Last month we explored power dynamics operating in many dance spaces. Mary Parker Follett called these types of relating power over (PO). A room that runs on power over runs on fear at worst or acquiescence at best. PO does not enable creativity or confidence—key ingredients to dance.
Parker Follett determined the opposite of PO is not a lack or disowning of power, but rather the creation of power with. Parker Follett defines power with (PW) as “When you and I decide on a course of action together and do that thing, you have no power over me nor I over you...the only legitimate power we could have...is what could develop together…”. PW multiplies the talents in the room, building on each person’s power rather than relying on the strengths of just one.
Parker Follett called PW “coactive”. One of her famous quotes is: “The remedy to coercion is...co-action”. I like to call PW “co-creative” or “collaborative”.
Collaborative action is disruptive. Many institutional hierarchies do not offer atmospheres of PW. The structures of what we recognize as Western concert dance are colonial, hierarchical, and capitalistic (as I described in last month’s article), ignoring the humanity and agency of artists and students. In light of this, we must be deliberate in our design of new methods.
Creating PW requires that we disrupt and divest from the PO dynamics so often found in our dance spaces. Here are ways we might foster dance spaces of creativity, confidence, and PW:
Name and Continue to Name.
I name my POs to classes on the first day. But just because I’ve shone a light on harmful patterns of PO doesn’t make them go away. Every choreographic choice, teaching touch, cast list, grade, or class discussion is an opportunity to observe PO’s influence on interactions. Phrases like: “I’m noticing…”, “I’d like us to be aware….”, “I’d like us to consider changes around...”, prompt examinations of oppressive patterns. These discussions create trust, which is necessary for expressing agency and emboldening choice.
Students and I share grading in the classes I teach. At each checkpoint, they grade themselves on three of seven rubric categories, with reflective comments for each score. This purposefully designs inclusion of their strengths and agency in learning. I grade them on only those same categories. This creates transparency around the grading process (disrupting Reward and Coercive powers).
In a company, this might look like: asking dancers to share things they would like to improve in the next rehearsal, questions they have about the material, and things they feel are going well for them when you offer notes at the end of rehearsal.
Create Space for All Voices.
Notice who isn’t speaking. Give space to those members of your cast/class. Also ask yourself: what patterns of PO need to be addressed to include these voices from the beginning?
Offering dancers choices develops their trust in their own voices and the creative process of the room. This is not “empowering my students” (a phrase that makes me bananas). Students already have power; this is creating opportunities for them to put it into action. Below are options I regularly use:
“Dancers’ Choice” moments (wording gratefully borrowed from Bill Evans):
In developing choreography, including dancer improvisations or manipulations.
Giving choices for location in the room/on stage or in the dress code
I have “readings” in my syllabi that are instead “listenings” (podcasts) or “viewings” (videos).
Additionally, I offer several selections for each topic. Students may follow their interests or hear from a creator with a perspective that resonates or causes curiosity (queer or Indigenous, for example).
Touch is often an unquestioned teaching method. However, sexual misconduct at top artistic institutions (linked in last month’s article), the #MeToo movement, statistics of young people experiencing trauma, and ongoing concerns around coronavirus should make us interrogate this habit. Allow for students to express consent and exercise agency around touch. (More on how to do this next month!)
Share a Chain of Communication / Resolution Pathway.
Community requires accountability. Knowing that a leader or an organization has a plan to deal with issues that may arise inspires trust that a dancer’s humanity is a top concern.
If your organization or institution already has a Chain of Communication/Resolution Pathway, post it and put it in your syllabus and/or contracts.
If your organization or institution does not, create one! My current syllabus says “Please do not hesitate to email me if you have any concerns, ideas, or suggestions regarding the course. I also invite your feedback regarding my teaching methods, language, and course content. If you feel unable to discuss these concerns with me, please contact the Dance Program Director, _______ at hername@ourinstitution.” I share this in my PO naming on the first day.
Unions have peer representatives to be advocates and liaise with decision-makers. Consider the lateral distribution of power by creating a dancer rep in your ensemble. To avoid creating yet another position in the hierarchy, consider rotating this role.
Create Check-in / Check-out Rituals
These practices emphasize the humanity of all and create trust. We will explore this consent-based action next month!
All of these practices take time. They require awareness and vulnerability from those who typically hold PO. However, they result in more agency and trust from the collective.
Trust is a key feature of PW culture. adrienne maree brown writes in Emergent Strategy about “moving at the speed of trust”. Your group can only create change as fast and as deep as the trust within it allows. Last month’s article named urgency as a characteristic of PO culture. When we rush, only those who can keep up get to belong, creating ableist, elitist spaces (gratitude to somatic practitioner Erin C. Law for helping me put words to this). We cannot create community or build trust on a deadline. This month, allow the time for the disruptive co-actions that will build a collaborative space.
1 The rest of the Parker Follett quotes in this article come from her Creative Experience, found at this link.
2 Some of the following suggestions were inspired by resources from AORTA.
3 brown, adrienne marie. Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds. AK Press, 2017.