I didn’t realize how much I love to dance until my freshman roommate in college (and since then recognized soul sister) introduced me to the world of dance outside the boundaries of booty dancing and dance floor foreplay. That was in 1998. I interpretive danced my way with whimsy into the camp of let the music move you. I stopped thinking about what others would think of me and started doing whatever the cuss I felt like on the dance floor. I danced my cares away (thanks Jim Henson and Fraggles!).
I found myself on The B Team in 2005. “Courage on the Dance floor” was our motto and
we expressed it with fervor. One of the members, who is in my contacts with an exclamation point after their name (because their personality more than anyone else I know can be summed up by !), is a master dance floor warmer uper. I admire them because they (still to this day) are the first one out on the dance floor 99% of the time I see them at an event. Most people fear being “that person,” the one out on the floor, solo, exposed to all eyes because the crowd of comfort has not yet been formed. This person is not afraid to express who they are on the dance floor.
I wonder what the world would be like if everybody felt as safe on the dance floor as my fellow B Teamonian. Can you even imagine what a judgement free dance floor would look like? I can and I want it now.
Emotional safety as a concept is relatively new to me. As common sense and a product of kindness, it’s very old news. I’m continuing my exploration of things I’m grateful for and the focus this week is safety. Both physical and mental.
If safety is security, stability, order, and freedom from fear, then how do we get there as individuals and collectively?
If I gave thanks for all the safety related things in my life, I’d be bowing my head in gratitude for the remainder of my life. There’s this small part of me that’s scared to jinx it by putting it “out there.” I guess that in itself proves I don’t feel 100% safe. BOOM. As a woman, the most common thing I find myself fearing is being sexually assaulted. I walk around at night feeling on guard. I repeat what I learned in self-defense classes on a loop in my mind until I get to a place where I feel safe. I am grateful that I’ve never had to use the self-defense skills I know. I’m thankful that so far I’ve escaped the terrible odds of “1 out of every 6 American women are the target of an attempted or completed rape.” I am also thankful that the adults in my life who I trusted and felt safe with never shattered my trust. I’m deeply grateful for the trust I have in my husband—the trust he earned and solidifies every day. Thank you husband, for helping me unlearn some of the toxic lessons I learned from pop culture on the topics of lust, love, and cheating. I’m thankful for the financial stability I grew up on, and for the order and routine that my parents provided.
I feel a certain responsibility to spread the safety. I can’t undo anything that others have gone through in the past but I can create spaces of inclusion and acceptance. Here’s some of the ways I practice creating inclusive spaces:
I use gender neutral language. Not always but sometimes, I say “my partner” instead of “my husband.” It’s a reminder to me of my heterosexual privilege, because I get no looks when I say “husband,” but when I say “partner,” sometimes the person I’m talking to is noticeably assessing in their mind whether the partner I speak of is male or female. Why does it matter to them? Ideally a day will come when everyone feels safe and comfortable talking about their partner.
I use “junky,” “falling apart,” or “cheap,” never “ghetto” unless I’m talking about the Warsaw Ghetto. Similarly, I don’t use the words “retarded” or “gay.”
I’m aware that people may have preferred pronouns that are different than what I assume. I don’t dismiss transgender people’s experiences just because I don’t understand them. I practice seeing people as people and understand trans and cis statuses as one part of overall identity.
I use “kind” instead of “politically correct.” The phrase “politically correct” comes with such a burden of obligation I find unnecessary. If the label a group of people prefers to be called changes over the years, that’s their preference and my choice to honor.
What can you do in your own life to help create inclusive and safe spaces?
I like to imagine what the world will be like when we’re all more accepting of each other, when more spaces feel safe, when everyone feels moved to dance, not like nobody is watching, but like everyone is and it’s all good.