Chester Workshop

The role of touch in the participatory sense-making process of both play and dance improvisation

Workshop by Carolien Hermans
March 2019, Chester University, Dance Department

Participants: Hannah Kelly, Malaika Sarco-Thomas, Richard Sarco-Thomas, Ha Young, Eva Bru, Pierre Alexandre Bouvery, Annika Lübbert, Sean Fitton, Sofie Hub, Bettina Carpi

This project is part of an artistic research that explores the relationship between (group) dance improvisation and the aesthetics of play through an embodied analysis of De Jaegher’s and Di Paoli’s concept of participatory sense-making (2007).  In this project we explore the notion of touch and its constitutive role in the participatory sense-making process of dance improvisation. 

Starting point are concepts uch as the touch field, intercorporality, co-agency and Paxton’s third entity (in Pallant, 2006), also referred to as the rolling point of contact between two or more movers(Dey and Sarco-Thomas, 2014). The third space in contact improvisation is a space where materiality is contested. It is a place of negotiation, in which selfness and otherness are explored through the sharing of weight, energy, strength and balance. The third space is a zone of proximity, a moving point of contact, a vitalizing site. 

In this project we intermingle the dancing, with the writing and  reflecting. There are two stages: First, we explore the notion of touch individually by making contact with the floor, the walls, ceilings and other things or materials that can be found in the studio. Then we  work in small groups and shift to the notion of touch as a form of intercorporality (Fuchs, 2016) and co-agency. 


  • Be aware of the micro adjustments in the touching.
  • Stick to one touch, repeat it, over and again and find something new in the repetition.
  • Absorb proximity. Take it in, spit it out.
  • Shift from a continuous touch to a sudden or unexpected touch. And the other way around.
  • How much weight can you take in?
  • What is a fugitive touch?
  • Shift from local to global touch, and from global to local touch.
  • Can you be in a tactile nowhere? Try it.
  • How does touch travel through you?
  • How many layers or textures can you distinguish in the touch?
  • Return together to the first touch. And the second touch. Revisit it.
  • Use the river as a metaphor for touch. Remember: you never step in the same river twice.
  • Find gaps and holes in the bodies or in the space. Fill it with touch.
  • Touch without touching.
  • Decompose the touch: bring it back to its essence or to its most basic ‘form’.
  • Shift awareness from surface to depth in the touching (and the other way around).
  • Sense the elasticity of the touch.
  • What is the absolute minimum of touch (where you can hardly sense it anymore)?
  • What is the absolute maximum of touch (where you can hardly sense it anymore or take in)?
  • Draw the contours of touch. Stay vague.
In this artistic project I developed a Touch Game. 


  1. Give the floor a big hug. Alone.
  2. Try to touch as much of the floor as possible. Cover the floor with your touch. Work together. Do it systematically: start from the left corner behind and end up in the right corner in the front.
  3. Make a pile of bodies. Move into a pile and move out it again. Repeat.
  4. Work together in a whole group. Bring one person to the other side without him/her touching the floor. No-one is allowed to stand on his feet.
  5. Pushing and pulling game: wrestle with another partner.
  6. Whisper-game: some-one starts with a touch, and hands it over to the person next to him, who hands it over to the person next to him/her – so that a chain of touch starts to evolve. In a circle or a line.
  7. In-between the other scores: Try to touch some-one without the person noticing it.
  8. Return tot the floor. Alone. Let the floor hug you.

Also read:Traces of touch




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