Fundamentals class footnotes

If you took my class on Saturday, 2010/6/19, there are few things that we didn’t have time to cover that are worth mentioning:

Weight modulation

We emphasized weight-sharing and feeling the ground under your partner’s feet through the point of contact. This is usually best done through giving a fairly substantial amount of weight. However, I forgot to mention explicitly that weight can and should be modulated. You needn’t give all of your weight all the time, and doing so can sometimes be tiring (although sometimes, very satisfying).

Weight modulation is accomplished many different ways, but my preference is just to do it through the techniques we discussed in class: walk your legs out for more weight, walk your legs in for less weight. In my opinion, even when having a feather-light touch, you still have an awareness of finding the connection from the point of contact down through your partner’s center (below) into the floor.


The “center” is a bit of a nebulous concept, but it essentially refers to your center of gravity, which for most people is essentially in their pelvis (this is inaccurate on many levels, but go with it for now). A major concept in CI is connecting “center to center” — having a sense that your weight is connected to your partner’s weight. This is hard to explain briefly in writing; for now, I recommend you take the idea of  what “center” refers to and experiment with how you can connect your center to someone else’s, no matter what parts of your bodies are touching each other.

Safety tips

Aside from the overall mantra “take care of yourself,” also expressed as “above all else, you are responsible for yourself,” there are a few standard safety tips when dancing contact improvisation:

  • In general, avoid grasping or holding on to legs or arms, as these are “landing gear” that dancers need in order to catch themselves when falling. The “take care of yourself” idea in CI usually means that you want to avoid trying to save people if they’re falling; while it’s nice to help slow someone’s descent, grabbing a limb to do so can do more harm than good.
  • When in “table” (see below) or similar kneeling position, the usual recommendation is to make sure that your toes are tucked under, so that if someone falls on your feet, your toe won’t be bent back (I know someone who this has happened to — it’s not fun). This is good advice, although I actually have an alternate suggestion to deal with this situation which I think works better and is tricky to communicate in writing. Ask me at a jam if you see me.

Jam negotiation

A “jam” is where contact improvisation is practiced socially. There are a number of things to manage at a jam that we didn’t cover, primarily how to enter and leave into dances at a jam. There’s some good guidance on this that I helped put together for the Contact Improv LA Web site’s “New to CI?” page, as well as on Kathleen Rea’s excellent “Promoting Safe Boundaries at the Jam” guidelines for the Toronto Wednesday Dance Jam. Both pages also give some guidance as to general jam etiquette (there isn’t a ton of standard jam etiquette, but there’s a little) and jam expectations (ditto).

Mid-level dancing and “table” position

We didn’t really cover mid-level dancing — dancing on hands and knees, positions between standing and lying down. There’s a classic position called “table” that is often taught that I’m not a huge fan of — it’s basically being on all-fours, with your hands directly under your shoulder and your knees directly under your hips. There’s a lot of nuance to this area of dancing. My main warning is not to get too addicted to “table,” if someone shows it to you at a jam. There’s a strong tendency for people to view “table” as a destination, rather than a reference point that you pass through, and so dancers end up just hanging out on all fours as someone dances on top of them, using a lot of effort and not being super-kind to their knees.


Some people don’t use kneepads, but I recommend them if you think you’re going to continue doing CI. Normal kneepads available at sporting goods stores are usually too thick and cumbersome for dancing. Most CI dancers use specialty, martial-arts style kneepads. You can get them in Ann Arbor from Andy Seiler at the jam. The usual kneepads are those sold by the Contact Quarterly, but I’m a fan of the ones sold by East West Company, which you see a little more of on the West Coast. The East West kneepads are thinner, but in my experience don’t constrict as much and so are more comfortable, and stay in place better when you dance.

5 comments for “Fundamentals class footnotes

  1. Michael Rienstra
    2014/05/25 at 14:23

    Updated link to Kathleen Rea’s guidelines for the Toronto Wednesday Dance Jam:

    • richard
      2014/05/30 at 05:19

      Thanks. So I’m leaving the old link in for the moment, as I think I was referring to a previous version of the Guidelines. I just looked at the current (as of this post) version of the Guidelines — wow. They are, I think, the most progressive and prescriptive articulation of boundary and safety guidelines at a contact improvisation event I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how I feel about all of them, but I agree with much of the reasoning and thinking — that perhaps “take care of yourself” is not always enough.

  2. richard
    2014/05/21 at 13:09

    Interesting to come across this post four years later. A few things I would change/add now:

    Weight modulation — while walking the feet in and out is a great way to modulate weight, another way is to use the limbs, particularly a leg, as a counterbalance. Also a little complex, but worth knowing about, is simply moving the pelvis towards or away from your partner, while keeping the feet in place.

    Kneepads — I no longer use kneepads, on the theory that I’m more careful of my knees without them and don’t bang them as much. I think this started about 3 years ago for me, and I haven’t really looked back. I’m not sure if I recommend them anymore. Perhaps beginners should use them when they start to prevent their knees from getting too beaten up, but I think it’s useful to move away from them if possible, or at least try to.

  3. Ayden
    2014/02/15 at 02:07

    This is amazing! I’m so excited this exist. Can my lady and I come for our first time this Sunday or do we need to come to the beginner class first?

    • richard
      2014/05/30 at 05:39

      Ayden, I’m afraid you may not have been reading carefully. This class was from a few years ago. The Sunday jam in Ann Arbor is still going, as far as I know, and you don’t need to come to a beginner class first, but I’m not part of that community, so I couldn’t say for certain. Best to check their Web site ( and/or Facebook group ( If you’re referring to a different Sunday jam, I can try to assist you with that as well. There is no regular Sunday jam in New York.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.