Class recap: 1.5-hour class, Mon., 2016/11/21, at Lehman College, Bronx, NY

I recently taught a CI class at Lehman College as a one-day guest teacher, as part of a larger course on movement for actors and dancers, assisted by my friend and frequent dance partner Funda. This is a recap of 1.5-hour (really, 100-minute) class at Lehman College, Bronx, NY, on Monday, November 21, 2016.

Recap is based on my class prep notes and a highly imperfect memory. As a result, it may not always reflect what was taught or said with 100% accuracy. Corrections and edits are very welcome — feel free to make a comment below.

Also, because sometimes it feels too difficult or unnecessary to write everything in full detail, this recap may use shorthand or may not be clear to someone who was not in the class. I’m happy to clarify — again, feel free to make a comment below.

Opening Circle

  • Introduction, etc.
  • How many have seen CI? how many have done CI?
  • Around circle: name, how are you feeling (body, etc.)?
  • There are many styles of contact improvisation, I’m only teaching one: what might be called classic CI, or West Coast
  • Leaving lots of stuff out! so take with a grain of salt
  • I have more material to teach than time, so at some point we will just jump ahead. Just go with it.
  • Take care of yourself
    • step out if you need to
    • adapt exercises if you need to
    • be attuned to your body: this is partly why I encouraged you to express how you’re feeling. In CI, we encourage being aware of your body for your own health/safety.


  • Lying-down relaxation
    • find a spot to lie down on the floor
    • we’re going to do nothing here — just be. No need to think about your phones, or your plans, or what happened to you recently
    • give your weight over to the floor — let it support you — think of it like a loved one or a bed
    • if you’re tired — this is a nice time for a nap
    • find ways to relax your different muscles
    • scanning through the body, going through each body part from feet to top and encouraging to release
    • then just give attention to 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 if it doesn’t quite work for you, just see what happens
      • sometimes things come up emotionally in this practice; that’s okay and normal
      • embrace the awkward
  • 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 in Chicago, who may have learned it from Nancy Stark Smith.]
    • stretch — waking up stretches
      • slowly, gently, in the next minute, make a big stretch, hands extending up, legs extending down
        • maybe with a yawn! or a noise!
        • and as you stretch, find yourself rolling over to the side, and curling up
        • and then settling in again, maybe with a little wiggle
      • And then when you’re ready, take another big stretch up and down
        • and then roll across your back to the other side
        • I guess it can be nice to inhale on the stretch, and then exhale as you roll
    • roll side-to-side
      • with shorter times between movements
      • relaxing the head onto the ground as you go
      • in a sort of pendulum-like motion/timing
        • so that curling up on each side is a pause at the top of the pendulum, and then you’re falling/rolling back down across your back, and then slowing down as you come to the other side, to the other side of the pendulum
        • and you’re never really stopping, just slowing down
      • it can be nice here to exhale as you release from the top of the pendulum, then inhale as you climb up the other side
    • going in and out of the floor
      • and now let yourself come to some sitting positions
      • and start letting yourself go higher
        • to hands & knees
        • to hands & feet
        • to standing
      • imagine that your momentum is taking you up higher
        • and if it doesn’t quite work that way, pretend that it does
    • to standing, and still going in and out of the floor
      • extending/stretching up, on tiptoes, and then releasing and going down to the floor
      • extending up, lifting one leg and suspended on the other leg, and going down to the floor
    • other ways of going up and down
      • go up and down making fun of a ballet dancer
      • being purposefully clumsy
      • try to steal some ideas on getting in and out of the floor from someone else (subtly)
  • Walking
    • start walking around the room at a normal pace
      • can touch each other — high five, tap on the shoulder, etc.
      • brush down someone’s back
      • brush down/squeeze someone’s arm
    • back to walking
      • pick up your pace; if it was a 1 go to a 2
      • and then a 3
    • walk between yourself and another person
      • do not walk into each other!
      • [I said this because the students kept bumping into each other. Note: I’ve taught this exercise or seen this exercise taught I think maybe over 30 times. I’ve never before seen students walk into each other as much! I don’t think it was a deficit of peripheral vision — I think they simply enjoyed bumping into each other, and were messing around a little.]
    • go to a 4
    • go to a 5

Weight-sharing in V-frame exercises

  • [these are based on exercises I first learned from Stefan Fabry in Los Angeles]
  • ¬†counterbalancing clasped hands
    • demo
      • clasping wrists with R hands, sitting back and down together in a pendulum-like motion/timing. Come up and switch to L hands. Repeat back-and-forth
    • practicing with a similar-sized partner
      • I circulated around and gave feedback
    • stopped practice a few time to share some tips
      • keep the upper body upright and back, not forward, not a piking torso, so that you’re sitting down into the weight
      • really commit the weight, sitting down into it, not simply doing a pli√© at the last minute
  • adding some ideas, opening it up to more improvisation
    • demo first
      • coming through the balance float point to leaning towards each other, pressing both hands together
      • start moving feet and playing with alternate grips (e.g., R hand pushing or pulling L hand instead of R, pushing off with one hand, etc.)
    • practicing/playing with these ideas
  • “the switch”
    • demo first
      • settling down into sharing your weight, like when your feet hit the bottom of a pool
      • feeling the connection between A’s arm into B, through B’s arm, through B’s torso, into B’s pelvis, and vice versa
      • A & B pull each other, jump, and rotate away from the hands, switching places (without letting go)
    • practicing this

Weight-sharing, walking feet backwards and forwards

  • taking person off-balance
    • demo
      • A & B standing upright, B puts hands on A’s shoulders, and asks A: “are you ready”?
      • B takes A off-balance, A remains rigid [like a piece of construction wood]
        • B really gets under A, with one foot back and one foot forward, and gets ready to take the weight
      • B puts A back on A’s feet
    • practiced in partners with similar heights
  • walking feet away and towards each other
    • demo
      • from different standing positions, both partners touch their upper torsos and walk their feet away from each other and back towards each together again
        • increasing the amount of weight shared, balancing the amount of weight shared
      • communicate verbally with your partners as necessary to feel safe, comfortable
      • in an emergency, you can put your hands on your partner’s shoulders and push away to separate
      • [something I didn’t say but should have — feel through into the structure of your partner; feel the floor beneath your partner’s feet]
      • three different positions to try
        • chest to chest
        • shoulder to chest
        • back to back
    • practiced in partners with similar heights

Rolling Point

  • A rolling point of contact allows us to change the point of contact or move while maintaining continuous weight-sharing
  • mosh pit
    • in groups of 6 or more:
      • place arms across your chest, with hands on shoulders, or put hands at sides
      • huddle/hop together into a group
        • get close, not just in a circle with shoulders touching, but in a tight bunch
      • one at a time, one person rolls all the way around the outside of the group, with upper torso as that person’s point of contact with the huddle/mosh. The single person will be rolling across the upper back, the shoulders, and the upper chest and/or crossed arms
        • the huddle provides the stability for the single person to roll
        • huddle keeps on moving its feet a little
      • repeat until everyone has done it
  • practicing rolling point
    • demo
      • two pathways:
        • shoulder-to-shoulder
          • starting on one shoulder, across the back, to the opposite shoulder
          • it can be nice to round the back out here, to make it smoother
        • hip-to-hip
          • starting on one hip, across the back/top of the pelvis to the opposite hip
    • practicing with a partner of similar height


  • demonstration of full CI dancing, including
    • going to the floor
    • moving the point of contact to the head
    • lifts
    • a little bit of modified helicopter (Funda rolling from one of my shoulders to the other, while I was standing)

Open Dancing

  • in partners, trying whatever they like

Closing circle

  • comments, questions, feedback?
  • this is a really deep, complex practice, that could really change your life
  • demonstration of how lifts are negotiated
    • how to avoid being picked up (by dropping the pelvis)
    • how if you jump at someone, you should be prepared to fall if someone declines to catch you
  • local contact improvisation jams and activities


1 comment for “Class recap: 1.5-hour class, Mon., 2016/11/21, at Lehman College, Bronx, NY

  1. Funda Gul
    2016/12/01 at 17:41

    It was a wonderful class, one of the best I have taken recently. The dance floor felt so comfortable to dance on, the students were full of energy, and above all, the teaching was excellent. Thank you for sharing this on your blog, Richard. Super helpful!

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