One of the things I love about the unique environment of the dance community is that it is a space in which we are privileged to get to really explore in ways quite different from any other conventional, mainstream social, dance, or spiritual arenas.
The unparalleled opportunities to be at home in our improvised embodied expression, to open up together, go deep into our own powerful and vulnerable inner world, connect with one another, be playful, fierce, flirtatious, sensual, emotional —really to explore a full spectrum of our authentic humanity.
Inherent to this kind of freedom, trust and authenticity is mutual respect, predicated on a shared intention to be aware…. To seek to be dialed-in, sensitive, reading the multitude of ways our fellow dancers communicate (body language, facial expression, eye contact, quality of breath) in the moment of lived expression in shared space.
Part of this dialed-in quality also has to do with being aware of our own needs, agendas, and often unconscious motivations…
I believe and have experienced that this community and our dance space represents an extraordinary, precious opportunity for healing, co-evolution, transformation, and growth, alongside the other uplifting qualities that are more ecstatic, playful and uninhibited. In fact I see the two as interwoven.
The more safe we feel to trust, open up, and be ourselves, the more the ecstatic fluidity of communal dance emerges.
I have to come out and say it now —brothers, I am talking to you, because the fact of the matter is that the polarity, history and dynamics between men and women mean that most often sensitivity to respecting the boundaries of women is a key piece of awareness practice that can really contribute to an exquisite, healing, juicy space.
So in service of this, here are some suggestions based on my own imperfect process, observations, asking and listening (especially to women) over the years:
* When moving into a woman’s space, turn on your awareness (waaaaaaay early) of the many signals that are part of the process of gently engaging. is she turning away, avoiding eye contact, tensing up? If she is, she probably doesn’t really want to engage with you at that time…. you’re not being rejected, that’s just where she’s at! If it brings up vulnerable feelings for you —let that wounded, lonely, insecure boy inside of you be your dance partner instead for a while… we all crave connection in some way, but it has to be mutual!
* If a woman does engage with you, don’t assume that this automatically means you can go from that initial opening to full contact improv, putting your hands on her, lifting her up in the air, or taking her down to the floor to roll around with you! As in any other relational exchange, the membranes between each level of trust have to be navigated with care…
* Just because you see a woman sharing a powerful, intimate, vulnerable or sexy-seeming dance with someone else, don’t assume she wants to engage that way with you too! There most likely is an authentic trust that has been established there, and an in the moment flow of unique mutuality. Magic!
* When your need for connection, or sense of being drawn to a woman is powerful, check yourself: what’s going on with you, and might there be a way to get grounded in your own process, and then see if there is a mutual connection on the dance floor once you have settled in to self-awareness? In the rare instances where a romantic energy blossoms in the space, I hear from women again and again that what is often most attractive is a grounded man who doesn’t seem to be coming from a place of need.
* This last one is big for me, because as I bear witness and hold space, I often find myself feeling so protective of new, especially (but not only) new, younger women in the space…… When you notice someone new, PLEASE don’t follow them relentlessly (or at all) around the room. Give them time and space to explore this new experience and get comfortable. It would be such a shame if she never got to find out how beautiful this experience can be, because she got creeped out and felt invaded on her very first time. Included in this is to please NOT wait until any woman who has not engaged with you yet to be in stillness, eyes closed, meditating, resting, or worst of all weeping, and assume that this is YOUR moment to smoothly sidle up to her, touch her, or otherwise get in her space, as if you are the comforting, all-giving healer.
I will never forget being at Dance Home when I was about 25 and seeing this beautiful woman I wanted to connect with, resting on her back. I went and carefully sat behind her head and, uninvited, started to massage her neck (nice of me huh?) What happened next was so powerful and I am still so grateful for it:
Her eyes opened, she looked right at me and asked “what do you want?”
WOW. What an invitation to check in on my own needs —because in that moment it certainly wasn’t about actually giving something to HER! 😉 I was taking.
I don’t mean to be shaming of my brothers, nor censorious about the many layers of incredible connection, process, play, and ritual magic that can happen when we are dialed-in. I am saying that this privilege and trust goes hand-in-hand with an ongoing process of cultivating self-awareness and compassionate, respectful sensitivity to others.
Most men I know who have some years in the dance community are on this journey and seek to embody these sorts of principles —in some ways I think we can support newer men, or those not paying attention in these ways to recognize this aspect of our practice.
Do women invade men’s space insensitively sometimes?! Sure. I have experienced this and have talked to other men who have too. So these suggestions go both ways, AND I really encourage women to speak up gently but firmly when they feel uncomfortable —and men can do the same…
I also don’t mean to be presumptuous and speak for women at all! I have been asked to compose something like this —and would LOVE to hear from any women who agree, disagree, or want to refine or add to what i have said!
Yours Sincerely and Humbly,
~Julian Marc Walker