“What is a rope bottom?” is one of the most frequently typed in search terms on our website, so what does it mean? A ‘rope bottom’ or ‘rope model’ or sometimes ‘rope bunny’ refer to the person inside the ropes – and ‘rigger’ or ‘rope top’ refers to the person doing the tying.
Unless you are tying a piece of furniture, rope bottoming makes up 50% of the rope equation and is a skill than can be cultivated in its own right. Luckily in the last few years there has been a real and tangible shift in rope events, classes and workshops to recognise this and there is a lot more information being delivered to rope bottoms directly in classes. There has also been an explosion of workshops, talks, resources and events specifically for rope bottoming and it is becoming more and more common to see pre-requisites listed for rope bottoms to attend classes.
This is really exciting for us because Anatomie Studio was created by a rope bottom (Anna ‘Bones’) so we are really committed to delivering information about rope bottoming as much as about tying and rigging. As a tying duo, Fred and Anna are very aware that rope is a constant back and forth between rigger and model – the rigger’s rope brings out the strength in the model, and the model brings out the strength in the rigger.
“How can I learn about rope bottoming?”
A really good place to start learning is by reading about it. If you have joined us on a Thursday Rope Jam you will know there are two resources we always recommend: Clover’s Rope Bottming Guide, and The Little Guide to Getting Tied Up by Evie Vane (£7.99 on Amazon). Clover‘s guide was the first ever document written specifically for rope bottoms, and for a long time it was the only document available. Clover regularly updates the guide and it is available in multiple languages.
Both these documents have plenty of important information about safety, body awareness, choosing partners, negotiating rope experiences and more. Although the readings are geared towards rope bottoming, we highly recommend these readings to those who are primarily interested in tying as well.
We also distribute free flyers with an anatomical diagram of nerves to consider in rope. It is really important and useful to get to know your anatomy, in particular, by locating the radial and ulnar nerves in the upper arms since these are commonly affected when doing rope.
Our Thursday rope jams are also a great place to start because we always cover aspects about rope bottoming (the classes are in fact almost exclusively taught by rope bottoms who tie!).
“What is there to actually learn?”
It depends! It’s just like tying, some people just want to learn some basics so they can have a bit of safe fun, others want to go all in and attend all the workshops to become as proficient as they can at it. If you’re after a bit of bedroom fun, then it’s probably not super important to learn about body management in suspension, but it’s a very good idea to learn about anatomy, the different kinds of pins and needles you can get, wrap tensioning and placement, and how to use safety shears.
A lot of the rope bottoms who do rope either professionally or as part of a serious hobby tend to enjoy and benefit from activities such as yoga, aerial yoga and/or pilates. When in ropes, many times the body is being passively stretched into challenging poses, so it’s a good idea to do activities outside of rope which strengthen the body’s muscles in order to protect fragile joints during these poses.
An experienced rope bottom will also have really good body awareness and body management skills, meaning they know how to move inside the ropes and how to play with the balance in the tie from within the ropes. This requires a degree of core strength (not necessarily loads of flexibility, although that helps too), and an understanding of one’s own body and how it reacts inside the ropes. This comes with lots of practice, which is why some of the best rope bottoms have a few years of experience.
Rope bottoming also requires a good degree of pain processing abilities, because.. rope can be painful! It’s especially useful to learn to distinguish ‘good pain’ versus ‘bad pain’, meaning the kinds of pains that are not harmful (for example the kinds of pain you get after a vigorous workout), and the kinds of pains that are actually harmful (for example any kind of sharp joint pain). Sometimes this takes time to learn, so it will involve lots of trial and error until eventually your brain is able to recognise when it’s okay to push through a sensation and when it’s time to tap out.
… Which bring us to one last but super important skill: communication! Perhaps this is the most important part of rope bottoming: learning how to effectively communicate from inside the ropes. The more specific you can be, the better, this also comes with experience – for example, what kinds of pins and needles you are feeling, if there are sensations you are not enjoying, if a rope placement needs to be reviewed, etc. Communication can also be non-verbal, and this can be established beforehand. It’s also a good idea to learn how to negotiate before doing rope with someone such asking the rigger questions as well as knowing what kinds of important information to disclose. These can include: any kind of physical issues you may have (for example, you sprained your ankle and it is still fragile), any medication you may be on, the kinds of sensations you feel like/don’t feel like, or body parts you are not okay having rope on. These things can change over time or even day to day, so the conversation is always ongoing.
It’s important to acknowledge that communicating effectively can be difficult, some rope bottoms ‘space out’ and become non-verbal or forget to maintain body awareness, other rope bottoms find it difficult to express their needs or communicate unpleasant sensations out of not wanting to cause offence of because they don’t want the ropes to come off just yet. This is totally okay, the important thing is to acknowledge this and try to have a conversation about this beforehand.
“What about the person tying me?”
Just as it is difficult to learn to tie without partners, it is also difficult to learn rope bottoming without partners! After all, riggers are 50% of the equation…
The resources we mentioned above – Clover’s Rope Bottming Guide and The Little Guide to Getting Tied Up by Evie Vane – contain sections on how to meet and vet potential rope partners. In the studio we believe the safest and most fun way to learn and meet people to do rope with is by going to events and making friends. There are lots of different rope styles and different people enjoy different techniques and sensations, so it’s really useful (and also loads of fun) to watch people tying and making friends in the community. The good thing about events like peer rope events and rope jams is that there’s lots of people around, so there’s always someone you can ask for advice or help.
One really important factor when observing people is to notice how the person tying is interacting with their rope model – are they attentive? are they moving ropes when asked? are they untying when asked? etc. More than the rope skills themselves, this is the most important thing about rope: recognising that it is about people and that it is a partnership!
“What are these rope bottom pre-requisites for workshops?”
There are no pre-requisites for either rope bottoms or riggers for any of the beginner jams beginner jams or classes as we assume zero knowledge and provide lots of information for both. For more intermediate or advanced classes we at the very least require rope bottoms to be familiar with the differences between nerve and circulation impingement and to be able to communicate effectively.
Besides recognising rope bottoming as a skill, the pre-requisites are there for the safety of all the workshop attendees. Workshops can be intense for both riggers and models, and very physically demanding – this is especially true of suspension focused workshops.
Example of pre-requisites for a non-beginner class:
Riggers: must know solid three rope Takate Kote taught to you in a class, workshop, or private tuition.
Rope Bottoms/Models: must be comfortable in a Takate Kote (2 or 3 rope), they must be familiar with the differences between nerve and circulation impingement and be able to communicate effectively.
Inexperienced models who do not know their bodies well are less likely to communicate when something is hurting or tingling, but riggers rely heavily on model feedback in these workshop environments because often they must focus on a particular rope technique which they are learning, all the while listening to the teacher’s instruction and being mindful of others around them. This is the perfect storm for small nerve injuries and in the couple of instances where we have seen this happen, the rope models were not able to recognise nerve and circulation impingements and therefore did not communicate what they were feeling.
“Does this mean I have to be super fit and bendy to do this?”
Nope! Rope is a very diverse activity enjoyed by grown-ups of all ages, all physical compositions, backgrounds, genders and sexes.
Just like any physical activity, it’s about finding the kind of rope you enjoy doing and finding the kinds of rope partners who want to do that with you. Different people have different bodies, different degrees of flexibility and different pain thresholds, and the beauty is in this diversity.
It is also worth noting that although most of the Shibari rope imagery online typically depicts petite young bendy girls tied by males, this is not the reality of what you will see when you go to local rope events – there are lots of male identified persons who enjoy being in the ropes, and lots of female identified persons who enjoy tying, and if you’re not into binaries, there is a lot of gender queerness in the rope scene as well. In sum, the rope bottoming world (and the rope world in general) is a lot more diverse that you may think by just googling ‘Shibari’ on your browser!