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.
April (Axé) Charmaine, CEO/Founder, Sol Vida Worldwide