In this example you’re starting with a partner, and it’s going to start very simply, that you’ll notice what’s happening in terms of our sequence. You begin and just watch what we’re doing to start with.
With your own feet together… and the gap between your toes of you and your partner is the level of challenge, so your choice. This is a pretty simple place to start, and what we plan to do here is form a physical connection between each other here, Randy, and I suggest we just grab each other’s wrists, if that’s going to be comfortable for you.
Here’s our plan, don’t start yet though. In a moment when I say “GO”, you’re going to lean back, I’m going to do exactly the same thing, and the object is we’re going to straighten our arms, keep our bodies relatively straight so we’re pivoting at our ankles, and we create a bit like an upside down triangle.
But the object is to create what is called a yurt. A yurt is a self-supporting structure where your weight and my weight, appropriately positioned, will support each other forever, okay? So are you ready to go?
(Except your watch, I don’t have a good grip.)
Okay, would you rather I take this off? Perfect, okay. Excellent. Sweaty, humid day. Fantastic. Okay, so you’re ready to go? 01:11 so here we go. Beautiful.
Not too hard. Good to go? Come on back in.
Now I come a bit closer. Let’s say we go all the way to the toes. Alright, when you’re ready… so clearly we’re going to go a bit further back this time. We’re going to be a different size, different weights, so we’re going to have to work out the physics of how that works.
So when you’re ready, off you go. Okay, perfect. And the idea is that you find a position where you could be at for a long time. Alright, great.
You think well maybe we can’t go any further because we’ve met toes. No.
Just move your toes slightly apart a little bit for me now, Randy, and I’m going to now breach this space. This is also referred to as the getting to know you program. And from here you’re going to start to lean back. As you do that I’ll put my other foot in position so I could also lean back.
We’ll clearly going to go a bit further back this time. Are you ready? Off you go. Start to lean for me and I’ll put my foot back for you. That’s it. Good. Nice. Beautiful. Lovely. Nice, straight forms here. Okay. Come on back one last time.
I’m now really going to go past you. I’m right past your heels now. I obviously can’t stand like that, so when you start to lean I’ll put my foot back. So when you’re ready.
At this point the crowd erupts with applause. Very good, alright. Great. Excellent. Thank you very much.
Notice the gradual building up of the exercise. Start with a gap. Get used to it. It does not matter about size and height. The physics is exactly the same. You’ll have to accommodate. So if someone is much taller or heavier than you, you may have to lean back a bit more than them. But effectively you’ll find that point where you are equally able to balance one another.
This is the start. I’ve got more to add. Practice that skill first. Go.
Keep your own feet together. Are you ready? Okay. I can do this forever. It is kind of nice. That’s a great little stretch.
It’s exactly the same but different. We’re going to be facing each other back to back. So from this position, Nick, you in a moment will be leaning forward. I’ll be doing the same thing and we’re still linked by arms. The hardest part of it is actually creating the link.
What I suggest one person does is they kind of turn around a little bit, using one arm connect, you could just grab my wrist, and then you’ll kind of have to bend down a little bit to get that connection. Feet together. Your bums might touch. Okay, when you’re ready start to lean forward. Alright. This is an awesome lower back stretch. Excellent. And it should look like a lovely little triangle.
Come on back in, Nick. Alright. I’m now going to… Hang on to that link for me again. That’s it. Grab my wrist, that’s it. If you could just move your feet slightly apart. Alright.
I’m going to breach this spot. So as you start to lean I’ll put my other foot back. Are you ready? Here we go.
Lean some more for me. That’s it. That’s it. Yes. Beautiful. Great. Come on back. Excellent. Thank you very much.
Try that now. Again you have to lean a little more than me to start with. Good. How does that feel?
Now we change it up a bit. It’s actually not as big a step but it is significantly different. So Carissa, do you mind being my partner again on this occasion?
This time we’re facing forward, and actually only one foot is going to meet in the centre.
Now I will tell you that from a level of Challenge by Choice, the gap you have between your feet is the level of challenge, but having just worked with you I know we’re going to be able to do it from this position. I could in fact go over here, but that’s for later on. For now that’s where I start.
One arm is connected. Again we do it wrist to wrist. Fantastic.
You’re going to lean that way and I’m going to lean this way. Our objective is to raise our outside legs off the ground. Okay? So you’re going to take your leg all the way out and really start to lift it off the ground.
Now I’m a little heavier than you, perhaps, so you’re probably going to have to lean a little bit more than me. So are you ready? Start to lift your leg off the ground. Okay.
Now as you were already doing, although it’s slipping, is bring your feet into the centre… It’s a very humid day today. Let’s try that again.
But the object is once you got your legs up, slowly bring your feet in so that the soles of your feet touch somewhere in the middle. You may have to be quick and you may need to do this a lot today because of the humidity. Let’s just try that one more time Carissa before we get sweaty again. Here we go. Start to lean, that’s it, and then put your outside hand up in the air. The Russian judge gives us ten points. Nice job. Excellent.
The object is to make that star formation. Try and keep it so that your soles touch for as long as possible. So it is a matter of yes we touched, that’s it. You could do that, or you could try and keep it there for as long as you can balance it. Okay?
Find yourself a new partner, someone you’ve not worked with today, and then we’ll swap around again soon after that.
This is good. You’re good. Oh yeah, Greg. How long can we keep it? Yes. Nice job. Let’s try the other side. Try both sides with your partner.
That was the penultimate challenge and now we move to the ultimate challenge. Again at this point could I ask someone to volunteer who is feeling pretty adept at their balance skills, generally speaking they’ve done fairly comfortably. So would someone like to step forward and volunteer for the next one? Fantastic.
Kristen, so you will stand here.
This time it’s something similar but a little bit different. I’ll face this way so I could continue to talk to my group. Can you face this way but you’re still side to side with me, Kristen. Now with our feet again against each other in the centre, we grab a hand each.
The only difference this time is that Kristen, you’re going to do the same as me. Bring your foot to the front, I’ll bring mine to the front. That is when you lift it up off the ground. So we lift it up off the ground, we bring it towards the front, and where they meet is between our knees now.
So yours comes here, mine comes this way. It’s something similar but a little different.
Alright. Is that better? Okay, good. Here we go.
You might need to lean some more for me. Almost. That was good. Well done. Alright, you got the idea.
So we face different directions, again see how long you can sit up there, and naturally you could do both sides with your partner as well.
How To Play Narrative
This is one of those activities that benefits from (a) a demonstration to know what it looks like first, and (b) building up your group’s skills slowly. I’m going to take you through several levels.
Start by facing your partner, feet together and holding each other’s wrists (this tends to be the strongest form of link for high performance star-stretchers.)
With your own feet together and a gap of approx 30cm (1′) between you and your partner’s toes, each of you will lean back slowly trying hard not to bend your body, ie pivot from your ankles, not your bottom. From the side, it will look like the letter A sitting upside-down on its pointy end.
The idea is to be able to lean back and feel as if the angle and weight of your partner is supporting you completely, and you could stay like this forever. For some couples, particularly if there is a large size or weight difference, this will take some time to perfect.
To ramp up the challenge, encourage each person to bring their feet closer to their partners, and eventually ‘overtake’ them so that, in effect, their feet pass to the side of one another, and possibly even behind their partner’s feet. Ooooweee!
Onto the next level, each person stands with their back to their partner, and reverses the first stretch, ie each person extends behind and grab the arms of their partner, with bodies leaning forward this time.
Making a firm and comfortable grip at the start is the hardest part of this step of the exercise, but totally doable. Again, it’s a great challenge to have your feet pass your partners, and remain balanced.
Now, having progressed so far, the ultimate challenge.
Standing side by side, with the two inside-feet right up against each other, each person only grasps the inside arm of their partner. By leaning away from their partner, each person will attempt to lift their outside leg off the ground, remain balanced and then shift their airborne foot slowly towards their partner.
Their aim is to touch the soles of their feet/shoes together, throw their outside arms up into the air and shout “Hey, look at this everyone!”
This is a terrific, dynamic exercise. Sure, it will develop balance and agility, but it will also contribute towards the development of trust in your group. Be sure to invite your group to reflect on what was necessary to make the exercises work, and how this might apply to the ‘real world.’
Practical Leadership Tips
Whether you are in or outside, be sure to introduce the activity on a non-slip surface.
In the case of an odd number of people, create one group of three so that you can be free to wander around the group and offer feedback to all of the stretchers.
Depending on the skills and aptitude (not to mention attitude) of your group, you may not be able to present each of the levels of balance described here. Balance takes time to develop, not to mention trust, so regularly observe the behaviours of your group before you launch headlong into the ultimate challenge.
Ensure there is ample room for pairs to stretch and lean away from their partners to prevent unexpected collisions with others.
Highly recommended – invite individuals to partner with many people, one pair at a time, to engage in each challenge. This builds practice and strengthens relationships.
Why star stretch? When two people tentatively lift their outside legs off the ground to achieve the biggest challenge, the shape of their bodies (arms and legs spread wide) contort to look like a star.
Struggling to know what the ultimate challenge looks like? Check out the back page of my most popular book No Props.
You could integrate Star Stretch as part of a well-designed SEL program to promote and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse people.
Specifically, this activity offers ample opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Identifying Personal, Cultural & Linguistic Assets
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This unique partner stretching exercise is ideal for teaching the benefits of adaptability. In almost all cases, it will take some finessing of each person’s position and weight to achieve the optimal balance point, wherein the lessons lie. To a small extent, elements of resilience can also be explored because sometimes this process can take a while to achieve.
Integrated into a conversation about what is and is not working in regards to the behavioural or cultural norms of the group, the Star Stretch is a wonderful vehicle to talk about the give and take of relationships. Use it to teach the lessons of compromise, goal-setting and safety.
Ultimate Challenge: Actually, I lied, this is the ultimate challenge – same as above, but one person starts by facing the opposite direction to their partner. The pair perform a version of the star stretch as described above, but this time by bringing their own leg in front of their own bodies, each partner aims to touch the soles of their shoes inside the gap formed between their legs. As captured on the back cover of No Props: Great Games with No Equipment, awesome!
Multiple People: Try any of the above formations with three or four people. Often the most difficult part is finding a comfortable grip with one another, but otherwise, the physics works just the same.
Stretch & Balance: Take a look at Off Balance and Yurt Circle to explore a couple more fun, stretching exercises.
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Useful Framing Ideas
I would like you to notice over the course of this next exercise, what, in particular, helped you and your partner to achieve your goals. At first glance, it may appear to be practice, practice, practice. And while practice and trial and error will clearly be very important, I want you to look a little deeper. Some other element is also at play… [gradually building up their balance skills, and succeeding, rather than attempting the ultimate challenge right off the bat]. Later, we will consider how this factor plays out in real life…
Did you love going to the circus when you were young? Beyond all of the amazing animals tricks, some of my favourite routines were any acts that involved balance. High wires, acrobatics, human pyramids, etc. Today, I’m giving you the chance to leave home and join the circus. But don’t worry, we’ll start off slow, and build up to the main event…