Class recap: 2-hour class, Sat., 2017/04/15, at National Ballet School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Ontario Regional Contact Jam 2017)

I had a great time teaching at the Ontario Regional Contact Jam on Saturday, April 15, 2017. This is a recap of my 2-hour class, titled “The Rigor of Contact Improvisation: Rolling Point Mastery,” which took place in Studio 4B of the Celia Franca Centre of the National Ballet School in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, as part of the Ontario Regional Contact Jam 2017.

Special thanks to Cara Graninger, who gave invaluable assistance in testing and developing the material for this class, and helped with demonstrating and assisting during the class itself.

As always, this recap is based on my class prep notes and an imperfect memory, so it may not always reflect what was taught or said with 100% accuracy. If you remember something differently, or if you remember something that isn’t here that you thought was useful, your corrections and edits are very welcome — feel free to make a comment below.

I’m planning another post with a little more about this class: background, concerns that came up in feedback, and some other clarifications and musings. I’ll link to that right here when available.

Opening circle, preliminaries

  • names
  • not about fun — this is about work!
  • one of the gifts, and really central ideas in CI, is self-exploration, self-awareness, open-ended — to some extent this is not that!
  • overview of class. What we’ll do:
    • weight-sharing
    • rolling point basics
    • practice “no skips, no slides”
    • bunch of pathways
    • back to “no skips, no slides”
    • closing circle and feedback
  • Big topic that can’t cover anything. If you have more questions, or want to go deep into theory, let me know.
  • Assessing experience level by how high you sit: beginners sit straight up, advanced crouching down, etc. (Martin Keogh)
  • Key stuff
    • CI is an undefined form — this is just one approach
    • take responsibility for yourself during the class — feel free to sit out, adjust exercises
    • it’s okay not to get everything — there will be a lot in the class


  • feet-shifting (adapted fr. Rajendra Serber)
    • gradually shift weight from one foot to another, in increments
      • filling up one foot, emptying the other foot
      • lift heel to confirm empty foot
    • slide empty foot around, place in a new location, and shift weight into it.
      • continue this way on your own
  • scramble (Simone Forti)
    • walk between any two people
    • if this is 10 mph, go to 20 mph
    • and back down to 10 mph

Weight sharing

  • taking off balance (adapted fr. Scott Wells)
    • B takes A off-balance, while A remains relatively passive and stiff
      • A stands upright. B faces A and puts hands on A’s shoulders, while B has one foot forward and one foot back. B asks A, “are you ready?” and waits for A to respond “yes.”
      • B tips A forward towards B, taking A off-balance (A’s feet stay in the same spot). A is not resisting B’s impulses, nor helping them.
      • B experiments with A’s weight, taking A off-balance and putting back on feet.
      • B can notice:
        • the moment when putting A back on balance, A’s weight is falling back towards heels instead of forward (a mini-balance point)
        • the moment where A is back on axis, with weight balanced over feet. B can push A a little bit past this spot, so that A falls backwards a little, and A takes a step backwards to catch herself
    • B takes A off balance from A’s side, A’s back
  • walking in, walking out
    • A & B, chest to chest
      • walk backwards at the same time, maintaining contact at the chest level, forming an A-frame
        • connecting to each other, shared axis & balance throughout
      • walk forward simultaneously until upright
        • keeping pelvis in line with body, NOT with butt sticking backwards
        • keeping weight forward and towards partner at all times, just like the tipping exercise
    • chest to side, back to back

Rolling point 1/2: massage into rolling point

  • fist-head massage (adapted fr. Scott Wells)
    • make a hand into a fist, massage your head with it
      • rolling & pivoting, not rubbing/sliding
      • can switch hands
    • massage your fist with your head
    • do both at the same time — massage your head with your fist while massaging your fist with your head
  • take to a different part of the body
    • e.g., place your fist on a different body part, and (1) massage that body part with your fist, (2) massage your fist with that body part, and (3) do both at the same time
    • you can let your feet move more here
  • with partner
    • A puts two fists together, and puts on a part on B’s body
    • A massages B’s body part with the two fists (rolling & pivoting, not rubbing/sliding)
    • B massages A’s fists with B’s body part
    • both at once: A massages B’s body part with A’s fists, B’s body part massages A’s fists
    • both A & B should move feet as necessary
    • exchange back and forth, selecting different body part
  • A puts a different part of A’s body on B (e.g., elbow, shoulder, hip, etc.).
    • A massages B
    • B massages A
    • both massage each other

Rolling point 2/2: putting it together

  • demo + theory
    • some of these concepts may not all have been introduced at this point in the class, but I’m collecting them here
    • off-balance weight sharing
    • continuous rolling point
    • sensing structure
      • by sensing structure through the rolling point, you can know how and when to safely give weight
    • following the point, without ambition
      • rather than figuring out what to do, you can following the
    • “al dente” tone, not rigid, but not floppy (Martin Keogh) — pretty sure I said this later in the class, but I meant to say it here
  • start either with a point, or with a walk-out, and give it a try

No skips, no slides

  • (I think this has been taught to me in many classes, but I think Stefan Fabry may have taught the version closest to this.)
  • in trios, one person watches while the other two dance
  • slow, deliberate rolling point of contact dance
  • avoid skips and slides, and any of the three can call out a skip or a slide if it happens with “skip” or “slide”
  • take turns with who dances and who watches, about 2 minutes each — skipped third duo due to time

Pathway #1: shoulder to shoulder across back

  • practicing rolling point pathway in duets, shoulder to shoulder across the back
    • not collapsing to the entire back, but keeping the rolling point at the shoulder level for both dancers
    • rounding the back so that the point travels smoothly over the shoulder blades
  • practice it rounding the back and not rounding the back, to feel the contrast

Pathway #2: around shoulder to the front

  • Instead of rolling out to the hands (traditional style), rolling around the shoulder
    • shoulder massage
      • general massage
      • getting under the shoulder blade, lifting the shoulder
      • pulling the shoulders back, opening the chest
      • curling the shoulders forwards
    • fist steering
      • A puts fist against outside of B’s shoulder
      • As A rolls fist towards B’s back, B rounds back, sending shoulders forwards
      • As A rolls fist around shoulder towards B’s front, B opens chest, sending shoulders back
  • both partners roll all the way around the body at the shoulder level, rounding back and putting shoulders forward as the point rolls around the outside of the shoulder to the back, opening chest and sending shoulder back as the point rolls around the outside of the shoulder to the front
  • Two variations
    • can lift hand in the air as the point goes towards the shoulder, allowing the point to go under the shoulder, around the side of the body
    • Pathway #3: going around the hand
      • as the point rolls towards the shoulder, can extend the arm out to the side and allow the point to travel the length of the arm, around the fingertips, and back down the others side of the arm to the torso
      • useful to keep some tone/engagement in the arm while this is happening, and particularly to open up the chest as the point rolls over the inside of the shoulder

Pathway #4: up and down the back

  • up and down the back
    • both partners rolling from hips to shoulders, up and down the back
    • both partners are rounding the back vertically at all times so that one vertebrae at a time is touching. This means curving parts of the back and torso that are not touching away from the point of contact.
  • figure 8/hourglass (originally showed to me by Mary Herzog — in my very first CI class ever!)
    • both partners roll the point of contact together in a sort of figure-8/hourglass/intersecting Zs pattern. E.g.,
      • on A, the point of contact goes from A’s left shoulder, across to A’s right shoulder, diagonally across the back to A’s left hip, across the hips to A’s right hip, and diagonally up to A’s left shoulder
      • B mirrors this simultaneously: the point of contact with A travels from B’s right shoulder, across to B’s left shoulder, diagonally across the back to B’s right hip, across the hips to B’s left hip, and diagonally up to B’s right shoulder
      • this can also be reversed
  • showed some additional pathways for practice up and down
    • up and down side of back
    • front to front
    • side to side
    • front to back

Pathway #5: Tim O’Donnell move into head to shoulders

  • only showed these
  • Tim O’Donnell move (Tim O’Donnell):
    • as you roll around the torso front to back, pivot on the outside of the shoulder and dip the head so that the point of contact rolls across your back, essentially reversing the direction of the point of contact across the back
    • pivot again when reaching the opposite shoulder, raising the head back up, to continue rolling across the back
  • head to shoulder variation (to explore the head-to-shoulder pathway)
    • instead of fully dipping the head, you can merely dip the head so that the head and neck are parallel to the floor, then roll the point of contact up the shoulder, up the neck, around the crown of the head, down the neck the other side, and to the opposite shoulder
    • when reaching the opposite shoulder, pivot the shoulder and lift the head to keep rolling across the back

No skips, no slides revisited (in duos)

Closing circle and feedback

  • gathering feedback, passing out index cards & pencils (fr. Charlie Halpern-Hamu)
    • write on the front one thing you liked
    • write on the back one thing you didn’t like
  • last notes
    • I’m not THAT mean. I’m not that nice, but not that mean.
    • Come find me if you want to do more. I love teaching this stuff. Can contact me through my blog.
    • Earthdance Diversity Scholarship will open around July.
    • Will post notes on my blog at (right here!)

1 comment for “Class recap: 2-hour class, Sat., 2017/04/15, at National Ballet School, Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Ontario Regional Contact Jam 2017)

  1. Sarah Schaffer
    2018/07/10 at 17:19

    Thank you for this resource!!!

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