“Can I use the word “sex” when I’m teaching these high school students,” I thought the day of the event, “or will the teachers kill me!”
Last night, I stood in a high school cafeteria teaching 80 teenagers.
Laughter, movement, and energy filled the room as the assistant teachers and I moved around the crowd assisting students with their frame (partner dancing position), footwork, timing, and technique.
It was awesome and brought me so much joy.
But, it wasn’t until the drive home when one of the assistant dancers said, “I am so happy you talked about how to dance close with someone and how not to. All of their attention was on you. All eyes on you when you demonstrated that.”
Earlier yesterday, I thought about touching on “healthy boundaries.” Can I say the word “sex” in the workshop? Will the teachers kill me? I took a moment and asked God to work through me to offer what was of the most value for this event. It was a big event and I wanted to offer the best.
These are high school kids, and, needless to say, we’ve all been in high school.
And, I have to say, as a grown ass woman, I’ve realized I’m still learning how to define and set healthy boundaries person to person, experience to experience. I may not want to hug one person in one moment and the next person I do want to hug. How do I know that and why? And how can I say no when I mean no and yes when I mean yes and then let my actions speak for themselves, moment to moment?
How can I respect other people’s boundaries too?
I used to be one of those people that would go in for the hug regardless of what other people wanted or how they felt. It occurred to me, though, that some people moved away from me when I went in for the hug or seemed uncomfortable with it. Never in my life had I thought, what do they want? I was just doing what I though was “nice.”
Then, I adjusted my stance on that and got sensitive to what it felt like the other person wanted or needed in the moment. If I wanted to hug them, but I got a clear feeling inside myself that they were not open to or wanting me to hug them I wouldn’t hug them and, instead, just say hello or offer a hand for another type of greeting. I also learned how to ask people for permission, “Can I hug you?” This is life changing: giving someone the option to say yes or no.
And, I realize that I was raised in a family, on one side, where, whether I wanted to or not, it was expected of me to hug and kiss all of my relatives at a family gathering or else risk offending them and my parents. It was a sign of respect. And I can see how this did not allow me to create my own personal boundaries around what I wanted to and didn’t want to do as a child. So, as an adult, I was still treating everyone like my relatives and offering them hugs to “be nice” even if they didn’t want them or I didn’t want to give them.
This same kind of scenario can happen on the social dance floor.
Some dancers want to pull you in really close right away. Sometimes if feels good, sometimes it doesn’t. How do I know that and how can I communicate that in the moment when it can happen so fast?
As I stood there in this circle of high school students last night, I found an opening to talk about this topic. We were teaching them the Bachata dance, a sexy, fun, sensual, and romantic dance and style of music from The Dominican Republic. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to talk about healthy boundaries, but I would have never guessed the words that were about to come out of my mouth next. I actually stopped myself before free flowing into it. Then, I took a breath, prepared, and said,
“OK, I’m just going to say this: Let’s talk about healthy sexual boundaries.”
The students all looking at me, no teachers gawked, so I pulled my dance partner towards me and we began by talking about the partner dancing frame. We demonstrated the closed position in partner dancing where there is ample space between you and your partner. Then, I talked about how you can dance closer with someone.
All eyes on us. My dance partner pulled me in closer and we were chest to chest, knees in between knees. But, with our pelvises still a healthy distance apart, I touched on the fact that we were not “grinding up on each other.”
“Our hips are tilted back and slightly up so that we can keep a respectful amount of space between us. This is respectful dancing.”
My dance partner talked about our frames and how the woman, or follower, gets to dictate if she doesn’t want the leader to pull her in so close. “Keep a stronger frame and as a leader it is my responsibility to feel that and respect what the follower wants.” Like one of the other assistants said to me earlier that night, “I let the girl tell me how close she wants to get. I can feel if she is not comfortable getting closer by how tense she gets when I attempt to bring her in close. So when I feel that, I just listen and let her decide.”
I liked this perspective.
I’ve danced with people I instantly felt comfortable being close with and I’ve danced with people that I instantly did not feel comfortable dancing close with. It is a personal prerogative. And, I’ve tried various approaches to setting healthy boundaries on and off the dance floor, some more elegant than others! Still, I know how good it feels to set a boundary and have that be respected and how scary it can feel to say no and set that healthy boundary (Will I offend someone? Will they not like me anymore? You can see how this goes back to my family of origin rituals of having to hug and kiss everyone when I entered a room of my relatives and before I left. It was a sign of respect whether I wanted to do it or not.)
The basic gist? How rewarding was it to speak to all of these high school students, who may have never heard anything before about “healthy sexual boundaries,” to have them listen intently and be engaged, and then to respond by trying it out with their dance partners?
It was awesomely rewarding. I’ll do it again in a heart beat.
I think that Latin partner dancing is the perfect avenue to teach healthy and respectful boundaries between youth who are getting ready to go out into the world on their own! What a better way than through an fun activity that is culturally enriching and engaging, challenging, and where they get to touch each other in a respectful way, be close, and experiment with healthy boundaries right there in a safe environment.
Next time, though, I need to demonstrate what it can look like to say no and have them practice both their yes’s and their no’s.
What do you think?
How do you set healthy boundaries on the dance floor in your own life?
Comment below, let’s get this conversation started!