Social & Environmental Justice on the Dance Floor
This document has been created by Melissa Michaels, April Axé Charmaine, and diverse members of the Golden Bridge Social Justice Team / SomaSource community. We are an embodied leadership and rite of passage organization committed to creating safer and inclusive spaces on and off the dance floor. We have years of lived experience moving together with people across a broad spectrum of identities (including culture, race, gender, age, ability, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, among others). The following thought seeds are based on our decades of dedication to this work. Through challenge and collective growth, we are learning to live these teachings ever more fully. We are always learning, always evolving. We humbly offer these suggestions and insights. May they inspire our collective movement towards ever more inclusivity, justice, and sustainability.
We welcome feedback and additions to this document. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thank you to all of the deep dancers who have helped to shape this work. Let’s continue forward on this critical path of growth and liberation.
Foundation ~ Intention, Education, and Regulation:
- Intention: What is our intention as individuals and as organizations when it comes to social justice?
Social justice is a way of being that orients us all towards fair and just relations between individuals, society, and the systems that govern them. This is measured by access to opportunities, distribution of wealth, decision making power, along with other social constructs that provide for or limit people from the resources needed to live safe, productive, and meaningful lives.
Are we ready and willing to overtly prioritize and do the hard inner and outer work of shifting our dance floor culture in ways that are socially and environmentally just? Are we willing to look at and bravely unpack the impacts of white supremacy on the body in general and specifically on the diverse bodies of marginalized people around the world? If so, together we can deepen our understanding of what it takes to actualize our ideals.
- Ongoing organizational assessment: Who is here and who is missing? When working to create inclusive events and experiences, it is important for us to notice who is and who is not represented in the conversation: the decision-making, the leadership, and the participation.
- Ongoing education is key for ALL as a way of life on the frontiers of Social and Environmental Justice. There are abundant resources for study. (See our Social Justice Bibliography.) We encourage reading authors from diverse social locations.
- When activated and/or aggravated by social and environmental injustice, the use of somatic tools for individual and collective regulation is key. Resourcing and reconnection allows us to eventually move into deeper conversations and right action. Checking in and tracking self is foundational to this work and an integral part of the path towards mobilizing out. (Learn about the STOP: Somatic Transforming Oppression Process)
- As we do this work, we aim to stay somatically resourced, with our hearts open and a devoted eye on the unique people we are working with. They are individuals with their own social locations and stories. Our work as movement educators, healers, artists, and leaders always begins there, remembering that we are in this together. Our ancestry and our destiny are woven together in one way or another. We all are teachers and students on this journey. Let’s stay curious about one another. Ask rather than assume.
Historic inequalities and a biased economic system have impacted access to contemporary conscious dance spaces for certain populations from the outset of the movement. We can mitigate this impact by extending ourselves to make our work accessible to wider populations. We all benefit when our rooms are more diverse. Accessibility is key.
- At this time, the internet is not accessible to many people around the world. Raising funds to support the purchase of internet access is a first step for many of our students/colleagues seeking to join in the endless stream of online conscious dance events. We are sending funds at this time to long time dancers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, The Democratic Republic of Congo, South India, Rwanda, and certain parts of the United States in order to support accessibility. (Visit our Donation Page if you are interested in joining these efforts.)
- Once internet is available, it is optimal to offer options for those who have different capacities to invest financially. We provide people ways to participate through full scholarship, through work exchange, on a sliding scale basis, through payment in full, or through offering people the option to act as donors, contributing in abundance to support the participation of others.
- Due to diverse banking options, it is helpful to offer attendees multiple methods of payment (Venmo, Paypal, Cash, Checks, Credit Card) and options for exchange if one is able (sliding scale, payment plans, work trade, etc.)
- Work towards equitable pay for all artists and collaborators.
- Share resources when there is extra. One’s platform and connections can help another person grow their work. Invest in marginalized people’s education, health care, and initiatives if that is wanted and possible.
Music is foundational to all of our movement on the dance floor. Respect it as the sacred and ever expanding source of inspiration and healing that it is.
- Honor the source and cultural roots of the music with inner intention, consciousness, and outwardly when opportunity arises or is created. Gratitude is powerful.
- Diversify music by including and acknowledging music from different cultures.
- Sharing playlists helps to expand the musician’s reach into the world.
- If playing music in another language, we aim to know what the words actually mean. Understanding the lyrics of the song is respectful. It all helps to avoid mixed messaging. We identify and take ownership when we do not know exactly what is being said.
- Honor the lineage of the instruments being played.
- Pay musicians as much as possible, both for recorded and live music.
Diversity around race is arguably one of the strongest areas needing growth within the conscious dance field. The “conscious dance scene” by name grew within primarily white, Eurocentric spaces. Including and honoring the rich creative roots that the BIPOC community brings is essential to our collective healing and evolution in the conscious dance field.
Below are some principles we believe will support more racial equity and respect on the dance floor:
- Recognize that culture, the color of our skin, our features, and how our community categorizes and perceives us shapes the nature of our experience of being in a body. Take interest in the differences between people’s race, ethnicity, and nationality. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) frequently experience a lack of safety and marginalization in many places. As leaders, do not assume we have any true idea of what it is like for another. Teach and ally with deep listening and authentic interest in who people are and what their lived experience is.
- Respectful relationships regarding accessibility, money, music, language, and rituals will help create safety for racially-diverse people.
- Leadership that includes BIPOC is essential as we move forward in this field. If one is a white movement educator, consider who can be invited onto the team. Honor the gift of mutually respectful collaborative work with BIPOC teachers. Step back when BIPOC teachers are stepping forward. Be mindful not to symbolically include or tokenize our colleagues of color. Ask for feedback. Listen to input. Find ways to apply input.
- Welcome, train, and empower the next generation of conscious dance teachers from diverse communities around the world.
Gender & Sexuality:
Respecting and celebrating the rich and fluid landscape of gender and loving brings needed healing and creative possibility to all of our work on the dance floor.
- Respect each person’s gender identity. Make no assumptions. Invite people to introduce themselves with explicit pronouns. Encourage learning on this frontier for people who come from religions and cultures that do not make room for gender diversity.
- Invite, welcome, and empower LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,Trans, Queer, Intersexual, Asexual) and QTBIPOC (Queer, Trans, Black, Indigenous, People of Color) voices and dances in all that one does.
- When teaching, discern the use of language around masculine and feminine. Seek inclusive ways of speaking. Define one’s terms rather than assuming people share the same perspectives.
- Always create an uplifted gender-diverse space that is open to all who are transgender, non-binary, gender-questioning, and beyond, when facilitating gender-specific spaces of any kind. Invite support from one’s extended community if this is not an area of expertise.
- Ensure that there are explicit guidelines around touch on the dance floor and rules to discourage unwanted attention and touch. Support students to read the signs and signals of consensual behavior. Pay attention to, check in with, and potentially interrupt individuals engaged in contact that does not appear fully consensual. Protect the more vulnerable on one’s dance floor, and course correct the more entitled.
- Always provide gender-neutral bathrooms. Do the emotional labor of supporting those unfamiliar with gender-neutral bathrooms in a structured and formal manner so that tensions do not arise between participants within the private space of the bathrooms themselves.
- Consider and respect the many cultural norms around intimacy. In order to support people with different values, people in different developmental stages, and people working to heal from potentially traumatizing sexual experiences, we track and contain sexualization on the dance floor.
- Make no assumptions about people’s sexual orientation. Consider how to fully welcome people who love in diverse ways along with respecting everyone’s private life. Some people come onto the dance floor with diverse religious beliefs that may not align with the orientations of others. Work to create a culture of connection, respect, and solidarity for everyone of all genders and orientations.
People arrive on the dance floor with differing abilities. Some may have a more difficult time doing certain things or interacting in familiar ways to the collective norms. We aim to support those who are challenged physically, emotionally, mentally, developmentally, cognitively, or some combination thereof. We aim to welcome and celebrate the multiple ways that people move, learn, lead, and create.
Ableism is “a system that places value on people’s bodies and minds based on societally constructed ideas of normalcy, intelligence, excellence and productivity. These constructed ideas are deeply rooted in anti-Blackness, eugenics, colonialism, and capitalism. This form of systemic oppression leads to people and society determining who is valuable and worthy based on a person’s appearance and/or their ability to satisfactorily [re]produce, excel, and ‘behave.'”
You do not have to be disabled to experience ableism.
- Make no assumptions about people’s capacities to understand verbal directions, see the teacher or others, and/or move with full range.
- Be explicit about how differently-abled people can access the experience being offered. Consider including chairs on the dance floor for those that are not able to move around the room. Offer a slower paced or simpler approach for those in need. Include sign language interpreters as needed.
- Acknowledge and invite Elders into the space and offer them realistic ways to engage.
- Build a team to support the work on the dance floor, somatic therapists and the like to help track individual needs. Sometimes people need personal and focused attention to help them re-regulating in the face of activation.
- Physical and technological accessibility to classes and events is also key to inclusion. Honoring different learning styles, make visuals and text a part of web experiences whenever possible.
Language can connect or isolate us all. We share many universal languages on the dance floor. We cherish the ways the body speaks through dance. And, we respect the power of words, tending to them with ever great care.
- Be mindful of the many languages that may be spoken in a group. Respect people’s first languages by offering opportunities for prayer, poetry, and dialogue in their first language.
- Consider the landscape, nation, and community that one is working in. What are the dominant forms of language there? What might a marginalized community’s relation be to the dominant language in that community?
- We arrange for interpreters (including sign language) where we can to support folks who might need it.
- Consider different learning styles, verbal, visual, etc. Online spaces, in particular, require care with this.
- Liberatory language is a learning process. Take it up.
“Liberatory language not only actively affirms all life and the full diversity of human experience, it also works constantly to communicate love, compassion, and nonviolence.” (radicalcopyeditor.com/2016/08/29/spectrum-of-language)
Culture and Rituals:
Remember that we are never alone in this work. Always open to, honor, and welcome your well and wise Ancestors and those of the peoples on the dance floor. Allow the Spirit to guide and guard the work always and above all else.
- We continue to wake up to the ways that cultural appropriation can unfold on our dance floors. Blind spots are key to learn to see and transform
Those of us who are operating from the culturally void background are often called towards the rituals, practices, and stories from diverse and culturally rich communities from around the world. All too often, we begin to use these transformational tools in our own work without explicit training and permission. This process is called cultural appropriation and is often unconscious and unintentional. In the age of globalization, it is not always clear where specific rituals and practices came from. We can do the work of tracking lineages, getting permission from the source, and/or letting certain practices and rituals go. We have found that the most important principles are to bring humility and sincere curiosity to our use of diverse transformational tools.
Appropriating other people’s religions and cultures is actually a dishonoring of the sacred.
- Consider the root of every ritual, every practice, every process included in one’s work. Do we have the education, training, and permission to be doing what we are doing?
- Scope of practice. Know one’s skills and limits. Name them. Respect them and others.
- Honoring Source. Whatever is said and done, please always respect the peoples, the lineage, the person who brought forward that teaching.
- Use of images and language in marketing tools is something to also be sensitive to. Who are we quoting? Do we have permission to use people’s images? Are we representing our work with images that are true to what we do?
- Do the work to invite and include people from communities that may not automatically know that they are included in the experience being offered. This takes time, resources, and sensitivity.
- Always offer people choice around participation. For example, looking in someone’s eyes on the dance floor can be irreverent in some cultures. Respect diverse cultural norms, honoring people’s boundaries.
- Interrupt colonization. Teach where invited. Be mindful of going into communities without permission from the local leaders in your field and/or the Elders.
- How we show up dressed on the dance floor can be highly impactful. Some cultures do not reveal body parts like legs, arms, even faces. Naked or barely dressed upper bodies can be overwhelming, offensive, and unfair to people from different cultures and genders. Please be explicit about one’s dress code and consider diverse cultural norms when doing so. In the Golden Bridge spaces, we request that people come with shirts on.
Land includes the place where we are dancing, the original peoples and dances of that place, the places we come from, the recognition of body as earth, and the web of life informing all of our dances.
- Honor the original people of the land one is dancing on. Learn who the Indigenous people were, their customs, history, and current realities. Leaders can do this study. (https://native-land.ca)
- Study colonization around the world. Understand and respect the specific history of colonization in the place where one dances.
- In respect, ask permission and make offerings to the land and the peoples of a place. Extend gratitude in word and deed.
- Consider safety of the location of the event and what, if anything, is needed to protect the space.
Environmental justice includes not only how we relate to and respect the land we are dancing on, but it requires a deep understanding of how marginalized people are subjected worldwide to toxic and unsafe spaces to gather and live in. It is our work to consider how to fairly share the “benefits and burdens” of the environment and how together, we can protect people and place, for they are not separate.
- Use only what one needs. Whenever possible, use recyclable and reusable products. Work to eliminate waste of food and products.
- Leave spaces better than we found them.
- Travel. Pay attention to the carbon footprint of travel. Make conscious choices around this. Airplane. Cars. Buses. Bikes. Feet. (Hire buses for travel to and from sites for large groups.) Encourage Carpools. (parkecovillagetrust.co.uk/carbon-offsetting)
- Be responsible with sound and how it impacts neighbors, people, and other living creatures. Consider everyone’s ears, especially the children. Make children headsets available, if possible. Hand out earplugs and encourage their reuse.
- Hygiene and safety is key. Is handwashing available? Provide hand sanitizer (even after Covid-19). What else is needed for basic hygiene? First Aid kits are essential. Extra menstrual health care products can help some people feel secure coming to events.
Open systems where feedback can be given, received, incorporated, and shared back to a community is important for the health of a community and organization. This takes time, courage, and devotion to sustainability and inclusion.
- Ask for feedback. Offer clear pathways for communications. Acknowledge the power dynamics that might make providing feedback difficult. Offer ways to provide feedback that account for power dynamics such as hosting conversations with different people who can offer third party support.
- Take feedback seriously. Create change as needed in timely and transparent ways.
- Be open to engaging in some kind of reparative/ restorative justice work if and as needed.
- Be transparent with your community about the feedback you are receiving and what you are going to do about it. Respect one’s own development as a person and/or organization. We are all on a growing edge when it comes to these complex realms of inclusion, equity, and justice.
Ideally, the organizational dynamics are a reflection of what happens in every body and on the dance floor and vice versa. Opening the channels for clear and collaborative leadership at all levels is optimal.
- Inclusive and representative leadership within the organization at every level is key. Include people whose identities intersect around ability, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, religion, culture, nationality, ethnicity, and language.
- Consider the nature of how an organization is run, by whom, and for whom. Who gets to lead? Who gets to make decisions? Who does what work? Who gets paid? Is this model of leadership congruent with the core values of the organization? If not, help the system change. Sociocracy is a strong model for collaborative and inclusive decision making. (sociocracy.info/what-is-sociocracy)
- Create transparent protocols for how events get set up and run.
- Shapeshift roles so that everyone gets to know the unique location, the roles and responsibilities of others with whom they work.