Last November I had the pleasure of participating in the Toronto Dance Community Love-In‘s class “Aggressive Snuggling: From the Politics of Touch to the Poetics of Touch”, facilitated by Eroca Nichols – a class that combined aspects of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and Contact Improvisation to offer an approach to partnered movement and touch that highlighted an incredible clarity of boundaries and consent.
I decided to attend the classes out of a personal and professional curiosity about consent and touch, especially in relation to working within a dance/movement framework. My main question was: What are some of the ways in which we can facilitate touch in sessions in a safe and consensual way?
Touch can be such a powerful way of communicating – a hand on your shoulder when you’re feeling vulnerable, a group hug after a difficult disclosure – and yet, our relationship to touch, both giving and receiving it, is so often lacking in awareness and clarity.
What I appreciated most about Eroca’s classes was that any time we engaged in touch, it was always with clear intention and consent. By checking in before coming into contact, and having a pre-defined way of saying no (both verbally and non-verbally) if we were at all uncomfortable or needed to pause, it created a safe space for us to explore relating to each other in different ways using physical contact. In other words, because it was part of the culture of the class that we always had the freedom to say yes or no, or change our minds at any point, we were more able to take risks and feel safe in doing so.
Knowing that I could say no, at any time, and that it would always be respected, was an incredibly powerful experience for me. So many times in life our no’s are not heard, valued, or respected, and when that happens enough times, it’s easy to believe that our no is worthless. This is especially true for anyone who belongs to a minority group or a group of people who have traditionally been oppressed by patriarchal systems. And if you’ve experienced this, you’ll know that it can make saying no in the first place feel next to impossible.
That’s why this experience was so profound for me. I was given the chance to re-educate myself in an embodied way that my no actually means no. After years of being conditioned to believe otherwise by societal beliefs that traditionally devalue the opinions and subjective experiences of women, I was now being told on many levels – physically, emotionally, mentally, and relationally – that my voice matters, that my no matters, and that I matter.
This experience was so profound for me that I knew I needed to incorporate it into my work. I decided that I wanted to facilitate this process for other people, using my skills as a Dance Movement Therapist and the tools I learned in these classes, so that others could have the chance to experience the incredible power and healing that this process offered to me.
That’s why I’ll be facilitating a workshop on February 24th, in partnership with the Common People Shop, to offer people the chance to embody consent in a culture that so often teaches us to do otherwise. Check it out on our Workshops page or buy your tickets here.
Hope to see you there!
-Jessica Houghton, Dance Movement Therapist