Deep Touch

Movement and perception merge in a method promoting general well-being and exploration. A concrete and involving experience that touches the body as well as the mind. Our body reacts and adapts to every stimulus, however slight, in order to regain its natural balance. When this occurs, body tissue relaxes and contracts, sending impulses to the muscles and articulations.

A gesture, a movement is formed. A stimulus can be a sound, a thought or an intention which triggers numerous forms of bodily responses, and because they occur naturally, it happens with ease.

The seminar aims to guide the participants through the exact perception of tissue movement (FASCIA). In order to avoid mental contamination (of previous experience) and to distinguish the technique from “Letting oneself go”,the physical –anatomical analysis of such exercises allows us to perform the work in a correct way.

Anything that moves around us, affects us from within.

The seminar can provide dancers, actors and body-workers with a useful tool for improvisation.


Connection with Contact Improvisation:

Contact Improvisation and Fascia

Introduction
Following the first workshop on fascia I gave to CI-dancers in 2004, a well-known teacher came up to me and told me that the familiarity with this tissue could be a great tool for people approaching CI. At the time I didn’t know this practice, but this comment of his made me understand that those dancers weren’t just touching each other and playing with weight.
Even after entering the world of contact improvisation I never heard anybody relating it to fascia until 2013. Did CI discover fascia so late? Probably not. The practice of Body Mind Centering – strongly connected to CI – has already been referring to fascia for quite a few years. The concept of fascia itself only started to spread widely around 2000, but on an experiential level many CI-dancers were probably conscious of it before that. Of course the knowledge of a physiological system that represents the body as an integrated whole fascinated many CI-teachers that could therefore enrich their teachings with a theory that actually explains why the body can and should move in an integrated manner.
Before entering the matter we need to make two preliminary remarks:
1- There is not one univocal concept of fascia. The view I will take into consideration is the one I studied and experienced personally through release-techniques and my perception.
2- This article would like to explore how deeply the concept of fascia is being integrated in C.I., taking into account only those who work with it also on a practical level. (Nevertheless a conceptual approach can be effective if the concept is experienced through image techniques: they can be a bridge to more subtle perceptions if they bring forward tangible results on a physical level.)
What is fascia?
Fascia is basically connective tissue on different layers of the body: from superficial (adipose), to deep fascia, close to internal organs. The fact that we express the term as a singular shows that it refers to one continuous system whose parts are all closely connected to each other.
Fascia can be found between fibres, organs, bones and even cells. They envelop muscles and other tissue, they fill all empty spaces operating like a bonding agent. Fascia represents 70% of our body structure and is extremely elastic, so it is essential for both posture and movement. It plays a fundamental role in the tensegrity of the body and its chemical composition. With it being a continuum, all parts of the fascia are connected to each other, so whatever moves at one spot will be reflected in the rest of the body.
The following picture can help visualize fascia: an elastic, tridimensional piece of gel in which the main body components (organs, muscles, bones, glands…) are held softly into place. If we bring our attention to what is “in between” these components, we will realize that it is the greater part of our body.
When we move, fascia lengthens and narrows according to their constitution and condition (there could be parts, in which it’s not elastic or even blocked). Therefore fascia participates in whichever movement a tissue or organ is involved in. A muscle that moves involving fascia will certainly have a more complete, integrated and safe range of action. Through its elasticity the movement will be less strenuous, involve the rest of the body and provide us with more consciousness and therefore more control.
Learning to use and to observe fascia
But first we need to clear a basic point: how can we tell if our movement includes fascia or not? How can we tell if it is moving with or against us?
One of the most effective ways is to isolate the perception of fascia from that of other tissues. Some osteopathic and craniosacral methods have developed a mode of perception that allows us to register fascia-movement in an isolated way. The sensation that derives from this state is that of a blob that moves as if it were melting, therefore setting the whole system in motion (let’s not forget that it´s a continuum). Paradoxically it’s easier to perceive the movement of fascia on somebody else, especially on babies, successively we can experience it on our own body.
It can be observed quite well if we put on a sort of “3D-glasses”: remember the tectonic plates we used to study in school? The shifting of the plates on the surface is actually the result of much deeper movements. When observing fascia we also need to have such a tridimensional view of movement.
Now, if we observe a seven to eight month-old baby rolling on the floor, we will have the impression that its spirals also penetrate its own body. It will occur to us that the outer movement is nothing more than the effect of the “tectonic plates” moving inside him. If we train in observing fascia, soon it will be quite clear to us if somebody is involving it in their movement or not.
Fascia in contact improvisation
It should now be quite obvious that a dancer’s movement gains quality, strength and dynamic if it integrates fascia.
An important characteristic of fascia is that it is very sensitive to both inner and outer stimulus: pushes, pulls, touch, invitations ecc. are all stimuli that this system registers and to which it reacts with guidance of the nervous system.
To each and every stimulus the connective tissue decides either to adapt or to oppose. When it adapts, the impulse can transmit movement to the whole inner system.
Contact improvisation is a practice in which we continuously receive contact and stimuli, so if fascia responds to these messages, the duo moves as if it were only one being. At this point a gesture doesn’t concern only the dancer who initiated it: it is shared, perceived as a stimulus by others that causes another stimulus, and so forth. To get an idea of how deep the resolution of stimuli can be, cf. “Contact improvisation and the missing step” .
If we let our fascia resonate, our dance will become softer and rounder, we will be able to make the most of its elasticity. The extreme sensitivity of this system allows it to perceive as little as 5 grams of stimulus. So sometimes less than an impulse is sufficient: the mere intention will be perceived.
Furthermore the Weber-Fechner law (https://goo.gl/DlswAA) states that a stimulus with little pressure can be perceived better/more clearly than one involving a greater amount of weight. Therefore fascia is extremely receptive. If we consider that it even responds to mere intentions, this would mean that the dialogue between intention and listening is a contact communication that can start before outer movement takes place.
The intention of our partner can be perceived before his actual movement: this gives our system more time to organize itself. In any case we can assume that a duo of dancers who let their fascia resonate through movement can integrate the stimuli deeply and therefore refine their listening.
Conclusion
To conclude I would like to add a piece of information about fascia that could be useful for the exploration of space, characteristic for C.I. . Many fascia-experts claim that – on an energetic level – this system extends also beyond the body: being in between atoms and the elements it’s composed of. From a logical point of view, this phenomenon can be explained through electromagnetic fields that permeate the physical body but can be perceived also beyond it.
On the one hand the physical intensity of C.I. might restrain the sensitivity that would be necessary to connect to this extremely subtle level of perception. On the other hand it might offer a possibility of extending the physical and sensorial receptiveness of dancers.
In any case resonating with a moving partner could make us consider the dancing duo as a single fascial system in which stimuli and listening coincide and enable the creative expression of improvisation.
Contact and weight bring about the rest…
Translated by Elisabeth Zoja

Contact Improvisation and the missing step

I love Contact Improvisation and I would like to share a reading of this dance form that doesn’t come from my experience as a dancer but from the experience I have gained as a body-worker and a teacher. As a Shiatsu-Shintai practitioner I constantly witness movement dynamics and I have gained awareness that this dance form can be approached from different perspectives. I also bring my intention of codifying some of its elements. “Contact Improvisation” isn’t the mere sum of “Contact and “Improvisation”. These two joined terms bring to life a brand new identity. They don’t limit improvisation to a personal “experience” (as it happens in other dance techniques), but they activate a flow, shared amongst more dancers. The individual becomes only one of the stimuli and the catalyzer of a dance. This dance involves different aspects: grounding, the use of the centre, trust, release, skills, spirals and many more. Through this article, I intend to focus on two systems constantly at play while we dance Contact Improvisation: proprioception and autonomic nervous system.
We have many receptors spread all over our bodies. These receptors collect information that are sent to the central nervous system and amongst all of these receptors – in this article – I will focus on the musculotendineous receptors and on the joint capsule. The receptors’ function is to inform our brain on the status of lengthening-compression-flexion-extension of tendons, ligaments, muscles and articulations, allowing the brain to process our proprioception.
In simple words: we know wether an arm is folded or extended, even if blindfolded. It’s our proprioception that informs us. Proprioception most important function is to help us organising our bodies for the movement that comes next.
When we take a step, our body is already preparing itself for the following one. For example – we are climbing a staircase, at each step our bodies are getting configured for the following one and if the body doesn’t find a step (due to darkness or some sort of distraction) we fall in the void.
Our proprioception organised the movement as if the next step was about to come, but it didn’t find what it expected. If we were to climb that staircase very slowly, maybe we would have the possibility of directing the new piece of information (i.e. the step is not there), thus allowing our system to adapt to the new situation.
Moreover, if someone told us that sooner or later a step could go missing… that’s the point!
We climb stairs unconsciously, automatically. If we were conscious of every single movement, if the proprioception was always set in the present moment (without expecting nor preparing anything), everything would work smoothly.
Actually this is how we first started climbing stairs when we were kids: focussing on each step, we created our ability to go up and down the stairs, writing the program. Science tells us that the unconscious part of our brain is 10 millions time faster than the conscious one. While climbing stairs, we can speak over the mobile phone, look for keys and fix the jacket we are waring without paying particular attention to each and every single gesture.
Through our unconscious we don’t create anything. We simply execute a pre-written program; we are moving from a repetitive and non-creative mode. Proprioception is set on autopilot and we take it to the present moment only if faced by the unforseen (such as a missing step). This is how proprioception works.
Before coming to any conclusion, I would like to introduce proprioception playmate – within the dance realm: the autonomic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system (not the voluntary one) is divided into two branches: the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system acts on the surface and gets alerted when in danger. It activates those reactions that it finds useful, such as accelerating the heartbeat and the breathing cycle, or pumping adrenaline. The parasympathetic nervous system acts more in depth, relaxing the body. The sympathetic nervous system creates a perceptive separation in the body. It tries to isolate any invasive stimuli in order to minimize the impact. Everything gets contracted and movements aren’t organic any longer.
If inhibited, on the contrary, it allows a sensation of unification in the body through relaxation, therefore allowing organic movements to develop. Has it ever happened to you to react to a situation of danger maintaining a sense of relaxation? Was it a better sensation? Were you impressed by how you ended up “improvising” to get out of this situation?
I believe it’s easier to solve something unforseen while the whole body is holistically available, rather than having to rely on tense and disjointed body parts.
Clearly the sympathetic nervous system, also known as “Fight or Flight System”, is a necessary system. Reactions to dangerous situations somehow set the body in a condition of higher performance. The issue is that excessive activity creates paralysis.
Moreover, once the igniting event has come to an end, the nervous system should return to its normal condition. Let’s return to the missing step example. A strong sympathetic reaction to face an unforseen situation would probably result in a chaotic response. The body would be tense and not fully available, lacking of the flexibility needed by this new situation. An increased relaxation could help us to better evaluate what to do, to use the whole body organically and to be predisposed to a higher level of flexibility. How could we be more relaxed when facing an unforseen situation? By telling ourselves that unforseen events can be of help. Isn’t this what improvisation is about? Isn’t this the reason why next to the word “contact” there is “improvisation”? Obviously, not all the unforseen situations are dangerous. If someone told us that few steps were missing from the staircase, most likely we would climb it differently. How?
We would anchor our proprioception in the present moment, hence without executing pre-established programs (repetitive and non-creative); like kids, we would problem-solve on the go, based on the information sent by our proprioception. How quickly could we do it? The quickest proprioception manages to get organised for this new situation. Proprioception is a system that can be trained through its conscious activity, the more training the faster its reactions.
How does this principle apply to Contact Improvisation? Let’s consider two dancers: A and B.
Case 1: A gets close to B, B lowers the centre offering his/her back, A carries the weight while B supports it (classical example of a lift). Both A and B know what’s going on; there are no unforseen events; everything is happening exactly how the two proprioceptive systems got pre-organised. Aside from the skills side of things, the pleasure for receiving weight and being in contact, there is nothing new for the proprioception (maybe only analysing the gesture in the correct way). They are following a program that was written in the past.
Case 2: A gets close to B, B lowers his/her centre, A brings his/her weight slightly out of centre, not so well positioned. Solution 1: A contracts (sympathetic response) recovers and adjusts his/her position; B doesn’t move or adjusts his/her position as well; there is no news for the proprioception, no improvisation: what has just happened it has been considered as a mistake.
Solution 2: B doesn’t move and activates the sympathetic nervous system as he/she was surprised by an unforeseen event (paralysis), A slides down (he/she adapts) and falls supporting him/herself for the remaining of the pathway – there is no longer communication between the two – sympathetic nervous system of the dance (no fluidity).
Solution 3: A moves his/her weight out of centre, B follows the apparent mistake and they both fall supporting each other and using their bodies. Both A and B proprioception have re-organised in real time, improvising and creating nearly instantaneous communication; both proprioception inhibited the sympathetic nervous system making the most out of momentum: the mistake (the new one) was transformed into a creative stimulus.
In Contact Improvisation the staircase represents our dance partner while I am the staircase for him/her. Imagine that the missing step is coming towards you and is accompanying you in your next movement. Isn’t this more pleasurable, is it? Could I trust a little more knowing that the staircase, despite being a little different from how I expect it to be, will support me? In this sense, “dancing well” means tuning in with our partner’s proprioception and nervous system and his/her reaction times.
Proprioception needs to be trained as any other system, within a safe environment. Yet we should constantly push the boundaries of our comfort zone – just enough to make ourselves present in the moment without allowing the automatic pilot to be turned on – that’s to say our unconscious and our skills – to guide us. Moreover, a further evolution in Contact Improvisation that from a logical perspective could overwrite what has just been described.
This finds its manifestation in those wonderful dances that we sense as extremely fluid, flowing and creative. This happens when both partners, in the present moment, create the staircase while sharing an absolutely unique dance. In every given moment the two dancers are both the staircase and the climber. Thus they represent a parasympathetic unforeseen scenario: without thinking, there are in the present moment and their proprioception is free from automatisms.
My ideal partner? A missing step that understands me