Here are four tips for creating safety in dance circles, so that those of us in chronic pain — as well as those of us who have boundaries for other reasons — can dance without worry or fear.
1. Be aware of the people around you.
Even if you are really into your dance with yourself or with someone else, be conscious of others in the room. Think in terms of both/and instead of either/or. Explore how to fully express yourself without impinging on someone else’s ability to express herself (and by “herself,” I mean herself or himself.)
2. Be aware of the energy field around people’s bodies.
Personal space does not start at the threshold of our skin. It begins with the energy field around our bodies. If you’re not good at reading the size of that field on other people, err on the side of leaving a little extra room.
When someone cuts into our personal space, it can create a fear response in anticipation of getting whacked. That in turn can cause a physical clutching response. In a moment of physical openness during dance, the clash of those two motions (opening and shutting down) can in turn cause pain.
3. Actively Seek and Respond to Feedback
If you’re dancing with someone without touching, and you want to begin physically connecting, start off slowly and gently. Instead of grabbing someone’s hand, for example, extend your own hand in invitation and see if she responds in kind. If she doesn’t, of course, back off.
If she does, you can slowly and gently increase the pressure or the pull you are using. Stay aware of and responsive to the feedback you are getting — whether through body language (smile vs. furrowed brow, resistance vs. active flow) or verbal communication.
4. If you accidentally bang into someone, apologize.
Obviously, you don’t need to stop and shout an apology in someone’s ear, so that she can hear over the music. But you can, through body language, communicate your awareness of and care for that other person’s space.
It will not take away the physical impact, of course, but will avoid adding a layer of emotional distress — which, given the mind-body connection, can exacerbate physical pain.