Brandon called his two-part class “Touching Form.” His description of the focus of the class was as follows: What is the feeling of our contact? How is our dialogue resonating and taking shape? Inspired by elements from contact improvisation we’ll find pathways that bridge our sensory perceptions to the dances we create. Flexing our muscles of attention, we’ll investigate how we move and imagine together. Let’s discover new ways of being “in touch.”
Brandon called on Nita Little’s work with ‘attention’ for his first class. There was no literal physical contact. Instead we started with noticing the sensations generated from our own attention and internal awareness. We then layered on giving attention to a partner and noticing how we attend to ourselves as well as how our partner was attending to us and so on. By the end of the class there was a palpable connection – a sort of ‘touch’ – through the negative space between people. For his second class, Brandon focused our awareness on the fascia, or connective tissue, that wraps throughout, supports, and gives the literal shape to our bodies. We began with a solo of reaching and finding the fullest range of our joints, bouncing, and dragging our hands across our own bodies to experience the elastic quality of the fascia. We then worked with various partners in the same way but this time exploring the sliding and gliding of our partners' tissues. This developed into a more free form contact duet that drew attention to the reciprocal relationship of our individual nervous systems through the webbing of the connective tissue. The initial awkwardness of coming in contact with someone you may not know very well was mitigated by setting the focus on the anatomical structure of the body. Regardless of spasticity, rigidity, or other perceived limitations, everyone in the group was able to participate equally and in their own way.
With all that said…touch can be controversial. How we are led into physical contact can stir up different emotional and physical responses based on each person’s past relationship with touch. Some people may be touched a lot when getting assistance with their morning routine, eating, transferring, being exercised…all moments that are potentially quite intimate and yet are often executed in a more clinical or impersonal way. Some people may have a negative association with touch because of past abuse. Perhaps someone might have a particularly sensitive nervous system that gets overstimulated by certain kinds of touch or maybe they have medical concerns around germs that could have a very real impact on their immune system.
And, yet, touch can also be calming and playful. It can be intimate and personal without being sexual. It can be a powerful tool for getting to know yourself and other people on a deeper or maybe just different level than we experience in talking. In the DanceAbility method we work a lot with the idea of dance as a non-verbal conversation. Instead of learning steps or pre-determined choreography, the dancers generate movements in response to sensations they have inside their own body as well as information that they get from communicating non-verbally with their partner(s). Because of all the reasons people may be intimidated by touch I sometimes shy away from teaching contact work in a mixed-ability/mixed-level class and choose to work in relationship through space. That said, it can be limiting and isolating to avoid touch. Many of us rely heavily on our eyes to navigate through our interactions with people and the environment. For people who are visually impaired or blind, to ‘see’ is to sense with their whole body and allowing for touch allows for more information to be shared between partners. When someone is non-mobile or has limited mobility, touch can give access to traveling through space without being forced or manipulated or simply pushed around. Essentially touch is the most fundamental way we can connect with everyone regardless of their unique physical or mental characteristics and ensure that no one is isolated.
The video below shares a moment from the free dance portion of a recent Elements class:
During the closing circle of Brandon’s second class the participants expressed a sense of calm, joyfulness, and gratitude at being given the space to explore the systems of the body experientially and the deep listening that accompanies such exploration. I immediately thought of a quotation from bodyworker Deane Juhan, “We can never touch just one thing; we always touch two things at the same instant, an object and ourselves, and it is in the simultaneous interplay between these two contiguities that the internal sense of self—different from both the collection of body parts and the collection of external objects—is encountered...my tactile surface is not only the interface between my body and the world, it is the interface between my thought processes and my physical existence as well. By rubbing up against the world, I define myself to myself.”
I hope that you all will come and dance with us in the Elements class next month. I will be teaching on March 10th and will host our spring dance jam on March 24th. Please feel free to email me with questions. And if you are new to dance or new to dance improvisation/somatics, you are welcome to join us as an observer before diving in.
Elements class takes place every 2nd and 4th Saturday of the month from 2:30-4:30pm at the Town Lake YMCA in the large group exercise room on the first floor. No gym membership is required to attend. Open to adults age 16 and up; all abilities and experience levels. No registration necessary and fee for class is on a sliding scale from $5-$20, cash or check accepted. See you at the Y!