How do you help hold your community together? What’s your method of connecting people? Where do you welcome new folks into the mix?
“New normal” or not, this past year and a half of rolling with the changes is certainly inspiring some innovation. Regardless of where you live or what kind of community you’re part of, the modes and methods of connection have all seen considerable adjustment.
Whether you’re at the center of some sort of large extended movement community or simply one person with a few scattered friends here and there, your position might be likened to the hub of a wheel. Everyone exists in the center of some sort of circle or another.
Prior to the pandemic, way back in the “before times”, you were probably involved in some variety of in-person activities, be it a community dance, conscious movement offering, or coffee klatch. Thanks to modern science and the vaccine, you may well be back on your way to gathering once again, although unlike previous public health problems where no one questioned doing their part for the public good, for some reason this one is fraught with controversy.
But what with 18 months of upheaval, the chances are good that some folks in your tribe have moved along or shifted their schedules in such a way that things aren’t settling down the same as they once were. By the same token, there might be new people adjacent to the edge of your circles who aren’t acquainted yet.
The fact is, a lot of folks are still stuck in their bubbles for one reason or another. Going into this was sudden and abrupt, coming out is slow and ambiguous. Where once there was palpable fear in the air, now there is simply a lot of uncertainty. One thing is for sure, we’re emerging with a new sense of awareness and caution.
A shout out and word of acknowledgement is in order to all the conscious dance facilitators who managed a steep learning curve and a crash course in technology to take their classes online and continue to teach and lead movement through the window of wifi. Dancing to the glow of a screen isn’t everyone’s cup of tea however, no matter how well the interface is navigated or how clever the offerings, there are bound to be some folks who just won’t bother.
One thing you may have noticed slowly creeping into normalcy in the modern world is the rise of asynchronous communication. Like many innovations it can be both a blessing and a curse. Its roots go all the way back to the invention of answering machines. (Remember those clunky cassette recorders that used to sit next to your land line? That was the beginning of our collective ability for someone to talk to you now so you could listen later.)
Fast-forward to today and it seems practically old-fashioned to simply make someones phone ring at random and expect to engage in a conversation on the spot. To a text-friendly teenager the idea is archaic. While texts are uber-convenient for quick logistics or letting a loved one know you’re thinking of them, (emojis anyone?), when it comes to the nuanced conversations that keep friendships alive they fall flat.
Consider this possibility. Could it be that the (nearly) lost art of conversation is the secret sauce of community? Recently I’ve been putting this into practice and paying attention to the results. My first example comes from my little community of listeners that have gathered around my weekly online DJ sessions. When Dance Jam closed due to covid I plugged my mixer into my MacBook and started spinning records online.
Oddly enough, only a few of the folks who were regulars at our live event made the migration with me online. Yet shortly after I started, followers of my Twitter feed began showing up like clockwork, with several signing up to support my Patreon. Without much hype or promotion there are a couple dozen friendly folks from around the globe who seem to always show up and I’m happy to say I’ve gained some amazing new friends along the way.
They say hello in the chat, they comment on the album cover art I post as I’m playing, and they thank me for holding space in the form of musical relief from the madness of politics and current events. Some have even started to refer to our little #TuneFam posse as a community and that got me to thinking. “What’s missing?” I asked myself. “Conversation!” was the answer.
So I decided to try out the new Spaces feature and invited several of my most active listeners into a Saturday afternoon chat. It works like a conference call, except with a public audience and the added benefit that participants join right in the app under their usernames, keeping their alias intact and their identity obscured if they prefer. Plus, since it’s audio-only, no one is trapped in front of their screen worrying about their hair and they’re free to participate while driving or walking around doing chores.
In short, it was a huge success. Folks were so happy to hear one another’s voices and offer compliments and kudos to some of the folks known for their great work. Simply getting the chance to acknowledge some of the people who are quietly participating from far-flung corners of the internet seemed to really raise their spirits. And hearing some highly intelligent folks in conversation with one another humanized their written words to a large degree.
My second example comes from a re-connection I made with an old friend from my Punk Rock days back in 80’s Denver. In those days he was the main event promoter and undisputed mastermind behind our scene, now he’s protecting us all doing cybersecurity for the federal government, working for the NSA in Washington, DC. I looked him up when we visited Baltimore in June.
Since then we’ve been in touch rather often and it usually goes like this. One of us will text the other about something and if I’ve got a free moment I’ll press the button and blow up his phone out of the blue. Since he’s working from home, chances are good he can pick up, and if so we might talk for anywhere between a few minutes to an hour.
Last time we talked we were laughing about how retro it is to simply give someone a call like in the old days. “Remember what it’s like to get interrupted by an old friend and happily sidetracked for an hour?” “Yeah…” he said in his notorious drawl, “We’re the last of the synchronous chatters.”
The moral of the story is to never underestimate the resonance of a friends voice or the power of a compelling conversation. The film My Dinner With Andre nailed it. The art won’t die if we keep it alive, and while technology makes it easier to avoid than ever, it also puts the tools to talk in the palm of our hands.
Surprise yourself and supply some secret sauce to your community by being that person who starts the conversation. Whether it’s one-on-one with an old friend or new acquaintance or in a virtual roundtable with your extended circle, you’ll be breathing life into your connections by inviting their voices to be heard.
Much Love and Happy Chatter till next Monday!
Director of the Dance First Association
Publisher of Conscious Dancer Magazine