Published Articles on Safer Brave Space

Jam with Maria: Listening for “Yes”
#3 of 3 in Jam Series; Oil Pastel on Paper © 2019 Michele Beaulieux

This post provides links to my writing published in Contact Quarterly and the CQ Contact Improvisation Newsletter on preventing sexual violence and creating what I call “safer brave spaces“—places where being brave is as safe as possible—in contact improvisation dance. Posts on this blog about safer brave space can be found at safer brave blog tab.

How the First Rule Brought #MeToo to Contact Improvisation” 
Contact Quarterly, Winter/Spring 2019

In this article I show how the first rule of Contact Improvisation—”take care of yourself”— is insufficient and, as the first priority, actively harmful. I use statements from the #MeToo disruption at the 2018 West Coast Contact Improvisation Jam (wcciJAM) and my own 2014 experience of a man sexually violating me in a contact improvisation jam to show how, as the first or only rule, the first rule amplifies privilege, is difficult to invoke in the moment, fails to prevent violations, promotes victim blaming, and impacts who participates. 

The first rule sides with people who have privilege and amplifies their power. Such people are better able to defend themselves while less likely to need to. The first rule is difficult and unpleasant for the people typically needing it to use, especially when group and societal norms do not support their saying “no.” The first rule is a risk reduction strategy: it can work for a potential victim-survivor in a given situation but does not prevent future violations. And by putting the responsibility on potential victim-survivors, it encourages victim blaming when violations do occur. As a result, the first rule, when presented as the first or only rule, discourages full participation: many people opt not to spend their time fending off unwelcome advances, and indeed, they shouldn’t have to.

Starting By Believing Maria: Responding to Sexual Violence in Safer Brave Contact Improvisation Spaces
Contact Improvisation Newsletter, Contact Quarterly
Summer/Fall 2019

In this article, I examine and then re-envision the anecdote about a serial violator, “Roland,” that Martin Keogh shares in his article “101 Ways to Say No to Contact Improvisation: Boundaries and Trust.” Keogh’s anecdote exemplifies the dominant story of how CI communities have responded to sexual violence: with a survival-of-the-fittest ethos. I outlined the problems with the basis for this response—CI’s first rule, “take care of yourself,”—in my previous article, “How the First Rule Brought #MeToo to Contact Improvisation.”

In this article, I first examine Keogh’s anecdote in which he hails the leader for redirecting victim-survivors who come asking the leader to intervene to, instead, confront Roland directly themselves. I suggest that sexual boundary violations qualify as serious enough to be recognized as a community problem, warranting active leadership and community involvement. I explain that victim-survivor decision-making is complex and that we would do well to honor victim-survivors’ requests when they do speak up. I call on people to go beyond being allies—merely supporting victim-survivors—to become co-strugglers, taking the struggle on as their own and acting in the best interests of the group in order to create safer brave spaces. In this case as in many, the price of keeping one persistent man who consistently violated boundaries in the group was the loss of many uncounted and unnamed women.

Then, taking inspiration from Hilde Lindemann Nelson’s concept of the counterstory and Augusto Boal’s forum theatre from his Theatre of the Oppressed, which both envision alternative outcomes, I present a counterstory in which just one report by one victim-survivor spurs an investigation. I give the victim-survivor a name: “Maria.”

Can’t We Just Dance? Not if We Want to Create Safer Brave Contact Improvisation Spaces
Contact Improvisation Newsletter, Contact Quarterly
Winter/Spring 2020

This article reflects on the sequel to the incident I describe in “How the First Rule Brought #MeToo to Contact Improvisation”: a man sexually violating me in a Contact Improvisation jam. Four years later, I learned that my local jam leaders had allowed, without my knowledge, the man to return to the jam without my knowledge, much less the promised accountability process. I use the occasion to explain that if we want to create a culture of consent, we can’t just dance. Instead, I suggest we become active jam citizens and govern our groups democratically in order to create what I call “safer brave spaces.” By democratic governance, I mean an organizational structure supporting social equality.

In another previous article, “Starting By Believing Maria: Responding to Sexual Violence in Safer Brave Contact Improvisation Spaces,” I provided a counterstory to the dominant story that Martin Keogh recounts about how a Contact Improvisation group dealt with a serial violator dubbed “Roland.” My counterstory visualized how a democratically governed group might handle serial violators. Inspired by the unseemly return of the man who had violated me, I wrote a sequel to my counterstory (published in the comments on the Maria article) in which the group maintains its boundaries in the face of Roland’s desire to return.

That counterstory and its sequel, however, bypassed the reality of poorly run groups with which many victim-survivors like myself are grappling. So to accompany this article and illustrate the concepts I outline in it, I wrote a second counterstory, “Can’t We Just Dance? A Counterstory,” which is on this blog. It imagines victim-survivors choosing to address Roland’s persistent participation by eventually starting their own democratically-governed jam.

Just Say ‘No’ to Teachers Who Troll: Counterstories
Contact Improvisation Newsletter, Contact Quarterly
Summer/Fall 2020

Martin Keogh’s article, “101 Ways to Say No to Contact Improvisation: Boundaries and Trust” continues to serve as a fertile writing prompt for me to imagine the alternative reality in which I would like to dance. In this article, I provide a counterstory to the anecdote he added when he republished the article as a chapter in his 2018 book, Dancing Deeper Still. In it, Keogh relays a conversation he had with a jam leader who hired a teacher known for making sexual advances on students. Keogh commends the leader for putting conditions on the teacher before hiring him. In this counterstory, “Uninviting,” I imagine the conversation I might have had with the leader, and it leads in a very different direction.

In a second counterstory, “Alternatives,” which can be found on this blog, I step even further back and imagine a group deciding not to hire such a teacher in the first place. In it, the group dissects the issues with the exercise, “Two Rivers,” that Keogh suggests for teaching consent.

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© 2020-2022 Michele Beaulieux … Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. That means you are free to share and adapt as long as you attribute to Michele Beaulieux, don’t use for commercial purposes, and use this same license. And if you do share, I’d love to know! I continue to revise, so to avoid sharing an outdated version, I recommend linking to this page, where I provide the date of the current iteration: 10.23.22

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