever gets hurt doing this, I’m not sure why!

Weight-sharing pt. 1

Turkish? handshake

  • [This was taught to me by Ray Chung of the San Francisco Bay Area, but I forget what he called it. I probably got the “Turkish” part wrong.]
  • demo
  • Each person clasps the R arm of the other just below the shoulder with both hands, palm flat and fingers together, and then walks backwards, drawing the hands down the arm and out through the fingertips. Repeat with L arm
    • a little bit of pressure
    • exhale as you go back
    • if you like, you can make a sound
  • circulate, walk up to someone and do this


  • [The idea to teach weight-sharing through counter-balancing comes from Stefan Fabry of Los Angeles, California (USA). I should add that Stefan’s emphasis on weight-sharing before rolling point was a huge influence on the design of this class.]
  • grasp one hand and lean back, then the other
  • tips
    • let the arm be supple and adaptable
    • don’t go too low — it can be hard to come back up
    • remember to breathe
  • circulate, walk up to someone and to this

continue counter-balance — find the float

  • as you come up from the counter-balance, find the point where you’re sort of floating, balancing and suspended
    • get a little addicted to this
  • float past the mid-point to palm-to-palm
    • settle into shoulder to shoulder (chest to chest)
    • push off from that, back to mid-point, and back to counter balancing

a little dance based on all of this

  • occasionally interrupted by my saying:
    • STOP
    • inhale, exhale, then relax
    • GO again
    • [This stop-and-go that I used throughout the class was taught to me in a class by Mary Herzog, of Laguna Beach, California (USA), although Mary may have adapted bits from Martin Keogh.]

Weight-sharing pt. 2

falling practice:

  • [Much of this is derived from a class I took taught by Kirk Andrews, of Laguna Beach, California. The falling-and-running-it-out part in particular comes from Scott Wells (Scott is from the SF Bay Area).]
  • rocking
    • with eyes closed, rock side to side
    • and forward and backwards
    • come to tipping/balance point, try to pause there
  • falling over, catching yourself
    • open your eyes to make sure you have room
    • go over the tipping point and catch yourself
      • try both catching yourself by taking a step as well as catching yourself by moving your hips back
      • but we’ll do more with taking a step
      • try also sagging the butt before you take a step — see how that changes things
  • falling, running it out
    • as you go past the tipping point, run it out
    • falling forward, side, back
      • falling to the back or side will involve turning to run
  • falling to the floor
    • as you go past the tipping point, take it to the ground
    • try once being a little dramatic, a bit of a drama queen (though remember to be safe)
    • try discreetly stealing some falling ideas from someone else

face-to-face forward falls, one person initiates

  • A is the Faller, B is the Supporter
  • A & B stand face to face, B puts hands on A’s shoulders
  • A says to B, “are you ready?”
  • when B says “yes,” A leans gently into B
  • B gets her feet backwards into order to take A’s weight
  • B takes A as much as B feels comfortable, and then puts A back on A’s feet
  • switch off as you’re comfortable
  • tips:
    • Faller should sag hips a little bit towards Supporter, instead of hips away; this makes the weight a little gentler for Supporter
    • Supporter should make sure to align body underneath Faller so that Faller’s weight is going through Supporter into the ground, and so that Supporter’s legs and body structure is doing most of the weight, not the arms
    • to take weight, get feet out
    • increase weight, move feet back
    • decrease weight, move feet in
  • if you feel comfortable — try this in different directions
    • to the side
    • to the back

face-to-face simultaneous falls w/foot lifts

  • lead through
    • fall towards with palms, and end up chest to chest
    • inhale, exhale together
    • then try to inhale while the other is exhaling
    • together, lift one foot. DON’T communicate about it verbally
    • then the other
  • tips:
    • probably will need to move one foot to the center first
    • just lift the foot slightly off the ground
    • if a larger person is with a smaller person, the smaller person will need to get his feet out and intersect the larger person at a lower point — says, Smaller’s upper rib cage against Larger’s lower rib cage. So Larger will be more upright, while Smaller will be more horizontal. This balances out the weight differential

back-to-wall preparation

  • start with back against the wall
  • inhale, exhale
  • on the exhale
    • drop your butt
    • walk your feet out
  • to get back up — walk your feet back in!
    • DON’T pull the pelvis away

back-to-back weight-sharing with partner

  • do the same with a partner — slowly!
  • lead through
    • back to back
    • try to move and relax together
    • drop the butt and walk your feet out
    • lift one foot together
    • walk feet back in!

Setting Boundaries: Come, Stay, Go

  • [This exercise was taught to me by Shel Wagner Rasch of Los Angeles, California.]
  • A (talker) and B (follower) stand face-to-face
  • A listens to her gut, and then based on what she feels, says to B one of three things: “come,” “stay,” or “go”
  • B obeys. A also has the option of herself moving relative to B
  • Then B occasionally disobeys A; A has to react to that
    • B should disobey at least once, to give A the experience of dealing with that
  • and switch
  • discussion after each point, group circle discussion

Rolling Point

mosh pit/scrum

  • gather together, jump into each other (gently), with hand folded to chest
  • everyone else huddle together
    • one at a time, roll around the outside of the huddle
      • leaning into the scrum

demo of rolling point

  • CI is weight-sharing through a rolling point of contact
  • feel the floor beneath your partner’s feet
    • [A lot of people say this, I think, but the person who really emphasizes this and taught it to me in Los Angeles is Jeffrey Nash.]

rolling across the wall

  • roll across the wall around your shoulder level, leaning into the wall
  • try also at around mid-waist
  • and around hips

rolling back to back with partner

  • roll from shoulder to shoulder
  • roll around to front
  • try at mid-torso, at hip level
  • tips
    • as you roll across the back, round the back for smoothness
    • as you roll to the front of the shoulder, round the shoulder back for smoothness
    • as you roll to the shoulder, you can put your arm up or down
    • if you’re rolling around the side at mid-torso, of course you need to put your arm up
  • if the weight is too much
    • get your feet OUT first, then in
    • or just say something to your partner
  • let this devolve to other areas
    • weight-sharing
    • feel the ground under the other person’s feet
    • and let the point of contact roll
    • if you don’t know what to do: wait, then relax
    • safety tip: if the point of contact moves to the head, make sure to lighten up the weight. Necks generally can’t take as much weight as other parts of the body.

Floor Work

getting up from the floor

  • sit back to back
  • knees up, hands on floor
  • A pushes into back of B; B rounds at the back and/or slides across floor
  • B pushes back into A; A rounds at the back and/or slides across the floor
  • at some point, instead of sliding, one person pushes back into the other, and up you go!
  • notes:
    • this can be a little tough on the quads
    • faster is a little easier

going down

  • start back-to-back
  • just like against the wall, walk feet out and drop your butt down to the ground
  • use your hands as preparation
  • and just go down

practicing going up and down


  • [This is a classic, classic surfing exercise, taught to me in my very first contact class by Mary Herzog of Laguna Beach, California. The pushing/rolling back-and-forth beforehand is my little elaboration.]
  • sit back-to-back
  • push/roll back and forth
  • then one of you just falls, the other falls on top perpendicularly
  • bottom person rolls the top person forward
  • tips:
    • Bottom should keep Top between Bottom’s hips and shoulder
    • Top should put arms above head as Top goes over Bottom, to catch herself and prevent head-clunking
    • Top should try to relax the body and round it around Bottom, increasing the amount of surface but being less heavy for Bottom
    • Top should let Bottom dictate the pace and do most of the work
    • sound effects are really helpful for both people to do (e.g., “wsshhhh!”)
    • tips on Bottom getting the roll going, from Stefanie
      • spiral movement
      • can initiate from a leg, or hand, or from the head
      • one really effective way is to initiate from the eyes/vision

Some free dancing

  • occasionally interrupted by my saying:
    • STOP
    • inhale, exhale
    • relax into your partner and the floor
    • and GO again

Closing circle

  • thanks for the privilege of teaching
  • lifts
    • avoid them for a while. By taking longer to do lifts, you make sure to build the building blocks for doing them safely
  • recap three things:
    • take care of yourself
    • CI is weight-sharing
      • This is a falsehood because CI is intentionally undefined; everything presented in class today is just an opinion. CI is, essentially, whatever you want it to be, and I invite you to try different ways of doing CI and explore for yourself what it is.
    • everything else is wait, then relax
  • why to do CI:
    • nice work-out
    • bearing weight is good for building bone density
    • non-repetitive movement is easy on the body
    • develops flexibility
    • develops balance
    • as a bonus: can be a source for growth in terms of lots of interpersonal stuff, including getting in touch with what you want, setting boundaries, relating to other people, etc.
  • announcements
    • my blog; notes from this class will be online
    • the Ann Arbor jam

1 comment for “Class recap: 3-hour Fundamentals class, Sun., 2010/6/19, at the Zen Buddhist Temple, Ann Arbor, MI

  1. 2010/06/20 at 20:21

    Hi Richard, thanks for helping me to feel more comfortable during Contact Improv. This newbie found your Fundamentals Class illuminating.

    Peace, Jim

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