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Article by Jen Coffey

At dance today on the Open Floor in Sausalito I noticed that when I had the awareness of a man that I know and trust, who I believe would cut the balls off of any man that harmed me, I suddenly felt safe to be beautiful, to truly shine from my heart, with my body in all of its majesty.

One of my intentions for 2019 is to be with beauty. Yesterday at an Open Floor workshop I went into the center of the room for a dancer/witness exercise with the intention to scan the environment for beauty rather than pain or blockage. Often when I dance I scan my body for where there’s a pain point and use that as leverage for my practice. Yesterday I decided to look for the beauty instead. Could I reprogram my mind to be in a state of beauty or grace, rather than criticism or fear? How flexible is the neuroplasticity of my brain, and how long will this rewiring take?

As I moved into the center of the circle, with my witness watching, without thinking, I began caressing my wrists together, feeling the softness of my skin. Letting my wrists move to glide along my inner arms, luxuriating in the beautiful feeling of my skin on this part of my body. I could feel a smile forming on my face, and my hips begin to sway. I felt a deep relaxation melt my shoulders and neck. At some point I realized my eyes were closed and I wanted to be more conscious, eyes opened. As my eyes opened somehow, something in the music or the energy of the space made me feel sad. I could feel the tears coming, and my initial attempt to fight them back. “Not here, not now, I’ll get to those tears later,” I thought. And then I surrendered. No, this sadness, these tears are coming now, and with them my hands pressed to my lower jaw. Let the body cry. Free the tears. I stood there with a very slow sway as the tears formed like huge lakes in my lower eyelids and flowed down my cheeks like little waterfalls slamming into rocks.

“No, it’s not safe” was the message coming through the lake of tears, flowing into waterfalls, hitting the rocks of my present moment. “Thanks for asking again, and no, it’s still not safe to be beautiful.” Bam. That was it. Moments later we did a closing dance and circle. Thanks for coming and hope to see you again. Bam, water hitting rocks, flowing around and down to the next series of present moments.

Which brings me to today and the fire that has been burning in me for some time now about inclusion, care, and safety on the “conscious” dance floor.  I am aware of too many people who have come and gone from so-called conscious dance spaces because their boundaries were crossed, or their boundaries were crossed and they didn’t have a place to go for support in the moment, or they didn’t want to admit to anyone that they couldn’t handle what had just happened so they simply sent themselves into isolation.

This brings up many questions for me that I don’t have answers for. Please know that I’m not asking these questions of the Open Floor or 5R faculty or staff here in ways I haven’t also asked some of them in person, and that what I’m really curious about is what is our role as a community member that includes them, but isn’t reliant on them for everything, in the way that we have a government, but we also have other organizations that have impact and provide support.

Join me in my very busy brain as I ponder these topics….

  1. Are you and I in a community together? If so, what are our values? Do we have a code of conduct? Is something like that too rigid? What are the unspoken norms, rules?
  2. If we do have rules (more than just no talking) about caring for each other and ourselves on the floor, whose role is it to make sure the rules are maintained, and what is the process for maintaining it and keeping the community apprised that it’s working?
  3. Is the Saturday and Sunday morning Open Floor dance purely social or also a practice? If it’s mostly social, is there a place to go for a purely practice dance group? If not, can we create a container like that? Am I the only one wanting a regular safe group dance practice space?
    1. Can we have some signals like they do in other dance communities? For example, wrists crossed at the heart in the LA 5R dance symbolizes a non-verbal “no thank you” and this is part of their official orientation.  At dance camp, teaching assistants with years of dance practice and comfort in providing emotional support wear a colored wrist band. Practical assistants/crew could wear a different colored wristband.
    2. Why don’t we have teaching assistants (or some other name) in addition to crew? In the Movement Medicine community there are always teaching assistants, at least one near the DJ/facilitator available to support the facilitator and handle any questions coming from the floor toward the facilitator, as well as keep an eye on the overall space. This is someone with years of dance experience and training on holding space for process. At Burning Man consent culture is brought in as training to all camps through the Bureau of Erotic Discourse, and the RhythmWave dance camp takes this conversation very seriously. I feel very safely held by the men leading that community, I like believing they would cut the balls off any man that violated me, at least metaphorically.
    3. Could we make sure everyone coming to dance has read over some kind of rules of engagement before entering, and a verbal one-on-one orientation is given to new people?

I LOVE movement/dance practice, this community, and believe in it’s healing qualities. I want to invite people in to it, and find myself afraid to bring people who might not have a strong enough body to handle the weight of someone doing contact, or trying to lift them, or the self esteem to handle being ogled at, thrust at or upon, or touched in ways that feel violating.

I’m not advocating for a ton of rules, but a few solid rules that I witness consistently being maintained would make me feel a whole lot safer to be beautiful.  I go to deep vulnerable spaces when I dance, it’s not purely social for me, and there is a social aspect. I have danced enough hours in enough circumstances to now know how to take care of myself, physically and emotionally.  It’s not just about me anymore, it’s really about community.

Here’s an example of how a dance container was created that made me feel safe. It was during a Movement Medicine Initiation workshop I went to a few months ago in England.  Before going into a dance party atmosphere, where we were encouraged to feel into our adolescence and play with sexual energy and gender, the facilitators first said something like this…..”If you came here with a partner or you have a partner at home, we expect you have discussed boundaries and have agreements about what you can and cannot do with others while dancing. If you have not yet had that conversation, you have three hours to have that conversation before we dance.” They then demonstrated what this conversation could be like, including specific examples from their own experience. They then said something like, “If any of your partners asks us if we saw you doing something, we will tell them the truth.” WOW! That made me feel very safe! As a single person, often in a room full of partnered dancers, it felt really good to know that this particular pool of dancers would all have agreements with their respective partners, and that I could ask them about it, and that this community and it’s leaders expected that of its members. Yeah, that feels safe. That feels really good for me. As a single person I like knowing that all of the partnered dancers around me have agreements with their partners and I can ask them where the boundaries are to keep me, them and their absent partners safe.

Perhaps everything goes in the Marin dance community, and that’s just our flavor. Perhaps we are a community where only the strong continue. Perhaps I’ve got a particular lens on right now that is more of the critic, and it’s still early days of scanning the environment for beauty.  I am coming to terms with the predator shadow, as well as the accomplice. It’s been a sobering experience for me, and it’s ongoing. In my silence, am I complicit? When is it my place to speak up and about what? Who am I protecting with my silence?

While these questions come up for me, and I frame them above in terms of the Marin dance community, really this is a reflection of the larger world around me.  What do I stand for? What does our community stand for? What actions reflect these truths?

Recently a male movement teacher gave me praise and then told me that he found it difficult to make a heart connection with me. I smiled, and in front of a group I explained that he was feeling my boundaries. I’m not always open for deep heart or body connection, and for me, I need to establish a sense of safety before I let someone into connection. It doesn’t matter if you’re the official teacher. Sometimes that sense of safety is immediate, sometimes it takes, hours, days, weeks, months, years. It’s my territory. Just because you’re the teacher or you’re another dancer that paid your entry fee at the door, you do not have permission to touch me, or the right to expect a smile from me. Because I show up (t)here, you do have the right to see me, my truth in motion. If you’re not sure if you’re getting a yes or no to get close, take that as a no. Period. If you’re not feeling a hell yes from me, back the fuck up. He then understood and used me as an example of good boundary setting for the group.

To be clear – #me too

Which means specifically, I have experienced a series of physical, sexual and emotional abuses by men, including being physically attacked when I was 17 by two men, complete strangers on a public path, speaking a foreign language I could not understand. I have also been attacked by  men I knew and trusted. In both of these examples I was feeling safe to be beautiful. My heart was open, and I felt free to shine. I was walking with my chin up, chest open, hips moving freely, dressed in ways that complimented my features and made me feel good. I could go on and on with examples of violation, or you could just watch me dance. Yeah, that’s what a lot of my dances are about. Healing this wound upon wound upon wound, for me, my ancestors and the generations that come after me.

In our silent dances, we are all hearing the story we want to hear, and it’s all just stories. At the end of dance today when I approached the man who I believed would cut the balls off any man who harmed me, and I shared this story with him. He was like, “That’s a great story you got going on. Well maybe metaphorically, what did he do, do I know him?”

So if you see me at dance and I don’t greet you right away or give you the response you were expecting, consider that I might be putting salve on these wounds when you bounced up, or that I might be working very hard to stay with my practice, knowing I feel predatory energy around me, even when it might not be true, it’s one of the many stories I’m working with.

About Jen Coffey:

I like connecting people and places that I feel passionate about. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am drawn to transformational experiences like conscious dance, personal growth workshops, spiritual retreats, natural healing and all kinds of travel. I bring 17 years of professional experience in the field of public health and human services management. I am fueled by a Bachelor’s degree in Business from The George Washington University, and a Master’s degree in Social Welfare, Management and Planning from the University of California, Berkeley. When I realized I was becoming numb to the suffering of those around me so that I could go to work every day, I stepped out of my career and gave myself permission to heal and breathe. I sat on beaches for a while. I sat with bee hives. I sat with nuns. I explored distant lands, danced, meditated, spent time healing in spiritual centers, wrote a blog, and generally detoxed from a well-meaning frenetic atmosphere of workaholism. I said yes to every self-loving and nourishing desire. I now combine my professional and personal experiences to offer my deep listening, intuition, love and support as a wake up call. You might say, I’m a strong cup of coffee, jolting you awake to your life.