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Slight Counterbalance

by Ken Manheimer last modified Jun 27, 2022 03:44 PM
A Contact Improvisation exercise that conveys the sense of a kinesthetic connection with a partner by sharing your center of gravity, and thereby sharing your collective dynamic balance.
See Fundamental CI Skills for context


When things click, Contact Improvisation can involve coordinating with another person with the immediacy and thoroughness that individuals coordinate with themselves. Such cooperation is facilitated by primary communication channels - the contact points - that are substantial yet still agile. The Finger Dance can convey how the simplest, least encumbered touch can present material and attunement for cooperative movement. Slight Counterbalance reveals how to invest your center of gravity in order to gently share dynamic balance with someone.


This exercise is a variation on counterbalancing that has been part of Contact Improvisation lore for almost as long as it's been around.


  1. Have partners stand face-to-face about an arm's length apart, relaxed but not drooping.
    • Attaining an "easy" stand is a kind of continually developing art. Noticing and dispensing with unnecessary tension is invaluable to being alert and receptive (Steve Paxton, CI's inventor, shared this distilled expression: "Tension masks sensation"), while maintaining structural tone and integrity provides a ready base state from which to act.
  2. Have each partner raise both their arms to mid level with palms forwards, in order to touch place their palms against their partners, and stand for a moment without putting any weight into their partner's palms.
  3. Now ask the partners to lean forwards a little, in order to put the slightest weight into their shared palm contact.
    • We're looking for just enough pressure so that if one partner were to back away the other would slowly fall towards them. Not that either partner should back away, but the idea is that both partners are investing just enough of their center of gravity to share balance with the other.
    • If you're receiving what feels like too much weight from your partner, back off a bit yourself. They'll either need to back off or fall forwards. Conversely, if you're receiving too little, add a bit of pressure yourself.
    • You'll wind up with a kind of negotiation, where the partners work out some equilibrium between them. (Or they're both so set on a particular, and different, amount of pressure that the partnership isn't going to work. It's rarely so extreme that this happens.)
  4. After giving several moments for the partners to experience this counterbalance, ask them to gradully reduce the pressure until they're back in a neutral stand. (A possible incidental thing to mention is that this gradual transition can be an engaging experience, in itself.)
  5. Next, ask the partners to hold each other's wrists - left-to-right and vice-versa, so the arms are *not* crossed - and gradually lean back so they balance by holding one another forwards by the held wrists.
    • The same sort of tuning approach that was used for palms pressed together can be inverted for this pulling support.
  6. After they have some moments to experience the equilibrium, ask them to lean forwards again to return to a neutral stand.
  7. It can be useful for them to do a second round with the same partner, now that they've got some feel for it.
  8. It can be even more useful to next try the same exercise with another partner (or two) to discover different nuances in the variations that inevitably happen with different partners.


After doing a few rounds, give everyone an opportunity to ask questions and mention observations that they noticed in the course of doing this exercise. You may discover something, as well, and much light can be shed when a participant discovers that someone else experienced something similar to, or different from, what happened to them.

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