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Part 3 - A Sensory Lens for Dance

Creating Safer Events and Spaces for Neurodivergent Dancers Series:


Part 3 - A Sensory Lens for Dance


Part 3 - A Sensory Lens for Dance


“Would you like to dance?” she asked, hand extended in invitation. “Yes!” Excited to dance with someone new, I take her hand, and we walk onto the dance floor. We begin feeling into our hand connection. She engages her arm muscles slightly, inviting me to use my proprioception to feel and match her tone. She shifts her weight from her left foot to her right and mine intuitively follows. Our wordless physical conversation ebbs and flows as we calibrate our senses to each other; co-creating sensory movement art.


How might a heightened or muted response in any of the senses affect how a dancer moves, connects, or self-regulates at a social dance? The vestibular and proprioceptive senses are used constantly in dance. The vestibular system is composed of networked nerves and other structures, including the inner ear which tells the brain the body’s spatial orientation. This system provides the brain information about head position, balance, acceleration, momentum, inertia, and movement through space.


Proprioception is sensing one’s own body relative to itself and space. It’s the sense that enables you to touch your two index fingers together with your eyes closed because you can sense where your fingers are relative to each other. In partner dance, proprioception can be extended into sensing your partner’s body in relation to yourself and space. This is the primary sense we use to feel exactly where our partner’s feet are without looking down.


The person who is calmed by tight squeezes, enjoys carrying heavy objects, or who bumps into desks and walls may have hypo-sensitive proprioception. The person who gives the lightest handshake, prefers a nod instead of a hug, or uses the lightest tone possible to connect in partner dance may have hypersensitive proprioception.


Hearing, vision, and smell are also key senses that impact a dancer’s experience at an event or venue. For example, because I’m hypersensitive to certain lighting, I typically avoid dances with unfiltered spinning lights that shine directly into my eyes. Likewise, because I’m sensitive to sound, I avoid dances that have poor-quality sound systems with static or off-color harmonics. The above examples are only a few of the different ways hypo- and hyper-sensitive sensory processing can affect a dancer’s experience.




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