As a woman, as a dancer, and as a teacher, I am constantly surrounded by touch – hands and bodies searching to be tangled into each other. I am aware of the space between the flesh of another human being and my own, and the space around my body which scientists call “peripersonal space” – that zone that is not your body, but that you still feel belongs to you. I have always been interested in, and noticed, people’s hands and their grip and throughout my life as a dancer and teacher of Pilates, I have been fascinated by what we feel and how we respond to another human body touching ours.
Maybe that’s why I can anticipate when warm skin is about to touch cool skin, and why that burning sensation is so beautiful. It feels like a tiny moon landing each time. Mesmerizing. It expands beyond the actual physical contact itself, and I find myself searching for the imprint of a hand that has left my body. I still remember the sensation of a touch that was once there. As a child, touch came naturally to me without hesitation and was all part of play. I ran fearless around playgrounds, gardens and streets and roared with life. I loved to play hide and seek.
Touch – you’re the seeker.
Touch – you’re it.
Touch – I move you.
Now, during COVID-19, we have both lost and been deprived of touch. We are all in loss of it. I keep thinking of how different people in my surrounding usually hug me, how individual the memory of their touch is. My best friend gives me one hug a year. She embraces me in her arms as her head hovers over me. Her hugs possess a comfort that I can recall in the body of my younger self. Security.
My sister gives different hugs, a bit harder. Every time we fall into each other arms, I notice the contrast between our bodies. She wraps her arms around my ribcage and I move my arms around her shoulders in search for her shoulder blades. I wonder, if she notices it? That our arms place themselves at the same spots every time, how we feel each other and also in that hug, registers the wellbeing of the other? My grandmother hugged me with determination, as if life itself was in that hug, as if every hug between us held the potential of being the last one. As a kid I loved caressing the loose skin on her elbow. Visiting her in northern Norway, I used to fall asleep massaging her arm like that. Maybe we developed a language together, that didn’t involve speech.
I was thinking of it now when physical interaction no longer is possible between teachers and students. Now when our practice is behind screens. How do we reach each other when we are no longer together? How do we move in this new territory? My hands, which through my work touch other human beings up to possibly hundred times a day, which work as a guide to support and lead someone.
I came to the conclusion, sitting behind the screen, that I had to make them grab onto themselves. Let their hands be mine. Help and teach them how to hold on to their bodies and guide themselves. Touch in that way was not lost. For some it was uncomfortable and unfamiliar to feel their bodies and skin move beneath them. But for all, the final result was that they got to know their bodies better, have more understanding for it, and even develop an empathy for it.
Even though I hope that the digitalization era won’t take over our lives entirely, it has been a useful tool during these times. But nothing can replace the physical experience of skin to skin. I know that we will be aware of this as we gather again, when we can move together and hug our beloved ones. I hope that we can be faithful to touch as this pandemic loosens its grip of us, and I am grateful and aware how touch is a part of my relationship to my close ones, and in my work as a coach. Because life itself lies in a hug.