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“I benefited from hearing that unless a yes is enthusiastic, it isn't consent. Every other consent focused environment I have participated within has focused on 'Yes means yes, and no means no', but as was discussed, a verbal yes does not always correlate with how we really feel. I have been pondering this for both dance and romantic settings, so I appreciate the introspection this has brought about for me.” - So You Think You Consent…? Workshop Participant

This fall, the So You Think You Consent…? Project made its first college campus debut! Partnering with the Virginia Tech Women’s Center and Salsatech (the campus Latin dancing club), I was invited to bring the project to campus as part of the October Red Flag Campaign to spread awareness around dating violence and sexual assault prevention. Nationally, campus climate surveys and academic research consistently report a high prevalence of sexual assault among college students; approximately 1 in 5 female students and 1 in 20 male students are victimized while living on or near campus at a 4-year college (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2015). This consent focused dance workshop was made for dancers and non-dancers alike. In addition, it was designed to be trauma-informed for the safety and well-being of survivors in attendance.

“I feel the most valuable part of the workshop was being reassured that if I ever felt uncomfortable I was more than welcome to remove myself. I also thought it was amazing that we were motivated to be ourselves during the entire workshop. I also really liked that there were individuals participating that were and weren’t dancers. It was nice to struggle with others and having someone knowing what they were doing too.” - Ryea, VT Student

In order to facilitate a workshop that uses dance to teach consent, it was essential that everyone in the room feel that they had the freedom to continue to participate or not at any point during the workshop - that’s just how consent works, always reversible, always freely given, always enthusiastic!  At the start of the workshop, we went over our dance “code of conduct” or guidelines we requested the group to go by as we entered into the dance space together. Everyone was invited to exercise self-care and to take some time away from the space if anything ever felt triggering or unsafe. We also encouraged everyone to be in their “growth zone,” (feeling engaged and present) and to come into the space as a “learner, not a knower”.

“I thought the most valuable part of the workshop was saying "thank you for your no" after someone refused a question, it can be hard to gracefully accept rejection so that was good practice.” - Randolph, VT student

As shared in previous blog posts, this project and the consent dance workshops would have been impossible without the experiences, insights, and inspiration that dancers have shared with me over the course of this year. The “Circle of Thankful No’s” exercise featured in the workshop came from dance instructor and life coach Juan Calderon, with whom I trained at his Dance Whispering University this fall. Juan’s explicit centering of consent within his dance method and pedagogy is unique in the world of dance He is a leader in creating a culture of consent both within and outside of the dance scene.

Do You like Cilantro?....

Would you like to hold this puppy?....

Can you do this quiz for me? ….

Can I borrow your shirt?...

Do you like pineapple on pizza?....

Do you like UVA? ….

Do you want to dance?....

…..No.

Thank you for your “no”.

These are all questions that came from our dance circle. While humorous and perhaps basic, responding to each of these questions with “no” and then hearing a partner respond back with, “Thank you for your no!” helped us to practice and think about the value of sharing and accepting open and honest refusal. It actually came as a surprise to me when several participants shared afterward that their favorite part of the workshop was this exercise. I was reminded that there are still aspects of verbal consent with which we all can struggle. These aspects of verbal consent still require skill-building before we even address the less talked about non-verbal aspects of consent.

“I think either the ‘mirroring partners’ activity, because it made everyone open up as well as become more aware of the other person's body, or the ‘Thank you for your No’ activity due to the fact that the word no can be scary and we need to change that mentality.” - Savannah, VT student

In the workshop, participants are led through a series of exercises that heighten their “physical literacy,” or understanding of bodily expression and interaction with a partner.  It allows them to be intentional and aware of how their movement can invite, support, restrict, or harm another person. Body movement and dance allows participants to slow down and think about the sequence of their physical interactions and how to tell when someone is feeling uncomfortable or into it.

This project has focused on dance as a method for teaching, but some of these exercises were inspired by other fields such as drama therapy. Leah Okraszewski, a registered drama therapist and phenomenal Planned Parenthood education volunteer also co-facilitates with me to bring this workshop to groups of youth. Mirroring is a drama therapy tool that we use for participants to practice leading and following shared movement and to focus on taking care of one another in the process.

I realize that not all educators may have dance backgrounds. The good news is that in order to provide consent workshops like this, all you need is a Movement Partner! Without a doubt, one of the best parts of this project has been the opportunity it has given me as an educator to partner with creative folx and artists in my community. For the Virginia Tech So You Think You Consent…? Event, I was honored to have Brennan Delattre to help lead participants through the more dance-centric parts of the workshop. Brennan’s years of experience as a social dancer - instructor in Ballroom, Latin dance, various capoeira communities, and Dance Whisperer training all made her the perfect co-facilitator to have in the room (Not to brag, but Brennan is also a Fulbright Scholar studying neuroscience and cooperative movement in Brazil this year, so she is truly a one-of-a-kind gem!). But if you don’t have a Brennan or a Juan available, there are many phenomenal instructors and dance or other movement enthusiasts out in the world with whom we, as educators, could partner to give consent concepts new meaning!

You may be wondering...does using dance to teach consent work? When discussing the workshop with a friend, he questioned whether this goal could be possible because dance isn’t the same thing as sex. And he’s right, sex and dance movement are definitely different types of physical interaction. But anytime we are interacting with another human being’s body, consent needs to be there. Just as sexual assault and rape culture exist, sadly, so too do violations of consent in the dance scene. But while sexual assault and violence plague our world today, there are also movements like #MeToo and Dance Whispering working to build a culture of consent. Consensual partnered dance is (at least) two people, giving permission to interact with one another’s bodies, respecting boundaries and limits, inviting new possibilities, and creating a shared experience that is enjoyable for everyone. If we can dance consensually this gives us a tangible experience that could translate into other physical experiences in life, like sex. Partnered dance provides an opportunity to create a safer structured space in which young people can practice these affirmative consent concepts not only in conversation but in their bodies, something that simply can’t be found in a class lecture.

Interested in learning more about consent education and dance? Planned Parenthood South Atlantic will proudly be hosting Taking the Lead: Community & Consent Through Dance on February 9th in Roanoke, VA. Sign up for your tickets today! 

Click here to get your tickets today!

Tags: Global Youth Advocacy Fellows, Global, sex education, consent