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 appears I am an initiate of the mid-life awakening.
2019 has been one of the most provocative years of my life--provoking in testing my ability to handle all the elements chosen and unseen. It's been a time of releasing so many layers, adding new ones on, living nomadically, surrendering to Bay Area home base on a super shaky ground and barely, I tell you miraculously meeting my Maslow's hierarchy of needs.
There is a calendar that lives in my household and each month there is a new activation--days ago when it turned into November, the invoker read, "Process your shame."
Fuck. My immediate response. Yep, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.
First things first.
Second things--admit what you've been holding on to that has limited your ability to show up for all things totally abundant and good.
Work in progress.
Name it. Stop hiding. Tell the story.
You see, when you go through a hard time, it's so easy to want to constrict it, hide it, pretend that it doesn't exist.
Fact of the matter is, I have lived a great part of my life in denial, we can also call it blind faith. I am ever optimistic, positive energy activator, and I truly do believe and know you can make things happen--and as miraculous as it is--it can feel fully stressful too.
And at what sacrifice?
This year in the process of what I will call my mid-life awakening/ initiation--I performed and produced a one-woman show, traveled to Guatemala with a one-way ticket, experienced beauty in love, bought a one-way ticket to Los Angeles to lead at Ecstatic Dance LA, and proceeded to ground down solo style on California soil--answering the call to return to Oakland and San Francisco--I lived in friends homes for weeks at a time until I found resources and a space I was to claim as mine.
I've been gifted with ambition, vision, and this psychic intuition that tells me to do things even when I don't know the reasons why--just like what I'm writing now. I know there is a point and I am discovering how to share it in this vulnerable state.
My head being shaved feels raw.
I do feel exposed. Like really exposed.
There is no mane of shame to hide beneath anymore.
In my efforts to show up, write messages, scroll Facebook and craigslist at ungodly hours because of a call to action and the innate need to survive--I have ended up working with the Bay Area's most profound players and changemakers.
I became a stage manager for Eye Zen Presents, Out of Site: SoMa production in San Francisco, California. I never played that role in my life and I chose it because I needed to make money and it also sounded extraordinary to work with a queer theatre company doing site-specific work.
It was the hardest "job" I think I may have ever had--in a really long time--I had to dig into parts of my brain that I do not put to practice a lot. It certainly showed me something about myself and that I was capable of something more and by god-- I can organize time, schedules and people.
It was also during this process that I had a lot of doubt and shame around this role--this wasn't what I was accustomed to being--I'm used to running the show and creating all the things behind it.
It was a humble bow moment that I later realized was only my small-minded projection that led to me to think I was playing less than. It showed me that there is a place for me to carve out here.
This work strengthened my mind and my body.
I got to work with some of the greatest players in the industry and they got to know me as I did them. So much love, respect, trust and camaraderie was built.
One of the things I'm most proud of during the era of this year is learning to ask for more. I worked dance studio hours into my contract, not knowing exactly what I'd do with them at the time--but had a feeling about it.
I kept having this idea that I'd get an opportunity to do something more experimental. Sure enough, the SOL VIDA™ conscious dance laboratory that we call Fab Lab was born and out of one of the healthiest collaborations I've experienced this year.
I have experienced the beautiful and abundant synchronicities of working with the holy-what-in-the names like Ecstatic Dance Oakland, Soul Motion, Girl Project, Grown Women's Dance Collective, Destiny Arts, and Eye Zen Presents in less than six months of my landing.
There has been a general consensus that this is where I'm supposed to be.
A friend noted that this year seems like my big year of collaboration. And you got that right.
We put SOL VIDA™ on the map in a big way. It's been so cool to figure out what this energy and movement is all about. It's also taken tremendous energy to figure out what to do next.
I've asked so many questions, spoke so many prayers, vision walks, journals full, minutes of chanting, prayers to the waters, hugs of the trees. I wake up everyday in practice.
My life has truly become what feels like one walking personal ritual.
Figuring it out every freaking god-loving day.
I am devoted to love and light.
I am devoted to walking my birthright.
I want to be the living, breathing, highest version of myself.
This shit is hard. Being her. Consistently.
My challenges and mistakes have aged me. They have built me up. They have clarified my purpose. They have helped me set boundaries. To say yes and to say no with equal satisfaction.
Lots of spiraling and spinning that I process in nature and on the dance floor.
As humans, we often think and say--when only this or this gets better, then I'll be better with myself.
I've challenged myself to ask: What decision will I make if I'm not centered on scarcity, lack or comparison?
Comparison is a bitch.
Periodt. (Side note: I love language and mixing up Ebonics, Spanish and all the things)
How will you really show up?
Which brings me to final shame sharing for now. I have shame about how I've handled money in my business. My methods haven't felt good, they often came from a place of feeling "thirsty" and based on survival. Oooh, it's so hard to admit and I thank you for saying yes to supporting this work anyway--we all know it's going to be okay boo.
This is a supreme area for growth that I've dedicated much of this last cycle to learning from others and finding a way to thrive in a colonial capitalistic society whose system I despise--how can I value myself, create the spaces and sustain the movement?
When I evaluate my choices and projections--I'm amazed I've had any level of success.
Here's the thing though--success is what you choose.
By god, I know that this is a year of success on so many levels--it just amazes me what happens after I teach--the affirmations are frequently immediate and remind me just how important this work is.
Part of this initiation is about setting priorities.
I've had to ask the questions about where is the energy flowing, what do I want my life to look like and feel like. How much can I commit to one thing? What is that one thing? Is there really just one thing?
The one thing that feels clear and has come through the messengers and chanting it has become very apparent to me that to gain my solid grounding, to be of the highest service of my self and the upliftment of humanity doing my work is in offering consistent opportunities to experience Unwind + Grind and Fab Labs.
I feel the most all of me when I get to teach from the depths of my heart SOL VIDA™ style.
And writing... so much more writing. This is scaring the shit out of me writing this and I'm doing it anyway. Highest self me is ready to revolutionize the world through these experiences in connection and expression.
This mid-life breakdown-to-tha-breakthrough initiation of truly stepping into the Golden Circle, being Queen Warrior Axé has been no joke. I am here. I want to be all the best of me. I accept the shit that has been living in me and I release the shame of the not knowing how I'm ever going to pull it all off.
I pray that this rawness symbolized by my bald head allows me to continue to remove these veils of fear and shame.
There is no hiding behind a bald head.
I am ready to stop fighting me.
I am being required to show up all the way.
To be successful in all the ways.
It's really quite miraculous--these hardships that turn into your most profound learnings.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Now that you've heard some of the story, I'd like to offer you some tidbits of personal ritual that you can practice for yourself, save you some of the time and the pain. There are ways to remember who you are and focus on what really actually matters--living your greatest truest high self and giving yourself outlets to get all the gunk out and be closer to a higher expression of your authentic self.
I hope some of these tools help you go there, consistently!
💜5 RADICAL SELF-LOVE RITUALS FOR THE EMBODIED REVOLUTION💜
Extra Love--> PRAY, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!!! Ask for what you need and listen. No matter your spirituality or religion.
All right folx.
Leave a comment if ya hear me, feel me, feel this, want this, know this, whatever it is.
I am because of you. You are because of me. We are because of we.
Blessings dear babes, blessings of the highest to you and all that's in your heart.
Axé Out (drops mic in vulnerability and goes into the forest and hugs eucalyptus trees)
April (Axé) Charmaine (ah-shay / i feel the spirit / it is so) is the founder, director and leader of SOL VIDA™, revolutionizing the world through dance, connection and authentic expression. Born and raised in Denver, Colorado, she is a holistic dance and performing arts educator, writer, producer, speaker and consultant who is now a Bay Area, queer, black, mixed-race artist, unschooling mama, empty nester activating her dreams and activating #TheEmbodiedRevolution in Northern California, USA.
I was in a shared kitchen of a villa I was renting in Antigua, Guatemala cooking up a pot of greens and beans, when a song by Young Fathers came on, Wire.
As songs have often done in my life--they take over my entire being and require me to dance in the here and now.
Quite frankly, I lost my shit with this song and dance--you see there is a feeling I get when I dance that makes me feel so connected to my inner divinity, makes me feel larger than life, and so connected to the purity and vibration of one true love--universal love.
It's a true, cathartic delight.
There was something different about this free dancing episode.
I channeled a message, as I frequently do when I dance.
The message was to start a virtual flash mob.
I had no idea at the time that this dance would start to take on a life of it's own.
I knew I wanted people from all over the world to learn it. I knew it was something that was accessible to all genders, bodies, and levels of movers. What I especially knew is that it would get taught and performed in Denver, Colorado at One Sol.
What I didn't know is how it was going to impact people.
Since I downloaded the original vision, I have shown up to teach it live in my Facebook Group, on the hill at Mission Dolores Park in San Francisco. I even pulled over impulsively at a little hill in San Rafael to film an impromptu tutorial, and alas I got to teach it to the dancers of One Sol plus everybody of all the generations who attended One Sol // GET FREE.
I didn't know that this dance was going to live on.
I didn't know it was going to become a legit Flash Mob--Like a dance that can be performed spontaneously anywhere!!!
I didn't know people were going to start requesting to do it, that it was going to stick in people's beings.
I had a feeling that all of us knowing one dance together will be revolutionary.
I had a feeling that we can use this dance for protest.
I know that this dance can be used for mental health and physical fitness.
I know that this dance is fun as fuck and makes you feel good and so alive when you do it.
This dance lives on.
I hope you enjoy this short video that I filmed with my incredible roommates, Jett and Angus, on Stinson Beach.
They said, "We have to do your dance!"
I said okay.
I want it to be a dance for all of us.
All of us who know that we must shift normalcy. All of us who are impacting change.
This is my offering to the revolution. Dance as a revolution!!!!!!
This dance signifies the birth of Dances of The Embodied Revolution.
It begins within and then we get to pour it out. It is embodied choreography, meaning it is accessible, it is health full, it's for you to do in your body in a way that feels good for you.
It's here for you. It is here for we. Use it whenever you need it.
Try it on your body to any song you want.
Remember, always... YOU ARE A DANCER.
Here are some awesome ways to release your mind, have fun and get free in your body:
So much love,
Founder/Director, Sol Vida Worldwide
ah-shay / i feel the spirit /it is so
she l her l hers l they l them