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The call for more inclusive, safe, and affirming dance spaces, particularly within the dance studio, has been a major focal point when discussing reform in dance. I have contemplated how our power analysis in dance spaces can help us orient our modalities of movement and education to an ethic of having shared power. Most of us were introduced to dance through a hierarchal structure, where the teacher, studio owner, and/or artistic director has power over students and families. There is often a dynamic where those in power can use their expertise as a way of gaining control, rather than giving their students the agency to experience choice and autonomy over their bodies. The “old school” way of teaching and learning in these settings doesn’t always make room for collaboration. The concept of dance studios often perpetuates the idea that dance is for those who can afford access to dance education, which leads to pathways of what most deem “professional.” A new way of thinking about shared power, in which the student is empowered to co-create a shared space with the teacher, fosters the goals of inclusivity, safety, and affirming of all identities and abilities.

Lately, I have been exploring these ideas and cultivating this ethic by leaving the dance studio spaces all together. I became curious about how we can create dance spaces of learning and exploration by abandoning the notion that experiencing dance within the studio is the only way to achieve desired growth. I also wanted to expand the idea of who is considered a dancer, as well as the access all people can have to learn about how their bodies move.

My good friend and colleague, Erin Law, introduced me to a certain way of collective improvisation, framing it as “flocking.”Three individuals stand in a triangle. The person in front begins moving slowly as the people behind mirror them. Once the person changes direction, the person in front changes, making a new leader. This practice allows everyone a chance to be the leader and the follower. When done with several groups in the space, Erin facilitates creating a flocking score, in which individuals can begin to break away and start to follow other leaders from other groups. They also invite folks to step out and observe what is happening. Eventually to the spectator and the participant, one doesn’t really know who is leading and who is following. It is now a co-created space of movement where people can embrace individuality and community. Erin often uses this practice as a way of giving examples and tools of how we relate to power dynamics and cultivate a new way of sharing space with one another that explores imagination and possibilities. I believe dance is truly creative and a simple, intentional practice like this is great reminder that we can experience the reform we desire.

I wanted to put this reform into action by inviting people in my immediate community of various movers, regardless of status or ability, to gather and experience this flocking score. The following images depict various flocking experiences we had with our community.

Seven dancers moving together under a silver canopy with strings of lights on it.
Dancers move in different outfits under a silver tent with strings of lights on it.

At the conclusion of this night, we discussed hosting more experiences with others in our community. We felt it was not only necessary for the dancers in our immediate community, but also to provide space for people who are considered “non-dancers” to explore these concepts. Unfortunately, the pandemic stalled our plans. As we have figured out ways to gather and move together safely, Erin and I have emerged with our intentions by beginning to facilitate flocking experiences. Our most recent flocking occurred in Shelby Park (Nashville, TN) with two other beloved movers and movement enthusiasts.

Beginning with a structured improvised warm up, Erin leads participants through a score of walking, running, pausing, and getting in line. This not only efficiently prepares the body for more expansive movement, but also sets the tone of inviting choice into our practice.

Dancers chat on the grass beween flocking sessions.
Two dancers stand on either side of a dancer who crouches low over the grass, they all look off to different directions and are wearing pedestrian clothing. They are on a field of grass with tress behind them
Three dancers move in the distance on a bed of green grass with green tress behind them

Following the warm up, we begin to set the groundwork to the flocking score. Typically starting in groups of 2 or 3, the person in front begins moving slowly as the people behind them mirror what they are doing. As the person in front changes direction, a new leader emerges. Eventually everyone will have the chance to lead and follow.

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After a few rounds, we expand our choices, by breaking away from individual groups. We may decide to follow another leader from a different group. We may decide to re-introduce the concept of walking, running, pausing, and getting in line to allow for more possibilities of who is leading or following.

This is

how we

reform.

Reconnecting to the land, to ourselves, and to each other. We don’t need studio walls to do this. We just need a willingness to break away and come back together again.