Why is safety and inclusion important?

In European and Northern American society, there are power dynamics at play based upon gender, race, ability, religion, sexual orientation, class, and so on.

As we design our spaces, we often create subtle biases that are invisible to the organizers, and make it harder for some people to join.

I think it’s really important to make these spaces inclusive and safe for everyone, because dance is such a powerful way to connect and interact with people. It creates a strong platform to meet, touch and communicate with others, and we can enrich the experience by diversifying the crowds.

If we aren’t intentional about designing these spaces, we’ll end up reproducing some of the power dynamics that play out in larger society, and I think it’s important to fight against that.

What does it bring to my scene?

As an organizer, there’s a lot to be gained by implementing safety in your scene.

I’ve seen examples of people struggling with their organization, and complaining that:

  • They don’t retain young folks
  • They’re overwhelmingly white
  • They don’t have enough women
  • They have poor retention rates

People vote with their feet, and if there’s something they don’t like, they probably won’t tell you, but they’ll stop showing up.

Addressing the design of your space as well as the behavior of individual dancers will allow for people to feel safer and more included. That will probably lead to:

  • A happier scene. When people feel safer, they’re usually happier and more excited about the experience of dancing.
  • A scene that grows. A lot of people might be turned off because from a space because it seems too straight, too strongly adherent to gender roles, not very diverse, not accessible to folks with handicaps, and so on. If you stop losing those people, you’ll attract a new crowd and have better retention rates.
  • A progressive space. You’ll get a chance to create a community of people that treat each other better.

The basics of safety

There are two important distinctions: actual safety and the feeling of safety. Those are two integral and interconnected concepts, but are quite different.

It’s important to give the feeling of safety to your community, and create a space where people aren’t afraid they are going to be hurt. The actual safety is the likelihood they’re going to be put in harms way.

While I think it is important to work on the feeling of safety, it’s much more important to work on actual safety, because if you give the feeling of being safe without providing actual safety, you let people drop their guard.

What makes a safer space?

A lot of people start with a code of conduct, and while I think it helps to start your process, I don’t think it actually improves safety. It does improve the feeling of safety.

Improving safety involves:

  • Teaching people good dance technique. Is there a way people are taught safe ways to lead and follow? Are floorcraft, dips and aerials taught safely?
  • Teaching people how to negotiate consent. I’m a firm believer that we could all use verbal consent a lot more, but I do respect everybody’s method, as long as it’s an efficient way for two people to agree. In your environment, or classes, do you teach people how to negotiate consent? Especially for connections that are unusual in your dance (it could be tight grabs, close embrace, thigh to thigh connections, hand to face connection, etc.), do people have a good way that is shared to ask and respond?
  • Setting expectations and norms for social interactions. Many folks get turned away by social interactions while not dancing. I had a woman tell me once with relief when I asked her to dance: “Thanks. You’re the only person not trying to sleep with me tonight”. She didn’t come back after that. So how many dances is it usual to ask for from the same person per night? Is it okay to flirt with people? What’s the expectation for consumption of drugs and alcohol? Those need to be communicated clearly to your community.
  • Creating a good reporting system.¬†One that allows you to hear when something happens at your events.
  • Holding people accountable. When people behave in ways that make other people feel uncomfortable, do you address it? If you’re not pro-active about dancers that give negative experiences to others, they’ll stay and many¬†others will leave.
  • Removing predators from your attendees. While I’ll discuss a lot how to address bad behavior and advocate for restoration rather than punishment, sometimes, you have to be willing to exclude people who are an active danger to your community.

How to?

All of those points need to be pervasive in the multiple aspects of your organization. You have many avenues to deal with it:

  • You own behavior and how you model it
  • Written documents, including posters and codes of conduct
  • Classes and workshops that reflect your values and etiquette
  • Have a team of people who’ll be in charge of hearing reports and dealing with incidents

The pages of this website can be read in the order they’re presented to create a loose workflow of creating safer space.