Teacher touches: Appropriate? Useful?

A Dance Forums post asked about appropriate protocols for teachers touching students. Mostly, the discussion centered around whether teachers needed to ask for permission and what form that would take. I have a different point of view, questioning whether such touches are even useful or as useful as an alternative approach.

I’m generally comfortable with just about anyone touching me just about anywhere, provided that I am expecting it and have agreed to it explicitly or implicitly. However, in group classes, I’ve had teachers unexpectedly grab me to give a “correction”, and that quite annoys me because it feels like being handled as if an object. Plus, I consider it poor pedagogy.

As the famous movement teacher F. M. Alexander said, we all want to be right, but sometimes, what feels right is wrong, and what feels wrong is right. In such cases, a hand or touch on a body part can help our proprioception sense where that part is located in space relative to our other parts and what it is doing. Oftentimes, even a person’s own hand on a body part can help them better sense it.

Better even than awareness touches, and particularly better than “correction” touches or moving of body parts, is to give experiences, explorations, or experiments that help one explore a range of possibilities, seeking to discover the most useful “sweet spot”. In this way, we actively feel our body move through the desired range, as well as recognize when we drift out of the optimum position or movement.

Additionally, such experiences can be designed to show why we want to move in certain ways to produce greater comfort, clarity, and stability. 

This is the approach we use in our online Game of Tango course where touch isn’t possible. We also use it in our in-person classes.

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