A sensory seeker’s awkward yet fascinating journey in dance improvisation. Features funny aspie moments, touch, pressure and interoception.

Understanding I’m autistic (aspie) has thrown a new light on why I was repeatedly thrown out of night clubs for being drugged, when in fact I had been the only person in there who was straight (ok, gay) and sober.

Yes. I remember in Brighton, UK. Me enjoying myself to the twirling lights and complex electronic beats (I didn’t like them much, but took what I could get). Yes, I did that a few times in my life – I’d fall into a sort of trance where my body would just take over and produce … a lot of movement that felt like it’s on autopilot. And somehow cathartic.

I was the only person in there who hadn’t touched a beer.

I don’t like beer.

(Alcohol even in small quantities 1) tastes bad 2) makes me depressed immediately after consumption 3) gives me insomnia with heart palpitations and joint aches at night.)

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The sober aspie and night club security

The security guy (I remember a skinny, petite Pakistani … or Persian?) approached me and asked me to leave. I was like What? But he was not to be argued with. He was convinced I was on illegal substances.

That happened several times.

I thought it was funny – I didn’t really care about being thrown out, I only did the clubbing thing cause I somehow felt I “should” (like others), anyways.

And I realise, the times I did go – I probably totally missed out on the neurotypical, heterosexual purpose of this activity – I didn’t care what I looked like (went in old-fashioned suit pants and buttoned shirts I believe); I didn’t care who was there; I didn’t care to make contact with anyone – I picked the emptiest spot and needed a few square meters to myself, accidentally hitting people out of my territory if needed; I just cared about getting into this intense (too intense for my stamina?) trance, sometimes for several hours.

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Original movement needs

It kind of makes sense now.

After watching videos of autistic kids doing complex, lightning-quick arm and hand stims, well that’s more or less what I did in clubs to rhythmic music. I haven’t filmed myself, but I simply feel the familiarity. I totally get the logic of these movements.

I guess that choreography looks drugged to a neurotypical onlooker.

It also gave me … a great deal of fun and release.

Complete, deep release.

I didn’t do that as a kid naturally – I just had minor movements, and I could and can control them (sometimes I forget myself and annoy people by rocking – my mum teased me “do you have Romanian orphans’ disease?” {probably only those with East European ancestry get this} – or knocking my leg against the table, or fiddling with my fingers or whatever is in front of me, but it’s … mild).

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Aspie in dance improv world

The next phase was … dance improv. Five rhythms. Contact improvisation. Butoh. Dance movement therapy. Anything.

That gave me the same, without the annoying disrupting techno music and the need to stay up late night (and be wrecked afterwards – I never got the point of disrupting your circadian rhythm like that). Without the alcohol.

Without guys (there were few and they were usually soft and kind and effeminate … the preferred kind).

Without this whole annoying, mysterious, pointless ritual that you need to torture yourself through if you simply want to dance.

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Touch seeking

I know that many autistic people are super sensitive to touch.

So am I – but I seek it out. I need it to feel real, to feel I exist.

I love heavy stuff squeezing me down – but I also love a person rolling over me, or me rolling over people, lifting them, pushing them up, aside, pushing myself up, through, solving kinaesthetic problems, encountering resistance.

I love it.

Where can you find that as an adult?

(Yes, in creative and inspired intimate encounters … :p)

I love the sensation of working with gravity, being in interaction with the floor – encountering the resistance and weight of my own body. If there’s extra weight, resistance, challenge from others (that I like and that are sensitive/responsive – good dancers) – and all this is done in a trance guided by music – that is exhilarating.

I’m not sure anything has ever given me a greater high.

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The social side of dance

Over time though, it did become overstimulating. Not physically I think – but socially, emotionally.

I had to talk to these people in the breaks;

they formed groups; I stayed outside these groups, confused; and often in pain

they tried to make contact and approach me, or dance with me focusing not just on the physical, but … the social? emotional? and I had no clue how to respond.

I had to decide how and when to join a dance; whether it was ok to stay by myself (somehow embarrassing).

I could communicate with touch. I can communicate with touch (in fact, I’ve realised I’m a physical empath).

But not deal with the rest of it – that which is in a human (neurotypical) social frame; and not in the direct, immediate language in which I communicate with animals or sometimes babies (usually my refuge in social settings; people do small talk; I play with the dog).

And I do get sensory overload if I dance too frequently or for too long.

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So I took to mostly doing it alone at home.

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Grounding through movement and touch

I don’t like the word “stim”.

Yes, part of it is sensation-seeking. Getting into a deep, pleasurable groove of complete focus on proprioceptive patterns that are contemplated again and again, in slight variations, and in pleasure.

Patterns that ease the mind; patterns that free and release emotions.

Sometimes, patterns that create a crystallisation point for the mind and the body – a secure anchor; a grounding.

Perhaps a dust particle around which the snowflake (of the mind, emotions, sensations) can crystallise. Perhaps a riverbed, a groove into which the whole being can flow, for a few moments, unified, focussed.

Sometimes it’s just for relief. To escape, into this anchor, this sensation of chaos.

I believe that’s more often the case with severe sensory overload and stress levels.

But then there is also the other side of it, which I was privileged to enjoy more; which is the expressive side, and the meditative side. (Ever thought of Hindu mantras in terms of stimming? Or traditional Jewish prayer movements? Or Sufi whirling?)

At least that’s how I feel it.
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Theories on hunger for proprioceptive input

I’ve thought about this.

Why do I have this need for pressure, for resistance? For my skin encountering something to press against? (Sometimes tree bark; sometimes the ground; wood; stones … anything really … preferably heavy and solid though, in my case.)

Or sometimes my fingers need to touch physical objects. That’s more often the case when I’m nervous – I touch fences, leaves, trees, walls.

I think that’s different for every person, but in my case … I need this to anchor me in this earthly world, in my body I believe. To literally feel materiality, ground.

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The mind-body connection

Because naturally, I don’t.

I wonder if this could be the “other side” of the coin of a alexithymia-type things that are said to be common on the autism spectrum: the difficulty of just simply feeling one’s internal states. Of feeling when we are hungry. When we are sleepy. When we have various emotions.

Because I have that difficulty … and actually have started consciously compensating for it many years before understanding this is probably a characteristic relate to autism – with body-based meditation practices, such as vipassana, focussing, body-mind-centering, and really anything that made me deliberately tune in to proprioception. By now I believe I’m better at this than most people – e.g. when I have a pain, I can often tell the organ and type of tissue it’s in, and often case. I didn’t realise that was unusual.

But still, when I’m not deliberately practicing it – reminding myself to check in – I still forget to know how I feel.

And it’s difficult to translate from physical sensations to (names of) emotions, still.

Although 10 years ago (in my early 20’s) I was completely illiterate at that.

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Feeling physically real

So anyways, the theory is:

Perhaps in my personal case (but perhaps that’s not so unique?) the need to feel strong, clear pressure, resistance, and touch – is to give me that felt sense of physical reality that my rather fragile natural connection to my proprioception and emotions isn’t giving me?

Because the truth is also, as I learnt to sense in more, the impulse towards external movement became weaker (although that could also just be dropping energy levels).

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Autism and Ayurveda

I would be curious to know whether that is a personal idiosyncrasy, or more than that.

… Also related to the Ayurvedic view of autism as an extreme Vata condition – a condition where the air element takes over and the earth element is very weak. And the Ayurvedic lifestyle recommendation would be, I believe – grounding, grounding, grounding. Routine, regularity, and touching the Earth in every available way … which I did literally and pleasurably in so many dance improv rolling on the floor classes 🙂

 

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Question to you:

Are you a sensory seeker of touch? What are your experiences and needs with with movement, touch and pressure? Have you found ways to fulfil these needs in adult life? Please feel free to share in the comments.

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Credits:

This post was stimulated by watching neurowonderful recommending stimming for health.

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One thought on “A sensory seeker’s awkward yet fascinating journey in dance improvisation. Features funny aspie moments, touch, pressure and interoception.

  1. Another beautiful post! Does the sleeping techniques Ur friend recommended still work for you or did they ever?

    It was really interesting to read about your relationship with your parents and how something like this has affected you.

    Sometimes I do begin to question if I myself have some autistic traits that have gone unnoticed? I guess I’ll never know but I can usually relate to alot of what you write in my own quirky little ways.

    Do you think your dad learnt how to respond and deal with challenges I guess that concerned you both in this regard as a learned behaviour or something that’s just passed on from genetics? My grandad and dad are Very much alike and I always felt I carry alot of traits from both parents but somehow learnt over the years not to make the errors they did in any type of relationship or communication wise.

    And I also tend to be so much in my own world sometimes that I almost feel non existent or forget that just because I’ve tuned myself out from the world, the world is still acknowledging me and my existence.

    Perhaps your Asperger’s is your own unique strength and a gift not yet quite understood. I hope you find the answers your looking for 💛

    Liked by 1 person

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