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.)
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.
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.
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 ( 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.
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