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.
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.