For a lot of the world, the return to “normal” has been slow. For those of you that are in places where dance has returned, I’m so happy for you – and a little jealous. During this time, a lot of us have used this opportunity to think about the ways our communities can do better, and found quite a few. This list is a series of 9 small changes our communities can make to do better. Some are more applicable to organizers; others can be done by anyone.
When reading this list, I want you to keep in mind that doing some (or all) of these things is not a substitute for the extensive and deeper work we have to do to make our communities better for everyone.
1: Have a public Code of Conduct – and a plan
While a lot of events and schools now do this, consider having a public, well thought out Code of Conduct and process for dealing with complaints or issues publicly available. This should cover your artists, staff, attendees, and volunteers. If you run a school, event, or even a small social, you can still decide how issues will be managed. We put ours on our website. Here is another example of a Code of Conduct. There are also several other resources about writing a Code of Conduct, dealing with bad behaviour, and goals of a Code of Conduct.
Remember: a code without enforcement is not useful, and can actually make situations more unsafe.
2: Use Land Acknowledgements
If you are located in a place where the land is not traditionally yours (North America, parts of South America, and Australia/Oceania), consider placing a Land Acknowledgement on your website and make it part of the opening ceremony of any major events you host. These are more common in North America, but there is no reason they can’t be adapted to other locations. Here are some guidelines for what a Land Acknowledgement is, and here is an example of the one on our event’s page for the Toronto area. Many municipal governments or local non-profits also have guides or basic land acknowledgements that can be used by events in their area.
Remember: It is critical that you properly refer to the tribes or nations of your land, including proper spelling and/or pronunciation.
3: Use Lead/Follow – not Man/Woman
It takes a bit of getting used to for those that learned in a strongly gendered way, but it is worth it for the inclusion it makes people feel. This can be parlayed as well into proper pronoun use. One of my personal missions is to switch my default to “they” for people I am not that familiar with, and where I don’t otherwise know. I guarantee you it will take me time, but I think it’s worth it. I hope you do, too.
4: Learn how to ask for change positively
I say this mostly directed to those that are not marginalized in our communities, as I expect us to be able to campaign positively on the behalf of those who are so exhausted by the struggle for better scenes.
Many dancers are notoriously anti-conflict. This can lead to ignoring rather than dealing issues out of fear of fallout or stress avoidance. By the same coin, many are stubborn – but, like most of humanity, enjoy praise when they do something good.
If there is a rule, policy, or notable gap you see, mention it frequently and kindly. If enough people are saying something, organizers, teachers and promoters are more likely to listen. Here are some examples:
- “I want to support your event, but I noticed you hired xx. I’m concerned about the fact that they’re known for xx, and it will keep me from coming to your event. I hope you’ll take feedback like this into consideration for the future.”
- “I love your event – but unsafe things keep happening all over the community and it makes me scared to attend an event that doesn’t have behaviour expectations. Can you post a code of conduct and action plan? It will make me feel safer.”
- “I enjoy your teaching style, but I sometimes feel uncomfortable with the sexual jokes in class. I would really appreciate learning in an environment where I’m not hearing those things.”
- “I noticed that there isn’t a lot of diversity in our community. Have we looked at ways that we can make it more welcoming to the people who seem to be absent? I’m worried we aren’t as welcoming as we think we are.”
Remember, there is strength in numbers. The more people that want something, the more likely it will happen. But, if you don’t give a voice to what you want, it’s virtually the same as not wanting it at all.
5: Note your biases
We all have biases; they are a natural tool to help survival. From assessing dance ability on footwear to misconceptions about race and gender, they exist. Some are virtually unnoticed by us unless we are actively looking at them. A really good way to spot them is data:
- How many beginners do you dance with per night? How long? What percentage of your night?
- When was the last time you asked a person of colour to dance? What percentage of the time?
- How often do you scan for the uncomfortable ones on the sidelines? What do you do when you see them?
- Do you make assumptions about lead or follow ability based on anything? Size? Gender? What are your default settings?
Once you’ve spotted them, act to flip them. Change up your order of operations when you see gaps in yourself based on your personal data.
6: Make your positions known
Politics is messy – but it’s also human. Your personal beliefs cannot affect positive change unless you use them to do so. If you support something, name it. State it. Publicly. Events, schools and professionals can do this on their webpages. Step 2: make sure you are acting in accordance to your positioning. This might be hard work and it may take time – but it’s how we change culture.
You can do even more for this by interceding when there are issues. For the conflict adverse, there are lots of ways to intercede without a fight, too. For example, a simple “ouch” when someone says something inappropriate; a reminder of the proper pronouns; stressing saying lead and follow in a sentence after someone says man and woman. Sometimes, an approach like this also provides the person who made a mistake room for correcting themselves rather than feeling attacked and ostracized – which can be a powerful tool for self-reflection and growth.
7: Look for the positive
This does not mean “don’t pay attention to the negative;” it means “look for the most constructive way forward.” Generally, dancers don’t mean harm – but many have habits that are perceived negatively. And, even when someone was being plainly mean, there are sometimes better ways to handle it than throwing one’s hat in the ring. Here are some examples based on real events:
- An event organizer receives a hateful message from an attendee about their vaccination policy. She posts publicly about it, including how people should more appropriately submit feedback; an attendee follows the directions to send a parody of the negative message that uplifts the organizer and the event, instead of simply stating outrage.
- A dancer smells really bad. Before the dance, their partner asks if they wouldn’t mind freshening up in the washroom, and offers to wait for them to return because they’re really looking forward to dancing.
- A dancer sends out private messages to partners they’ve danced with at a party (especially the beginners), thanking them and noting something that made the dance special – just to be kind.
- A person notices a dancer that seems to be hanging out alone. They invite the person to hang out with them and their friends, even though they’re from another city.
8: Cultivate a kind “No”
Learn strategies for setting boundaries in a kind way. This means learning how to say “no” to dances, and how to ask for what you need for safety and comfort. Develop some go-to phrases to help. Here’s some of mine:
- (With a smile) Oh, thank you for asking – but I’m taking a break right now/waiting for a specific partner/a different song [if true: Can we connect later for a dance instead?].
- I’d love to dance! Can I offer you a mint before we start?
- Might I make a suggestion? [wait for yes] Would you like to make a trip to the bathroom to freshen up?
- This is a little close for me; can I have a bit more space?
- Please don’t [lift/dip/other request] me.
- I’m not really looking for a lesson/conversation/date; can we just dance?
- Thanks for the dance; I need a break.
- Phew! Can we have a calmer dance? This is a little too high energy/too intense for me.
- Do you mind if we have a gentler connection? It would make me feel better.
The same also applies to reminders – especially when asking for someone to change something that is an engrained habit or subconscious:
- Oh! I think we’re getting a bit too high energy again.
- Please relax the hands.
- Oops! No dips, remember?
One thing to remember is the “how” of the delivery is very important. A smile, laugh, and welcoming body language goes a long way to delivering a positive “no” or boundary. You deserve your boundaries – but we can make dance a much more positive place if people feel it’s a well-meant ask instead of a punishment.
9: Share the Credit
Have you noticed that most of the best-regarded community people don’t seem to talk much about how great they are? Yet, these people frequently have the greatest positive impact on those around them. If you want to maximize the positive impact you have on others, point the spotlight you control at everyone else. The light is much more flattering when you shine it on someone else than up at yourself.
So, if you organize something, give the spotlight to the invisible labour that helps you. Share the video you love of two social dancers, or young pro’s. Send a kudos to someone you think has made a difference. These things can have a profound impact on someone’s feeling of acceptance and community – especially if they’re feeling alone or out of place. And remember: it’s not about you; it’s about how you can make them feel.