I have just left Japan where, with Diane Amans, I have been leading the third training event run by Japanese Contemporary Dance Network (JCDN) for dancers interested in work in the community. The course, my tenth project for JCDN in the last 8 years, is modelled on People Dancing’s Summer School and has proved very popular.
Our shared dance and passion with Japan for taking dance into communities is something I delight in. One topic that often comes up is the issue of touch. Is it ok to touch others as we dance?
I feel embarrassed when I have to explain that we have a risk averse culture in the UK and have to have safeguarding policies, particularly around children. This can often be hard to translate and not easy for Japanese dancers to understand. They have a sensitivity and awareness to touch that I find impressive.
Recalling when it was first mentioned in the UK, there was talk of a rule being introduced to prevent touching when we teach dance. I made it very clear at the time that if that happened I would stop leading dance in the community. The thought that a rule could eliminate all the essential contact that we make as we dance, in so many different settings, is horrific.
I’m much attracted to Joan Skinner’s approach to touch, that it is suggestive not corrective: the correcting touch that can happen, for example, in ballet can be replaced with a gentler, suggesting touch. I use this as children help each other to find the pointing foot that can lead to higher jumps – but could this be open to misinterpretation?
In partner work it is important to give dancers the choice to find a partner or, indeed, dance without one; and, of course, it is essential that we protect children. But where do other dancers stand on this? What do you think? It’s sad to think it but maybe I need to wear a band, or even a tattoo, that says it’s ok to touch me.
I would hate a world where the only contact we make is verbal. There is, for me, an essential health in touch when we dance.
- Cecilia Macfarlane, founding director of Oxford Youth Dance, DugOut Adult Community Dance and Crossover Intergenerational Dance Company, has just written a book based on her life and career in community dance, called Any Age, Any Body, Any Dance. Published by People Dancing, copies are available, priced £20 (£15 for members), from communitydance.org.uk/shop