April 16, 2019
What’s alive in current culture always shows up on the dance floor. The issue of consent, especially of consent to touch, is no exception. Not that this topic hasn’t been lurking since time began. Over the years holding space for dance, I’ve been called to counsel boundary issues more than once. Mind you, in all my personal years as a student on dance floors around the world never, not once, have I had an issue with someone overstepping my bounds. So what does that tell you? You’d be on track if you guessed I have super-clear boundaries. Sometimes too clear.
Please understand I am talking about what happens on a dance floor. In no way am I tackling workplace sexual harassment, domestic violence, rape. O.K. then. In many years of observation, I mostly witness participants relatively aware of their arising needs and engaged in an active practice of honoring them. At the same time, most are considerate and respectful about the needs of others. It’s actually a thing of beauty to observe this in what can be a quite chaotic field week in and week out.
And then there are the people on the margins. On one end, there are people with limited skill in communicating a clear and solid personal boundary – for a multitude of tenderly understandable reasons. And on the other end, there are people who are insensitive to personal space needs and the incredible effect of touch on human connection – for a multitude of tenderly understandable reasons.
So it makes sense that if these people on the borders are present, boundary issues will arise. In the past, I’ve worked with boundary-challenged parties one-on-one on both sides of the equation, usually motivated by a complaint from the solid-no challenged person. And I’ve taught more than a dozen specific practice classes, usually spurned during these charged times.
Because there’s so much prevailing public discourse, the topic has become more acute, more ripe, more raw. Those challenged to set clear boundaries are finding the courage to speak up and ask for what they need. On the other end, behavior that was culturally acceptable a short while ago is now under scrutiny and people are being asked to amp awareness and make changes in a realm that has long been habitual.
Lord. I never signed up to be the Dance Police. But right now, I find myself in another cycle of counsel and focused classes. And for the first time, last Sunday (not an instructional class), I addressed the whole group, did a brief demo of what it looks like to ask for consent and what a clear yes and clear no look like. It put me right on the edge I signed up for when I took this job. I’ve received a lot of overwhelmingly grateful feedback since. And a few, myself included, bemoaning the multitude of tenderly understandable reasons that we have to go here at all. Sad that the pendulum has to swing like this before adjusting to some unknown new center. Wondering if spontaneous touch will drift into a memory of a different, more innocent time.
I always choose to teach what’s most alive—in me, in you, in the culture. Thank you for coming along for the ride. The places we have travelled have been amazing, it’s been a rich and often edge-y roller-coaster and I feel privileged and humbled and well used in the course of this work. In many ways, it has been instrumental in breaking me free, getting me unstuck.