Inclusivity of Parents and Children
As a mother and dancer, I want to share some reflections on how we navigate children at various community dance events. My intention is to honor the dance space, honor the parents and children and together learn how to foster a culture of consent.
My partner was recently reflecting that at a certain stage in his life, he was not connected to any parents. What he realized is that when people he knew had babies, they fell away from the dance community. Personally, I have struggled with how to be a parent AND participate in multiple “spiritual communities”. It seems babes in arms are welcome, but once they start talking and moving, they are not. Parent exclusion. It is a real thing. It happens in many communities. Parenting is already an isolating experience. It is moreso, when you realize you are not so welcome as you once were in communities that have been integral to your life with your child or children.
Cultivating a Culture of Consent and Shame Resilience
For a number of reasons, we do a disservice to all of us when we keep the children entirely separate from our dance community, or allow them, but make the “rules” so oppressive, that showing up feels daunting and potentially laden with shame. Children are a part of us and therefore, part of our community.
As we continue to learn how to cultivate a culture of consent in many dance communities, it seems apropos to include children in this process. It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks, but here we have a new generation, eager to learn and do right. We have a ripe opportunity, engaging the dance environments as our laboratory, to teach our children how to respect the space by touching with consent, and learning to do so through verbal and non-verbal communication, learning to use quiet voices, and learning when they need to take space from the environment. These are all crucial life skills that many of us as grown-ups still lack. Imagine how offering young children these opportunities changes our culture in and out of the jam environment over time.
The Responsibility Ultimately Lies with the Parents
When I bring my son to a jam, unless I know someone else is tracking him specifically, I accept that I am only about "half in" to the dance, and articulate that to my dance partners. I accept that my role is to parent and support my child to learn about consent, respect, play and dance! It is a lot of work and slightly ungratifying at times, in terms of nurturing my own dance experience. I think I am not alone in that, so on behalf of other parents, I think I can safely say, “We truly appreciate the folks who take the time to engage with our children!”
Guideline considerations for navigating and integrating children into the jams:
- Parents, please prepare your children by reminding them that the jam space is a quiet space, where we use whispers when we need to communicate. Remind your children, that we play with our bodies in the jam space, and not toys, and that we walk and not run. Bring quiet activities for them, like coloring or reading.
- Many guidelines state that parents must be right beside their children at all times. I do not believe that this is practical or beneficial for anyone. However, let us honor a culture of consent. Parents, if you wish to "lose yourself" in dance, please obtain consent from someone specific who is willing to track your child during that time. Children benefit so much from connecting with grownups other than their parents and in these spaces they desire that. They are curious about what we are doing and inherently desire to be loved and accepted like the rest of us. Feel free to connect or not, but be kind and respectful if you are not interested in connecting.
- Parents must attend dance events knowing they are responsible for their children. Given that it is not practical or beneficial for parents to remain beside their children in every moment, let us agreed mutually on a language so that they receive a similar message from multiple adults. This helps them learn rules of social engagement much more effectively than having the full responsibility of the teaching of boundaries on the parents. Remember, humans are pack animals. We are meant to live in community. For most parents, bringing children to community events like this is the only semblance of community we have, so participation from other like minded adults is a gift.
If a child touches without verbal or non-verbal consent, we can lovingly, without shame, say, “That touch did not feel good to me,” and if it’s aligned offer an alternative way to engage or simply say you would like space.
If a child becomes louder than is desirable in the space, simple say, “Remember, we only whisper in this space.”
If running happens, “Remember to walk or dance, but not run!”
If the music gets quiet and slow and the children are suddenly louder than the music, we can point out, “Notice that the music just got quieter, that means our voices get quieter and our bodies move more slowly!”
- If you are someone who enjoys engaging with children, please do! Parents and children benefit so much from your generosity and enthusiasm. If it is mutually consensual, please feel free to engage them physically in ways that encourage them to be in touch with their physicality, but most importantly in ways that discourage running and screaming and other behaviors that irritate other dancers. If you feel inspired and generous to offer to play with children outside of the dance spaces, thank you! Parents work hard all the time and should not come expecting others to care for their little ones, but graciously accept the help and support. Parents often feel excluded and separate, so supporting inclusivity is supportive!