For the most part our training is a solitary endeavor. Although we may train with others, we’re separated, with little interpersonal physical contact. It’s far from a stimulating sensory environment. But a richer, more playful physical practice has tremendous benefit for overall health and wellbeing.


Movement Builds Tribes

My own physical practice began with Brazilian jiu jitsu. Before then, I was scrawny (my first fight was at super featherweight), depressed, with no sense of self. Soon enough, this vigorous physical practice redefined me. I quickly put on lean muscle, found a tribe I truly connected with, and gained a booster shot of self-confidence. I honestly think jiu jitsu saved my life.


Ever since then, I’ve been interested in the tribe-building aspects of a movement practice. We’re dynamic, social animals, after all. And yet we tend to approach training in solitude. Sure, we may play a pick-up game here and there when we get a chance, but rarely do we actually move with other humans. Restoring partnered movements - both cooperative and combative - to our training repertoire enriches our health and wellbeing, on both physical and psychological levels.


Humans are social creatures who crave community.

Find a community of movers who make you feel empowered.


The Case for Partnered Movement Practice

We have quite a bit of evidence to back this up. As a tribe-building tool, physical practice can’t be beaten. Touch has often been shown to blur self-other boundaries, leading to greater trust and empathy among participants.1,2 Our nervous systems crave sensory input. Physical contact is our earliest form of social bonding and remains one of the most effective.


The health benefits of partnered movement - dance in particular - range from quality of life and body image to balance, mobility, and coordination.3 Physical contact lights up the brain-body connection.  After all, your skin is loaded with sensory receptors. When engaged, these receptors begin a dialogue with the brain and literally reshape our mental maps and sense of self.


If we want a simple tool for broad-spectrum health benefits, it’s literally at our fingertips.


Hands Touching Hands

And yet, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. We have a complicated relationship with touch. Depending on the context, the same touch can be either creepy or comforting. We have to approach a shared physical practice with mutual respect and open communication to reap the benefits.


So how do we make the most of this?  If you’re just starting out, you might explore this introductory contact improv drill:


  1. Start the game standing, touching the backs of your wrists together. This is your contact point.
  2. One of you will “lead,” and the other will “follow,” although this will naturally shift as the dance continues. See if you can maintain contact as you navigate space: moving forward and backward, up, down, and around. You can move slowly or speed things up.
  3. Don’t lose contact.
  4. Can you seamlessly shift your point of contact and continue?


Putting It Together

A shared physical practice can be tremendously rewarding, both for our interpersonal interactions, as well as our physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. It can boost trust and self-confidence, and it leads to better balance, more coordination, and improved mobility.


There’s more to human fitness than big guns and chiseled abs. If we approach it the right way, a shared physical practice can reshape and enrich our whole life. So grab someone and get moving!


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1. Paladino MP, et al. “Synchronous multisensory stimulation blurs self-other boundaries.” Psychological Sciences, 21(2010): 1202-1207.

2. Hertenstein, M. J. (2011). "The communicative functions of touch in adulthood." In M. Hertenstein & S. Weiss, (Eds.), The handbook of touch: Neuroscience, behavioral, and applied perspectives. New York: Springer Publications.

3. Kiepe MS, et al. “Effects of dance therapy and ballroom dances on physical and mental illnesses: A systematic review.” The Arts in Psychotherapy, 39(2012):404-411.


Photo courtesy of MovNat.