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The Librarian by Guiseppe Arcimboldo. For those of us who feel like reading and writing makes us who we are.

I’ve blogged about taking my writing in different directions, and now I’m beginning to plan to make it happen. It’s a little scary, to say the least.

During an anxiety-driven rant on Facebook about goals and how my relationship to them is changing, I managed to solicit a great deal of solid advice on relating to goals from my friends. With their permission, I thought I’d share these quotes, in a crowd-sourced type of inspirational blog post.

While I was angsting about feeling like I need to set goals – which is quite likely a holdover from my academic background – my friend Tracie had this to offer: “Setting goals is overrated! You don’t need to know the final destination, you just need to know the next step.”

In another vote for not letting goals take over your life, Linda wrote: “I agree with ‘What’s the point of goals?’ My newer motto is ‘Be here, NOW!’ Eckhart Tolle knew what he was talking about in his book, The Power of Now! The universe has my back & I am an open channel for all the wonderful things in store for me (that I don’t even know about yet!). Feeling philosophical today.”

My friend and sex educator colleague Kate McCombs shared: “I am enjoying detaching from intense ‘goal setting.’ Recently, I’ve been deeply enjoying The Desire Map, which is a book about identifying your core desired feelings and using those as your anchors instead of external goals. I’m actually teaching workshops on it next year. Let me know if you ever want to chat about it.”

Mental health professional and friend Kathy Slaughter offered: “Life is happening all around you right now. The short-term may just need all you have to give, which could be clouding your long-term view. Also, one of my favorite quotes when I can’t see where I’m heading: ‘There is a difference between knowing the path and walking the path.’ Sometimes success comes because we just keep walking, taking the next thing as it comes.”

My friend Michael agreed with Kathy: “What Slaughter said. And being too hard on yourself can be just as counter-productive in the long run. Life changes. We have to adapt. I’ve had this happen a couple times in big ways. It’s ok if we don’t find ourselves coming out of a change & automatically know what to do. Sometimes I think part of life is figuring that out as we go some, and giving ourselves the space & the understanding to do so…But I would hardly say you have no goals or direction, in the short time I’ve known ye.”

Part of the reason I’m so obsessive over goals is that I find it helps me manage my stress. Coming from a different perspective, my friend Carrie contributed: “I do fine with goals, but I find *picking* goals very stressful. It’s why I like long term projects more than short ones; all the intermediate steps are goals but I’ve picked them already, so when one is complete I can just go to the next, no debate required.”

The weird thing is that I’m finding *not* having goals to be stressful… almost as though there’s something missing in my life now that I’m shifting careers and life goals and all that stuff. I long for having something concrete to devote myself to (though look how well it turned out last time, right? for more on my change of heart about academia, see my post series over at Conditionally Accepted).

But whenever I start to feel like I’m incomplete or not good enough on my own, because I’m not setting or meeting enough goals, I get reminders that I’m a whole person, a worthwhile person, merely by virtue of existing. As my dance colleague Alima wrote: “I actually just had a conversation yesterday about this. To be mindful of the opportunity and desire for growth is great but there is a Buddhist proverb that might give you some comfort ‘to desire always leaves you wanting, detached from the now. To be fully present in this moment, not desiring but simply being, gives you complete freedom and happiness’…you’re perfect as you are!”

What I’ve learned is that I don’t need to have everything figured out in order to move forward. Getting started on something new may not feel like moving forward, and may thus cause cognitive dissonance to the side of me that’s accustomed to being super goal-oriented… but that’s okay. The more I learn to embrace the uncertainty of life, the better I’ll be able to cope with the inevitable changes and upsets that’ll occur. And, if nothing else, I have wonderful friends to help me through these transitional times.

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The famous non-consensual kiss from “Sleeping Beauty.” Image by Henry Meynell Rheam (in public domain).

I spent a good chunk of this year’s annual meeting of the American Folklore Society live-tweeting the conference. And, given that I’m now working as a sex educator, a lot of what I tweeted about was sexuality and gender.

When I tweeted disparagingly about the lack of sex positivity at the conference, a colleague responded by asking what exactly I mean by sex positivity. It’s not, unfortunately, something that everyone in our society learns about, nor is it on the curriculum for most folklore studies programs. So I wrote this blog post about what sex positivity means to me, and decided to do a follow-up post relating it back to folklore.

In folklore studies, and especially my specialty of narrative studies, we spend a lot of time talking about genres. A genre is a basic category of folklore, a type of expressive culture that we group by similarities in content, structure, transmission/performance, and function. So my first thought when it comes to relating sex positivity to folklore is to write about which genres engage with sex positivity (or not).

Based on the paper I gave this year, examining gender and sexuality in the TV show Lost Girl, I’ve been thinking about sex positivity in two specific narrative folklore genres: legend and fairy tale. We define legends as belief tales that are told as though they actually happened, which is why you so see so many urban legends debunked on Snopes.com: they tie into people’s beliefs about reality, so strongly that they’ll be transmitted regardless of their truth value.

For a representative sampling of legends about sex, check out these summaries of texts from just one legend book, The Vanishing Hitchhiker by folklorist Jan Brunvand: innocent make-out sessions lead to death in “The Boyfriend’s Death,” infidelity is punished in “The Solid Cement Cadillac,” and various nude surprises occur because people are generally acting pervy. Then there are legends regarding the transmission of HIV/AIDS, organ theft after a one-night stand, people getting stuck together during sex, and people losing objects internally during masturbation.

Based on this sample, I think it’s safe to say that most legends are NOT sex positive. They depict sex acts as having dangerous consequences. Even if a character’s intention was not malevolent, the effects are harmful. This probably relates to how legends function in society: they often contain socially conservative messages meant to police communal behavior.

With fairy tales—which have a bit more distance from reality as they’re fictional, formulaic tales about magic, quests, and transformation—it’s a bit harder to make sweeping proclamations about whether or not they’re sex positive. Most fairy tales end in marriage, after all, which would seem to be an endorsement for sex. However, fairy tales give us a fairly narrow vision of acceptable forms of sexuality: most fairy-tale pairings are heterosexual, monogamous, and transactional.

I’ve been researching promiscuity and non-monogamy in fairy tales, and based on that, I’ve concluded that fairy tales (like legends) convey rather restrictive attitudes about sexuality. Promiscuous female characters are punished, while there’s rarely any comment on the need for a man to be a virgin before marriage (yes, there are tales about magical virginity tests before marriage—only for the female characters, of course). It’s a little disturbing to realize that fairy tales contain many similar elements to contemporary abstinence-only programming: an emphasis on virginity before marriage, a need to police sexual behavior especially in women, and a correlation between chastity and virtue. (want citations? contact me for a copy of my paper)

In contrast to legends, though, fairy tales do show sexuality as being potentially generative and therefore positive in that light at least. Sex in fairy tales leads to children, and fairy-tale children are generally valued. You never know when having a kid might lead to breaking a curse down the road, after all. So while it’s still a mixed bag, I have to conclude based on this brief survey that fairy tales are a bit more sex positive than legends.

I can’t think of any other folklorists using sex positivity as a metric to evaluate the messages within various folklore genres. This could be an intriguing and useful line of inquiry, so if you have suggestions for folklore genres to compare and contrast in regard to sex positivity, feel free to leave a comment and get in on this discussion!

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Backbends: another reason belly dance and yoga go together. Photo by Paul Patton, from Bloomington Belly Dances 2013.

Backbends: another reason belly dance and yoga go together. Photo by Paul Patton, from Bloomington Belly Dances 2013.

I’m in the middle of a 30-Day Challenge at my local hot yoga studio (the goal is to do 30 consecutive days of yoga), and it’s not only thoroughly challenging me, but also inspiring me to reflect on the different things I get out of yoga and dance.

With dance – specifically, American Tribal Style® Belly Dance – I’m kinda at the top of the local food chain. I’m a certified teacher of the style, and I run a troupe, and we even get paid to perform (sometimes). I’m deeply honored that my students trust me to be their teacher. I love this dance form, and I love finding ways to challenge myself, up my game, and improve my technique.

But for the most part, for me to view dance with new eyes, I need to play in another sandbox (or dance style). I’ve been doing some of that too recently, which has been more rewarding than I can really put into words right now. Still, the feeling persists: when it comes to dance, I’m a pretty okay dancer. The things that challenge me are things I’ll eventually get a handle on. For the most part, I’m competent at it.

With yoga, though, I feel like a complete beginner every time I unroll my mat. It’s very humbling, and I love it. I fall all the time in balancing poses. I can’t do a handstand or even a headstand yet. My warrior lunges are frequently shaky and need correction.

I am grateful to have yoga in my life right now, in part because it feeds into my desire for a healthy body, in part because it helps calm my jittery anxious mind, and also in part because it serves as a contrast to my “yep, I got this” attitude as a professional dancer. When I do yoga, I’m reminded of how much I have yet to learn… and the fact that it’s okay to be a perpetual beginner. I think it’s good for me to have a regular practice that involves both mind and body that is explicitly NOT about achievement, goals, and status. Because while I love building the local tribal belly dance community (which relies on me promoting myself as a competent teacher/performer hence all that achievement/goal/status stuff coming into play), I like having other modes of exploring what my body can do.

I doubt it’s just me, either. I would hazard a guess that a lot of people could benefit from having parts of their lives where they funnel their achievements, and other parts where they aim simply to show up, be present, and enjoy. I know I’ll be both relieved and sad when this 30-Day Challenge is over, but hopefully I’ll carry forward this experience of enjoying humility.

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For a couple weeks now, I’ve been moaning about writer’s block. I need to write tons of things, you see, from blog posts for this site to blog posts for my new sex education site, not to mention writing assignments and lesson plans for the class I’m teaching, and conference papers and proposals. Oh, and I want to write a book or two.

The words just aren’t coming, though. I make time to write and then stare blankly at the screen, or that time evaporates into other things. I gave myself a little time to stew and focus on other things, and then I began thinking about the problem. What I realized is that I’ve been writing this whole time, I just haven’t been writing the things I’ve supposed to write.

The past few weeks – hell, months – have been pretty stressful for me. I’m sure the stress alone has zapped some of my writing energy, but then I figured out that I’ve been writing about my emotions more than usual. I’ve been reaching out to friends a ton, in emails and Facebook messages. I’ve been journaling about my feelings and experiences, and making to-do lists galore.

It’s a small thing to realize, but I find it incredibly helpful to figure out that I haven’t entirely lost my writing mojo, I’ve just been redirecting it therapeutically. Hopefully as I continue to process this stuff, I’ll get back to writing more frequently, and maybe even writing the things I’m supposed to write… on time, gasp!

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This semester, I’m teaching a class I designed on Body Art. It’s cross-listed in anthropology and gender, women’s, and sexuality studies, but it’s really a folklore class (surprise, surprise). One concept that my students have really latched onto is the idea of audience, and the first audience for any expressive display being the self.

Photo by Curtis Claspell.

Me wearing a shawl from Kamakhya Temple in Assam, India. Photo by Curtis Claspell.

The main text we’re reading is The Grace of Four Moons: Dress, Adornment, and the Art of the Body in Modern India, by Pravina Shukla, a professor of folklore at Indiana University (who was also one of my mentors while I was there for my PhD). I assigned this book for a few reasons: it’s well-written and is on the whole a beautiful book, it lays out the study of body art as a genre of material culture quite clearly, and it foregrounds the study of both daily dress and special occasion wear.

A lot of students came to my body art class expecting to spend the whole semester talking about tattoos and other permanent or extreme body mods. We will certainly discuss those things, but I’m also trying to give my students vocabulary and concepts for studying the daily clothing choices that surround them. I’m assigning a handful of fieldwork projects, for example, that could include looking at tattoos and piercings, but will mostly be about observing the clothing of people around them. I like to think that I’m giving them tools to critically interpret the visual culture of clothing, in order to perhaps be a bit more savvy about brands and advertising and the commodification of bodies.

Body image is one topic that I’m looking forward to discussing with my students. We’ve talked about the idea that when you get dressed in the morning, you’re the first audience for your stylistic choices. Your entire life history, your sense of body image, your self-esteem, your struggles with your weight… those all are foregrounded when you decide what to wear when dressing to go out. This is one area where my class design dovetails nicely with gender studies: women and men get radically different social messages about what’s appropriate to wear, and what’s considered “normal” for outfits and attractiveness.

One thing I’ve noticed when thinking about audience and body image in conjunction is that we are usually harder on ourselves than others are. If I’m trying on an outfit, I’ll probably notice imperfections and inconsistencies that no one else would see. I’m seeing the accumulation of my years of body image anxiety that no one else sees when they look at me, since I manage to appear outwardly confident (sometimes intimidatingly so). If I am my first audience, I am truly a harsh critic… and while I haven’t done the research on this yet (though now I really want to!) I’m guessing this trend is true of many other folks. It’s probably gendered, too, from what I gather based on informal conversations with friends and fellow dancers.

So if the self is the first audience, I wonder: do we owe it to ourselves to be kinder audiences? Do we seek fault with ourselves so that we can beat others to it? When do we allow ourselves to see the most beauty in our self image? Are there links between allowing ourselves creative freedom in body adornment (c’mon, who else still plays dress-up?) and feeling more satisfied with our body image?

The semester’s only just begun, so I hope to dig a bit deeper into these topics with my students. But I also hope to start some dialogue with the wider world, because we all could stand to be a little kinder to ourselves, and to see ourselves as beautiful.

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As readers of my blog know, I’m thoroughly in love with American Tribal Style® Belly Dance (ATS for short). I’ve written about why it’s interesting from a folklore studies perspective, how its unique fractal structure makes it distinct from other belly dance styles, and how it helps address cultural appropriation issues by veering sideways of the debate and not trying to be authentic. I’m also – cards on the table – a certified ATS instructor and a Sister Studio to FatChance BellyDance® (the creators of the style).

So if ATS was created in the 1980s as an improvisational belly dance format by FatChance, and has since become a standardized dance language worldwide, what’s ITS?

ITS stands for Improvisational Tribal Style, and it refers to the multiple dance languages and dialects that have emerged from ATS and evolved into their own improvisational dance cue systems. The language metaphor remains useful, since just like languages, we can look at tribal style improv as a series of historically interconnected communication systems. Some of them are mutually intelligible, and others are not.

Tribal Belly Dance Family Tree

The tribal belly dance family tree pictured here reminds me of the charts we used in the historical linguistics class I took at Berkeley. There’s a clear sense of lineage, influence, and ancestry.*

So with ITS, you end up with this rather fascinating case study of interrelated dance forms that have become immensely popular worldwide. I could list my favorite examples of ITS sub-styles for days, but instead I’ll get to my main point:

ATS is to ITS as Impressionism is to Neo-Impressionism

What do I mean by that? If you’re an art history nerd like me, you’ll know that Impressionism started in the 1870s as an artistic movement that related to light and color differently than was then in vogue. About a decade after the start of Impressionism, a related movement called Neo-Impressionism took off, altering the aims of Impressionism but still definitely borrowing from the movement’s momentum and techniques. And then, depending on who you ask, there was the Post-Impressionist movement, which referred to a lot of the same artists as the Neo-Impressionist title, but also might’ve been more of a time period than a coherent movement.

Anyway, we could linger on the details, but the main part of the metaphor that I want to access is this: ATS is like the Impressionism of the contemporary belly dance scene, since its arrival shook things up and laid the groundwork for other types of innovation in the belly dance world. ITS built on the developments of ATS, pushing farther in some ways and recursing in others.

My problem is this: when I talk to someone who’s into ITS who doesn’t know a thing about ATS, it’s hard for me to wrap my brain around. It’s like talking to someone who’s nuts about Seurat and is trying to paint in his style, but has never heard of Monet.

Maybe it’s because I’ve always been a nerd about history, but that makes me go WTF. Know your dance history, folks! Not only does it make performances more visually interesting when you can trace the evolution of movements over time, but it also helps us understand where we fit in the ever-changing dance world. How much are we bound by tradition, and where does creativity fit into the particular genre of dance we’ve chosen to explore? What kinds of artistry are most available to us? I’m not trying to be snotty about how ATS “came first” and thus is more legit; as I’ve blogged about, I don’t really care about the origins of cultural phenomena because there are so many other questions that are more interesting to me.

For me, understanding where things come from (as far back as we can feasibly determine, anyway) and how they’ve changed over time deepens my appreciation of them. And as someone who practices this art form, I think it’s an important way to show respect, sorta like a “know the rules before you break them” attitude when it comes to the act of creation (not that I’m advocating breaking any rules here).

As always, I love feedback and would enjoy hearing other dancers’ thoughts on this metaphor.

 

*Hungry for more tribal dance tidbits? Deep Roots Dance has collected an excellent sampling of links about the history of tribal belly dance.

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Hooping at GenCon 2014. Photo by Curtis Claspell.Remember how I said I was taking the summer off? Yeah, that didn’t so much happen. Well, it did but only in one sense.

I was intent on resting from the near-burn-out I’d been suffering as a result of the academic job market and other career-oriented stress, and I did manage to do that. As I chronicled in my blog post series over at Conditionally Accepted, I need to move in a direction that’s better for my mental health and my overall life goals, and that means reevaluating my relationship to academia.

So far, so good. I only did a little academic work over the summer, such as prepping my fall course, revising a couple essays for publication, and reviewing manuscripts for journals.

The rest of the time, I danced, traveled, read, cooked, exercised, and socialized. I took on paid writing work, taught dance classes and performed at both paid and community gigs, and took steps toward increasing my knowledge of the professional sex education world. So there was a lot of self-care interspersed with work (most of it non-academic in nature).

I selected this picture because of how it visually represents the whirlwind of activity that my summer became. Performing belly dance and fire dance at a yoga festival? Check. Roadtripping to Philadelphia to hang out with my folklore/foodie friends? Check. Rock-climbing with my husband and leveling up my climbing skills? Check. Performing for thousands of people at GenCon? Check. Learning new hoop tricks and dancing with LED hoops? Check. Plundering my local farmers market for tasty foods to cook and/or preserve? Check. Seeing my parents, grandparents, aunt, sister, and other relatives? Check. Meeting tons of new people at flow arts festivals, conventions, and sex education workshops? Check. I’m sure I’m leaving things out, too, because there was just too much cool stuff happening this summer to recount in one blog post.

So, this summer’s been a good reminder that there’s life outside career angst, and that taking time for myself and my personal goals can be incredibly healthy and uplifting. Now I’m off to teach my first Body Art class of the semester, and with that I’ll plunge headlong into whatever the fall holds for me.

When a friend shared a link to Why We Care About Other People’s Sex Lives, a look at the evolutionary psychology behind ideas of sexual morality, I was skeptical. As I’ve ranted about to anyone who will listen, I have a hate-hate relationship with evolutionary psychology and related fields such as literary Darwinism. They’re just so… essentializing. Ugh.

But the above-linked article caught my interest. The author looks at a number of recent studies about how people judge casual sex. In one instance: “Even after controlling for variables like age, religiosity, and political affiliation, the study authors found that people who saw female financial dependence on men as more common were also more likely to negatively judge promiscuity in both sexes.” Why does this occur? I’m not inclined to go with the evo psych reductionist reasoning that women are less horny than men but simultaneously more calculating; instead, I’d like to draw some parallels between sexual and economic principles.

What do sexual morality and financial dependence have in common? The concept of limited good. As folklorist Alan Dundes explains in this interview about evil eye beliefs: “The idea is that many peasant societies have what anthropologist George Foster refers to as the concept of ‘limited good.’ There’s only so much wealth and health. So you want to conceal your wealth because people are going to wish that they had it, otherwise you’ll lose it.” Dundes goes on to argue that expressive culture (in this case, folk belief about the evil eye) reflects a society’s underlying worldview of paradigm about economic exchange.

So when we have an economic system that commodifies certain kinds of social and sexual interactions (such as marriage) by directly tying them to one’s ability to survive and thrive, it’s not surprising to see that same attitude reflected in a society’s sexual attitudes. The fear about not enough potential (and desirable) spouses to go around (hence not enough access to married-life-resources) affects beliefs about sexual practices, turning sex into a commodity when really, it doesn’t have to be that way. We know from the non-monogamous emotion of compersion (feeling joy when someone else feels joy) that it’s possible to react to sharing your partner with another with positive, constructive emotions rather than destructive, possessive, jealous ones.

I sometimes wonder how sexual behaviors and stereotypes will change in my utopian vision of the future, wherein we move from a limited good economy to one where marriage isn’t required to obtain health insurance, citizenship, or other concrete goods. Will sex ever be de-commodified? I’m not sure, but I hope we move more in that direction.

Oh, and there’s another, simpler idea that I’d like to extract from the essay on sexual morality: the notion that a society’s attitudes about sexuality can (and perhaps should) change over time. The authors of Sex at Dawn (which I review here) also implicitly explore this concept. What I like about the idea that attitudes about sex are always evolving is that it recognizes that sexual behavior is always culturally constructed. Our ideas about sex are always changing due to a confluence of various factors: the ways in which we have sex change, our social paradigms (some of which explicitly relate to sex) change, and our scientific understanding of sexual functioning is always evolving too.

Basically, there’s always been an amazing diversity of sexual practices throughout human history. In my mind, that’s as it should be. There is no one way to have sex. There is no universal, monolithic meaning of sex. The only thing that’s universal about sex – other than it happening to continue humankind’s existence on this world – is that I believe sex should be considered among the list of universal human rights.

So, let’s keep up the dialogue about sex and society. Hopefully a greater understanding of how these paradigms intersect and influence one another will lead to more tolerance and progressive social change.

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Indy Tribal (my ATS® group) at Middle Eastern Mayhem, 2013. Photo by Rachel Penticuff.

I’ve been belly dancing for half my life, so by this time I’ve had the opportunity to view a lot of belly dance performances. While I enjoy watching most of the styles out there, I’m particularly drawn to American Tribal Style® (or ATS) for a lot of reasons, some of which I’ve detailed here.

But while at a local belly dance event recently, viewing the various other dance styles in an evening performance, I realized yet another reason why ATS appeals to me: the micro structure of the dance mirrors and facilitates the macro structure of the dance. It works a lot like a fractal, if we extend the concept metaphorically a bit. Specifically, in ATS, if you don’t understand how the individual dance moves work, you won’t be able to perform in the improvised group structure.

If you’ve ever seen a dance group perform, and not just belly dance, there’s a good chance it was choreographed. As in, someone mapped out the moves in advance and everyone had to memorize when precisely to do what (and then practice… and practice… and practice). The concept of choreography includes individual dance movements (what a person’s body is doing in space, and to what timing) as well as the individual’s place in the formation or larger group.

As you might imagine, generating, learning, and rehearsing a choreography is a lot of work. But one interesting feature of this performance strategy is that there are points in it wherein the individual dancer’s body movements don’t matter that much. If the entire formation is static (nobody’s moving to a new position in the group at that moment), then a single dancer’s mistake or bad posture doesn’t ruin the show or mess everyone up. It might look bad, or at the very least inconsistent, but it won’t throw everything to a grinding halt.

In contrast, in ATS, every dancer must know how to execute every move accurately. This is because our group improvisational structure features a rotating “leader” (the dancer in view of everyone else who is responsible for cuing the next move) with one, two, or three followers. It’s a common practice to have the most confident dancers lead the most, and to let the less confident dancers follow more than they lead (since as ATS dancers learn quickly, competently cuing moves while leading is a whole separate skill set than just following the moves someone else cues). The less confident leaders can gain practice and experience leading in class, where it’s a low-pressure environment, and slowly begin to lead more in performances (which are more high-stakes than classes or rehearsals).

So let’s say the leader cues into a basic eight-count move in an ATS performance. If a follower misses the cue and arrives into the move a few counts later than the leader, that’s fine, it happens. If the follower totally misses the cue and doesn’t do the move at all, it might look weird, but that happens too sometimes. But when the leader decides to create a more complex formation than having everyone simultaneously facing the audience (such as a fade, or an inward-facing circle), if the follower doesn’t understand the basic movement structure, then the whole formation will fall apart. And it won’t be a “recover in 2 counts” thing, it’ll fragment and it won’t be pretty.

This is part of the reason I love teaching, practicing, and performing ATS: like a hologram, or fractal, or a crystal, understanding the micro structure of the dance facilitates understanding the macro structure of the dance. While in another belly dance style, say, cabaret, you could stick an individual into a four-person choreography who doesn’t know how to shimmy or step on the beat and have it not ruin the whole dance, in ATS that wouldn’t fly.

For these reasons, pulling off an ATS performance of even the most basic moves is very impressive! I’ll watch beginner ATS groups all day with a dreamy smile on my face. I love the more complex moves and complicated formations too, of course, but I remain in awe of all the work that goes into learning the basic moves, the formations to move in, and the difficult-to-articulate process by which dancers sync up with each other and learn to move together.

If you’re curious what this looks like, here’s an example of an ATS dance I performed with my troupe. Yep, it’s all improvised. We’d run the piece a number of times and performed it already twice in different cities. We knew who would lead which section, but other than that, which moves would be cued when was up to each leader. Maybe I’m biased but I think this performance came out well in part due to all the practice we put in, and in part because we have good rapport with one another.

I’m curious: are there other dance forms, or art forms more generally, that are fractal in the same that ATS is? Where learning the smallest component of technique is essential to practicing or understanding the larger concepts that flow outward from it?

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Thanks to Wikimedia for the image.

One of the things I love about my family is that they take an active interest in my career and hobbies. So when I flew into L.A. to see my folks, my dad handed me a big box of newspaper clippings, related to literature, folklore, dance, sex education, and so on.

Among them was an opinion piece from the L.A. Times about a recent piece of California legislation, SB 967. This would mandate, among other things, that all California universities include the following language about sexual contact that occurs on campus:

  • An affirmative consent standard in the determination of whether consent was given by a complainant.
  • Prohibition on an accused perpetrator using self-intoxication or recklessness as a defense.  It would also not be a defense if the accused failed to take reasonable steps to ascertain consent.
  • An explicit provision that an individual is unable to give consent for sexual activity if the individual is asleep or unconscious; incapacitated due to drugs and/or alcohol; or unable to communicate due to a mental and/or physical condition.
  • A preponderance of the evidence standard in the determination of disciplinary action.

And so on. So far, so good, right?

Well… no. One of the opinion pieces, published in the Sunday June 1 L.A. Times, thinks that an affirmative consent standard is not only unlikely, but also unsexy. He writes: “The legislation’s affirmative consent requirement doesn’t apply just to sex. It covers all physical contact for which consent is required by a college’s sexual assault policy, like intimate touching. In real life, such contact is welcomed after it begins, not affirmatively consented to in advance.”

I hope y’all see that this is really problematic. This statement exemplifies the sex-negativity prevalent in our culture, specifically the idea that having to obtain consent by explicitly asking for it is un-sexy. It’s not hard to see where this idea comes from; in practically every Hollywood flick the characters experience mind-numbing chemistry, kiss, and wind up in bed together, with nary a word spoken.

Is it really all that terrible to have to ask for someone’s consent before touching or kissing them? Would it really be so soberingly un-sexy to say something like, “Hey, I’d like to kiss you. How do you feel about that?” Apparently, yes, there is no greater boner-killer than verbally obtaining consent.

What’s even more  troubling is that this opinion was expressed by Hans Bader, an attorney and former U.S. Department of Education Lawyer. In other words, the people making our laws don’t think obtaining verbal, explicit consent is sexy or feasible.

Another person, Sandra Perez, wrote in to say: “Legislation in Sacramento essentially would mandate that a would-be Romeo obtain an express opt-in before proceeding to bed with his sweetheart, as if any such target of Romeo’s desires doesn’t have ample opportunity to communicate her unequivocal wish to opt out.” This is another WTF comment, since it both assumes that men are always the initiators of sexual contact (which is a harmful construct of performing idealized masculinity) and that there are never coercive situations wherein women – or men – don’t feel safe saying no.

I’m saddened and disturbs that both of the quotes in this opinion piece reinforce negative, harmful, and untrue ideas about consent. Whether or not you’re in California and hence potentially affected by this law, I recommend reading up on consent and figuring out how to make it a more prominent part of your conversations and your practices. So here are some links:

Please read and consider passing on these links. I’m aware that there are more sophisticated (often feminist) conversations happening around consent, specifically problematizing the notion of “enthusiastic consent (and this discussion too), but hey, we have to start somewhere.

P.S. June is  Adult Sex Ed month! Consider this post a contribution!

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