Creating a safe(r) space is an art form.
It is an intentional practice.
Below is a short culmination of some of my go-to methods for creating a sense of belonging, acceptance and liberation in educational and transformative spaces--particularly keen to dance, expressive arts, embodiment and arts integration settings.
It's been studied, written about and I have learned from some of the greatest masters. The person who I accredit much of my current work to helping me know and how to do this, is my esteemed mentor and global leader, Dr. Melissa Michaels.
Her book Youth on Fire: Birthing a Generation of Embodied Global Leaders is a tribute to the system which I seek to implement in all of my programming. It is a must read for anyone working to also break systems of oppression and facilitate transformative embodied experiences and events for people of all backgrounds and cultures.
I've created many of my own systems which have been refined over time. From running a dance studio, to getting theatre kids to dance and be comfortable in their bodies, working with youth whose first language is not English, and getting a lot of hesitant, afraid, reluctant young and older people to find freedom of expression through their body is a huge part of my life's work.
Becoming a master facilitator has taken a good three decades with a lot of learning curves along the way. I've created spaces for all ages and levels of movers. From women's empowerment experiences, to ecstatic dances, flash mobs, retreats, conferences, and festivals in different communities and parts of the world- I take pride in being able to create an energy where people feel totally free, protected, accepted and able to shine in their truest forms.
It is also imperative to me that my spaces are devoted to inclusion and representation. As a bridge builder and light bringer, it is a gift to the Universe to be intentional in how we create the spaces we seek to inspire, inform and educate within.
After decades of trial and error, routines and rituals, light and shadow work--I've discovered many majestic ways from myriads of teachers to help people be more at ease within themselves and within a space.
I'd love to share my top 11 ways to create safer spaces to help people reconnect to their authentic selves and build community. May these methods be of use or serve as reminders for your sacred spaces of learning and transformation.
1. State the intention(s) of your space. This is for you and the community and/or classroom culture that you are building. Ask yourself what you want to see, feel from this? What kind of outcomes are you desiring? State intentions for the people who are participating. Explicitly accept people and let them know that they are welcome as they are. People go through so much. Give them a chance to be what they need to be in their own way.
2. Acknowledge people. See people. People who enter creative and expressive arts spaces tend to carry vulnerability as it is--it takes a lot of courage to say yes, to show up, or sometimes even being forced to do something. A simple hello, warm smile, or ask for a hug can go so far with someone feeling safety and acceptance.
3. Accessibility. Acquaint people with the space. Be explicit in asking what will help them feel more comfortable. Let them know there are gender neutral bathrooms, where water sources are, where they can put their belongings, etc. etc.
4. Create a vibe. Really imagine and feel what you want people to experience when they enter your space--whether its a classroom, conference room retreat space, or dance studio. Use all of your senses to create the energetic flow you want people to feel. Think about the five senses.
5. Circles, Circles, Circles. Create a container for your space. Always begin in a circle where everyone in the room can see and be seen. It also helps to end in circles with some kind of individual expression/reflection/offering.
6. Allow space for people to share parts of their identity. Whether it is the name they like to be called, pronouns, likes, dislikes, culture--depending on what you are leading, think about what is important to be shared, what knowledge about each other will make it more helpful for everyone to feel welcome, seen, heard and appreciated. It really helps people to know whose in the room and something about them--whether this is shared through words or improvised expression--Name + __________ does miracles for comfort levels.
7. Lead by example. Be goofy. Be willing to take risks. Push your own limits of expression and communication by doing things that allow people to see that its okay to make mistakes and be imperfect.
8. Bonding Activities. It's a huge part that never gets old--incorporate icebreakers and community building activities into the mix of anything you're going to do with a new group of people.
9. Smaller group pairings. If your class or workshop allows time, get people paired up or in smaller groups--give them a prompt that allows connection.
10. Group risk-taking. Bring everybody together to do something improvised through a shared prompt. E.g. sculptures, sound ball, mirroring, etc.
11. Be intentional about inclusion. Always ask yourself whose in the room, whose not and why or why not? What kind of space do you want to create and is it inclusive to people of all backgrounds, genders, and cultures? What language are you using or not using? How do people know that they are entering a safe space that includes them? At this point in the 21st century, holding space in the U.S. requires facilitators to go above and beyond to create explicit safe spaces--this includes language around gender and racial classifications. If you are not sure, please ask how to do this. Language is a fluid form, is ever changing and we are all living and learning--its okay to make mistakes.
If you've made it this far. I just want to say that you are awesome. I hope you get the chance to create spaces that offer people a safe space to express themselves. Whether or not you are in the arts, these concepts can be applied to your organization or business.
Let me know how it goes or if you have any questions in the comments below.
May these tools to aid you in your process.
Axé (ah-shay / I feel the spirit / It is so)
she l hers l they l them
Founder/Leader of Sol Vida Worldwide
Sol Vida Worldwide is shifting normalcy from systemic oppression to radical freedom leading transformative dance and wellness experiences online and across the globe. Tune in to tune in.
There are three major catalysts that have lead to the creation of ONE SOL, a summer dance camp immersion and festival that is taking place in Denver, Colorado at the legendary Cleo Parker Robinson Dance this August 7-11.
1. Collaboration not Competition. speech I gave at the Colorado Dance Educator Organization Conference in Spring 2018, entitled "Collaboration not Competition." It was after I gave this speech to an audience of dedicated dance enthusiasts including budding teen dancers and their leaders that I realized how much we are hungry for true connection in the dance world. How there is a void and vacancy in the dance world for authentic collaboration spaces and an opportunity to enjoy each other's company without the edge of competition.
Which leads me to....
2. The Edge. Rewind to the summer of 2016 and you'll catch me and multiple artists from Colorado at The Savoy, coming together for a day of workshops and performances that were aimed to "cut the edge." We created a space that would allow artists to push past their normalcy and have their work seen regardless of experience. It was a beautiful day that has stuck with me for years. My favorite part was when everyone who was there got to participate in workshops with Jen Fagan Archer, Lisa Engelken and Kebrina de Jesus--there was nothing like all being in on the same thing. The feeling of connection and vitality was immense, I vowed to create more experiences like that.
Speaking of creating fulfilling experiences...
3. Sol Vida Pop Ups at Cheesman Park during the Summer of 2018. Honestly, I hit a point in my artistic and entrepreneur life that had me questioning my purpose. I have a group of global colleagues/comrades that I talk to every singe week about personal and professional development--it's a mastermind. It was in one of our discussions, that they probed at me and helped me to realize it was time to create something simply for the sake of love and passion--not money--but something that was just going to give me the pizazz of life again. This is when I dreamed up the pop up series. Some of the greatest takeaways that informed this future were the fact that these classes ended up being intergenerational. We had 12 year olds - 60+ year olds. We had representation from many cultures. And... not only did we get to train, there was meaningful choreography--what began the idea of "embodied choreography," and the opportunity to explore freeform, stillness, and the practice of holistic dance.
So there you have it folx, the reasons behind this season of ONE SOL. We are coming together to train, create, heal, and perform cutting edge works together, to allow ourselves to attune to our organic rhythms, to consciously connect, and say something with the body. Dances will be created to the theme, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," as brought to us by Gil Scott-Heron.
This is a space for people who want to dance, who want to explore. It's a place that is like no other place. A place where you get to meet form and freedom together while exploring the connections of cross-cultural, contemporary and conscious dance forms lead by embodied leaders from across the globe.
Please consider joining us for this revolutionary act in self-love and authentic expression. Here are the ways you can get involved.
If you wanna really have some fun while you're checking this out... learn the #ONESOL Virtual Flash Mob from the comfort of your very own chosen space. This dance will be taught and danced at GET FREE!!!
It is my firm belief that in order to change the world, the systems, and shift normalcy we have to start with us. Nothing will get better unless we commit to mental, spiritual and physical wellness.
When you are well, we will be well.
Here are my Top 10 Ways to Practice Radical Self-Love for the Revolution:
1. Believe in yourself and your wildest dreams. That crazy feeling you have about something that seems so "crazy," do that, be that. That is what is calling you. Listen to it. So many people are ill and depressed because they refuse to live in their personal truth. Do not get stuck in your fear. It is okay to be afraid, but take one step at a time to get closer to living that absolute dream feeling.
2. Drink Water. Just do it. Carry a reusable water bottle with you everywhere you go, fill it and drank it. If you're in a bad mood or achy or feeling the big weird, drink a bunch of water.
3. Meditate. Stop your brain and focus on universal light and energy. If its hard for you to do on your own, there are a ton of resources, you can google a meditation for just about any ailment. Do this first thing in the morning and before you go to bed--you will feel so much more sourced, connected, grounded and ready.
4. Spend Time Outside Everyday. Seems simple enough, but for a lot of people, especially if you drive everywhere everyday, you are missing one of the most divine connections available. There is nothing like going outside, taking a walk and just being. Choose to take the bus or subway instead of driving or ride-sharing. Take 10 minutes of a break to walk around. Make yourself do this everyday.
5. Unplug at certain times everyday, every season. In order to break the systems and step out of the program, we have to consciously stop ourselves from playing this man made game that will have us believe we are in "FOMO," or that we need so many likes to be okay. Trust that it's all good and what's happening is what's supposed to be happening. You do not need to be locked into your technology every hour of everyday.
6. Allow yourself to rest. You are not lazy, I guarantee it. You need more rest than you probably think you do. You want to sleep for 12 hours for 4 weeks, fine. You want to take a siesta everyday for a few hours, awesome. Listen to your body. Western mentality will have us believing that we are not doing enough and thus makes us afraid to stop. Trust me, when you listen to your body, you will realize you have phases. Sometimes you may be up all night long, sometimes you may be up at the crack of dawn. Allow it to be.
7. Say nice things to yourself. If there was a recording for how many times we negate ourselves, put ourselves down, or allow ourselves to believe that things aren't possible, we'd be very disappointed in ourselves. Try replacing one "I can't, won't, shouldn't, never," with an "I can, I will, I totally should, yes please more!!!
8. Do nice things for yourself. So whether you have a self-care budget or not, think about working towards one. Schedule treats for yourself at least once a month: acupuncture, massage, hot springs, beach trip, going out dancing, mani pedi, etc... If it's not in your budget right now, do things to pamper yourself at home: take a bath, make a facial, light a candle, eat food rich with nutrients.
9.Play! Stop taking yourself so seriously, there aren't a million playgrounds in this world for nothing. Next time you see one, stop and do the thing that makes you feel giddy. Be spontaneous, do some cartwheels, try a handstand, play patty cake, make up a song, anything that you would do as a kid is super Bueno!
10. Dance like you mean it! You know I had to say it. There is no better way to release feelings and celebrate this vessel than to allow yourself to dance. When you dance, you are taking care of you on so many levels--you're practicing risk-taking, creativity, connection with your higher self and the divine, you are circulating the body, removing stagnancy from the being and shifting your mood and energy. It's amazing and there's nothing like it.
There it is...do these things consistently and you will be sourced, grounded, and ready for anything. Taking care of yourself is the greatest thing you can do if you are hoping to impact change in this universe.
It has to start with you so that you can be all of you, the person who we so desperately need as your total you in this world.
I love you,
Axé, Founder/Leader, Sol Vida Worldwide
(Ah-shay / I feel the spirit / It is so)
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Want more tools, resources or advice for your life? Book a 30-minute Positive Energy Session with Axé.