Through the “So You Think You Consent…?” Project, I’ve been witness to the ways in which dance is like a conversation. It can be a consensual conversation, filled with connection, invitation, careful listening, and reciprocity; I prefer to refer to this type of conversation as “dance whispering” (coined by professional dance instructor, Juan Calderon). Or it can be a conversation riddled with unhealthy power dynamics, commanding force, strict regulation, and human objectification, aka dance shouting. Over this past year, I found that sometimes people dance shout because they don’t know there are other ways to behave and interact outside of the framework they’ve been taught or previously experienced. Expanding this idea to my work as a sexuality educator, I believe that rape culture exists in part because people too often do not have healthy frameworks for being in a relationship in the first place. Toxic masculinity, unrealistic, even violent portrayals of sex in porn, gendered norms and expectations, homophobia, taboos on comprehensive sexuality education and the unavailability of information-- these are all components of an unhealthy framework served to the young people with whom I work daily.
This past month my GYA project culminated into a final event we at Planned Parenthood South Atlantic organized, Taking the Lead: Community and Consent Through Dance. The event featured the Tottering Biped Theater, which shared a powerful revamped Ted Talk style performance that intersected with my work exploring how consent (or non-consent) happens in the dance world. The Ted Talk was a critique of some of the problematic aspects of partner dancing, such as gendered power dynamics. The Ted Talk focused on “Liquid Leading” an updated approach to partner dancing that counteracts archaic gendered norms within dance. In partner dancing, there are two roles, a lead and a follow. Historically, these roles have been gendered, the man leads, the woman follows. Liquid Leading is an ungendering-- it seeks to achieve a more equitable relationship in dance in which these leading and following roles are shared and passed between dancers, even within a single dance.
In addition to generating community dialogue through the Ted Talk, Taking the Lead was designed to offer an experience. An experience to be more in our bodies, to not just talk about consent, but physically feel it and tune into being more aware and connected with another human. Partnering with local artists Lynsey Wyatt (Cirqulation) and Lisa Linger (Mental Health in Motion), this event featured a workshop that used partnered physical movements to better understand trust, communication, and listening in relationships. Participants leaned into and away from one another. They mirrored their movements. They listened. They felt.
This has been the goal of the “So You Think You Consent…?” Project-- that people would not only further their knowledge of consent, but also embody and positively experience it. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to pursue the intersection of dance and consent education through the Global Youth Ambassador Fellowship. I look forward to continuing to explore the ways in which movement can become a greater part of sexuality educators’ toolboxes in the future. Because in the end, if we are trying to help others understand consent, what we are really trying to help them to learn is, as the Tottering Biped Theater dancers called it, “the fine art of taking care of one another.”