Playful parties

It has been about four months since the last cuddle party was “held” in Madison. But on April 18, Cuddle Party facilitator Will Machay will be making another attempt at getting the social event to catch on with the college crowd.

According to the official Cuddle Party Web site, cuddle parties are designed for adults to explore communication, boundaries and affection. The idea was conceived in February 2004 by Reid Mihalko and Marcia Baczynski to bring clean, safe and welcomed affection to the world.

Machay described cuddle parties as basically a workshop about communication, boundaries and touch. He said typically 20 or so people will be in attendance.

Machay points out that participation is not required to interact with anyone and that it is a non-sexual event. Clothes are on the whole time, participants don’t have to touch anyone and are not required to do anything at all.

Machay first learned about the parties after seeing a story that the magazine Life and Style had done on the phenomenon. Machay became hooked on the idea of an organized get-together with people being able to touch and communicate. Coincidentally, in July 2004 a couple who had attended one of the first cuddle parties in New York City began to host them in Columbus, Ohio, where he lived at the time. Shortly thereafter, though, Machay moved to Wisconsin and was forced to travel all the way to Michigan to attend the events.

“I found myself basically so far away and it being inconvenient to go to a cuddle party,” Mackay said. “Then I decided, why don’t I get the training and start hosting (cuddle parties in Madison)?”

In the summer of 2007, Machay traveled to Seattle for the three-day event to gather the foundation of facilitation. It was a wonderful time, Machay said, adding that it was a good exploration of one’s self. Machay then had a six-month period in which he had to host three cuddle parties and write reports on the experiences. After that period, Machay finally got certified to run cuddle parties in early 2008.

It lasts about four hours and goes through a few phases.

“In the beginning, when people start arriving, they are directed to private changing areas where they change into pajamas,” Machay said. “From there we go through the welcome circle, which sets the tone for the event.”

Machay said the circle is a chance for people to get to know everyone in attendance and for the facilitators to go over the rules of the party. Facilitators will also talk about what it means, for instance, to communicate clearly to each other, challenging assumptions, exploring how people make assumptions and discussing ways to take care of yourself so you are clear to other people what your intentions are.

“It is there to teach people how to communicate with each other,” Machay said. “It lets everyone get the feel for how it operates.”

Ice-breaking exercises follow and get people interacting with each other, Machay said. Then, toward the end of the circle time, a cow-tipping exercise is done in which attendees pretend they are cows and, like cows do when in pasture, come together and bump up on each other and tip over onto their side.

“It gets everyone into a massive cuddling arrangement on the floor,” Machay said. “We effectively get everyone to cuddle on a temporary basis at that point, and then the open cuddling part of the event, which lasts two and a half hours, begins.”

According to the Web site, this is the time for participants to ask for what they want, say yes and no to requests and invitations, and cuddle according to their desires and comfort. Machay said those who do participate, if wanting to touch someone, specifically ask him or her if they can touch a certain body part, to which he or she responds yes or no.

The Web site says some participants cuddle in groups, others one-on-one, while some like to talk and not cuddle for a time, or not at all. Cuddling can mean feet against feet, full-body hugs, head-rubs, spooning – it is up to the individuals. Configurations and positions shift significantly throughout the event.

Machay then said the last 20 minutes are devoted to the puppy pile, where participants pile on each other like puppies do when they sleep. Then to finish the session off, there is a closing circle in which all participants discuss what they felt about the event, any observations made, any funny memories and then a few words about how they are all feeling and what they expect as they leave.

There are many reasons people attend the events, Machay said, adding that the most popular reason is simply because people don’t get enough touch. Some people come to learn new skills for communicating clearly and confidently, some want to practice holding boundaries, and others even want to overcome massive social anxieties. Machay said he also sees people who just give on a regular basis but are free to receive instead of being givers when they attend the parties.

“It comes down to comfort,” Machay said. “The whole point is to be comfortable and relaxed and feeling like you did when you were little kids, and going back to innocent days when you were a little more carefree and relaxed.”