How do we teach our students to set boundaries?

How do we teach our students to set boundaries?

StEPS: Navigating Boundaries and Risk-Taking in Dance Education

Dance education is a powerful and transformative journey that involves not only the physical training of dancers but also the development of their emotional and mental well-being. In the dance studio, students learn to push their limits, take risks, and develop their artistic expression. However, in this journey, it is essential to strike a balance between encouraging students to step out of their comfort zones and respecting their boundaries. In this blog article, we will delve into the important aspects of navigating boundaries and risk-taking in dance education, drawing insights from a conversation with dance educator Nicole Perry.*

Welcome to Beyond the StEPS

Understanding the Zones

Nicole Perry introduces the concept of "zones" to help dancers and educators navigate the delicate balance between risk-taking and respecting boundaries. These zones can be categorized as follows:

  • Confidence Zone: This is where dancers feel safe and comfortable. It's the zone where they can perform tasks with ease and without anxiety.
  • Stretch Zone: The stretch zone is where growth happens. It's slightly outside the comfort zone, and it's where students are encouraged to take on challenges and push their limits.
  • Risk Zone: In this zone, dancers are asked to take risks, such as trying new moves or performing in front of an audience. The risk zone is crucial for artistic development but requires careful handling.
  • Boundary Zone: The boundary zone is where students establish their limits and communicate their needs. It's essential for ensuring a safe and respectful learning environment.

Establishing Boundaries

One of the fundamental principles of dance education is that boundaries are valid and should be respected. Nicole emphasizes that boundaries are about the individual's needs and comfort levels, and it is not personal. Teachers and educators must acknowledge and validate these boundaries to create a safe and inclusive atmosphere.

However, setting boundaries can be challenging, especially for young dancers who might hesitate to speak up to their instructors. Nicole suggests that the concept of the zones can be a valuable tool. By encouraging students to think about their needs and where they are on the confidence-stretch-risk-boundary spectrum, they can better express themselves. This approach gives students more confidence and vocabulary to communicate their boundaries effectively.

Respecting Boundaries

Respecting boundaries is a two-way street. Dancers must feel empowered to communicate their boundaries, and educators must listen and respond with respect. Nicole stresses the importance of framing boundaries as something that is about the individual setting them, not as a judgment or criticism of the teacher or choreographer.

Sometimes, meeting those needs is not possible due to constraints like time or logistics, and that's okay. What matters is that these boundaries are received with respect and understanding. When teachers handle boundary-setting conversations with sensitivity, it fosters a culture of trust and open communication.

The Role of Educators

Educators play a pivotal role in creating an environment where students can set and express their boundaries. Nicole emphasizes that it's essential for educators to clarify what choices students have and what consequences might arise from those choices. This empowers students to make informed decisions and take responsibility for them.

Teachers also need to differentiate between structural rules and personal boundaries. While certain rules are inherent to the dance class, educators should provide students with choices within those boundaries. For example, while wearing appropriate dance attire may be a non-negotiable rule, students can have choices about the level of participation.

Elaborating on Physical Consent Within Boundaries in Dance Education

Physical consent within dance education is a critical aspect of creating a safe and respectful learning environment. It involves acknowledging and respecting an individual's autonomy over their body, understanding their comfort levels, and seeking permission before engaging in any physical contact during dance training. In this discussion, we will delve deeper into the concept of physical consent within boundaries in the context of dance education.

1. The Importance of Physical Consent:

Physical consent is the cornerstone of ethical and respectful dance education. It acknowledges that each student has agency over their own body and that their comfort and boundaries must be honored. This concept becomes particularly important in dance, where physical contact, partnering, and correction are integral parts of the learning process.

2. Understanding Boundaries:

Boundaries in dance can be both physical and emotional. Physical boundaries pertain to the specific physical contact or proximity that a student is comfortable with during their dance training. It's important to note that these boundaries can vary greatly from person to person. Some students may be comfortable with close physical contact, while others may prefer to maintain more personal space.

3. Clear Communication:

Effective communication is key to navigating physical consent within dance education. Teachers should foster an environment where students feel safe expressing their boundaries. This can be achieved through open dialogue, emphasizing that it is acceptable to say "no" to physical contact or adjustments if they feel uncomfortable.

4. Consent as a Dynamic Process:

Consent is not a one-time agreement but a dynamic process that can change over time. A student's comfort level may vary depending on factors such as the type of movement, the level of trust developed with the teacher, or even their emotional state on a particular day. Educators should be attentive to these changes and continuously seek consent before engaging in any physical interaction.

5. Establishing Classroom Norms:

Teachers can establish classroom norms and guidelines regarding physical consent. This can include discussing acceptable forms of touch, establishing non-verbal cues for consent (such as raising a hand if a student is uncomfortable), and providing opportunities for students to voice their concerns or preferences.

6. Non-Invasive Corrections:

When offering corrections or adjustments, teachers should prioritize non-invasive methods. For example, verbal cues and demonstrations can be used to guide students without physical contact. If physical corrections are necessary, teachers should seek explicit consent and ensure that touch is minimal and respectful.

7. Empowering Students:

Empowering students to advocate for their boundaries is a vital aspect of physical consent within dance education. Teachers should encourage students to speak up if they feel uncomfortable, and they should respond with understanding and respect when a student communicates their boundaries.

8. Recognizing Trauma Responses:

It's essential for educators to be aware of trauma responses in students. Some individuals may have experienced trauma related to physical touch, and their boundaries may be influenced by these experiences. Sensitivity and empathy are crucial when working with such students.

Dance education is more than just perfecting steps; it's about personal growth, artistic expression, and emotional well-being. Navigating boundaries and risk-taking in this context is crucial for creating a positive and empowering learning environment.

By understanding the zones, establishing boundaries, and respecting students' needs, educators can ensure that young dancers feel safe, confident, and supported in their journey.

 Ultimately, fostering a culture of respect and open communication empowers students to become not only better dancers but also more confident individuals who can assert their needs in any situation.

Nicole Perry is an intimacy choreographer and coordinator, as well as director and choreographer in South Florida. Career highlights include a Broward County Artist Investment Grant for KINesphere, intimacy coordination for Arena, an award-winner in several film festivals, choreography and intimacy direction for the US premiere of The Glass Piano at Theatre Lab, and resident intimacy choreographer for Measure for Measure Theatre. 

She is a Certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst. Nicole provides guest teaching in Laban for Theatre and/or Dance, as well as Consent and Power Dynamics in Creative Practice, through Momentum Stage. Nicole founded this non-profit to provide affordable resources in best practices for performing artists and teachers. 

Nicole is an adjunct professor of dance at the University of Miami. She has previously taught both dance and theatre in middle school, high school, and studio settings. 

She is a member of Stage Directors and Choreographers Society and the Association of Theatre Movement  Educators. Nicole apprenticed with Intimacy Directors International, and is in the final stages of certifying as both an Intimacy Director and Intimacy Coordinator with Intimacy Directors and Coordinators (IDC).

  • Relevant links: 
    • To request a Power Dynamics or Consent workshop through Momentum Stage
    • To access 3 articles on Power Dynamics and Consent in Dance Spaces, written by Nicole for DanceGeist
    • Boundaries Tip Sheet and Is it a Boundary or a Comfort Zone Graphic from Momentum Stage - these are paid downloads but I'd be willing to do a code for a discount for listeners if you usually do that!
      • BTS25 

Reach out to Nicole:

  • Personal Insta: @dancendrama 
  • Momentum Stage Insta @momentumstagefl
  • Intimacy Choreography Insta: @intimacychoreofl

Momentum Stage on Facebook 

Watch the full Beyond the StEPS Video Below!

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