I have watched in awe, and rewatched many times, the 2021 Paso Doble dance of Johannes Radebe and John Whaite, the first ever all-male pair, in Strictly Come Dancing.
It is an interpretation of the Paso Doble, the dance of the matador, and narratives within the dance resemble a bullfight. Traditionally, the leader is the matador and the follower is at once the matador’s cape, the bull and a flamenco dancer. The movements also have origin in the Spanish infantry. Paso Doble gained popularity in the ballroom in the 1930s and it developed as a dance of sharp, quick, staccato movements where the chest is held high and proud. The dancers need to remain in front of each other or parallel to each other at all times. The energy needs to be fierce and intense.
Johannes Radebe, Strictly Come Dancing professional dancer and choreographer, transposed the traditional Paso Doble to the decks of a Pirate ship, so on the dance floor we see two pirates, wearing billowing white shirts, waistcoat (tails resembling the cape), breeches, boots and headscarf. Traditional leader/follower roles are overturned as the lead is swapped between them. With the intensity of swordfight and combat, this isn’t a fight, it is something else.
After mirroring and stepping ferociously one towards the other, there is the moment of first touch; the dancers slot into each other’s hold, hand to hand and hand to upper back, to whirlwind the double-step around the floor. When they come together in that sublime moment, centuries of hurtful and hateful patriarchal conditioning of what men are allowed to do recede into a joyful moment of recognition. This is what men are made of and made for. I realise that I am watching other possibilities of what it means to be a man, than those considered normal. This really is something else.
I’m not the only fan. In the comments section of the video clip:
“I’m going to watch this probably a billion times. OMG. I love them. So proud.”
“There are no words in the English language to do justice to how insanely amazing that dance was. I will be watching 100s of times.”
“The attack and the mirroring so strong. I’ve replayed it so many times. There are no words. I stopped breathing watching it.”
In the rewatching — again and again — something in me is filled. There is enjoyment, but something else comes into my feeling state. This is the feeling of falling in love. Just as, when I reread or rehear a message from someone I am falling in love with, I repeat, I repeat because each time, something is touched in me and something is met. When I am falling in love, the way I see the world changes as my expanding connection with the other infuses my connection with all of life and everything becomes alive with possibility, passion, wonder and magic. When I fall in love, life becomes everything but normal.
In The School of Life: An Emotional Education, Alain de Botton writes “Any idea of the normal currently in circulation is not an accurate map of what is customary for a human to be. We are, each one of us, far more compulsive, anxious, sexual, tender, mean, generous, playful, thoughtful, dazed and at sea than we are encouraged to accept.”
All these things that Alain de Botton writes that we are, are the things that get surfaced and concentrated when we fall in love. When suddenly we experience ourselves being with greater intensity and clarity.
In this dance, I am witnessing two men offering possibilities of being so much more than what they will probably have been encouraged to be though the conditioning they, as indeed all of us in different ways, will have received. Notions of normal are usually restrictive, limiting, heteronormative and lifeless. Suddenly, right in front of my eyes, I am seeing options for doing connection a different way. Men don’t have to fulfil a certain role; they can play with, innovate and overlay roles and histories. This is connection; powerful, passionate, beautiful and exciting, not siloed in romance or sex. Watching this dance, I catch a glimpse of the great possibilities in life; maybe that is why I am re-engaging with the video clip, just as I would with communication from a new lover, at the stage in connection when anything is possible.
Another of the histories that emerge through this interpretation of the dance, is that of the same-sex civil unions of the pirates, known as matelotage.
These relationships manifested variously; sometimes as economic agreements, sometimes as affectionate or mutually supportive friendships, sometimes as sexual and romantic unions. The bonds of matelotage were common and respected on board pirate ships, while at the same time, highly stigmatized on land.
While stigmatising homosexuality, heterosexual male culture is, in fact, deeply man-loving, as Marilyn Frye outlines in The Politics of Reality
“All or almost all of that which pertains to love, most straight men reserve exclusively for other men. The people whom they admire, respect, adore, rever, honour, whom they imitate, idolize and form profound attachments to, whom they are willing to teach and from whom they are willing to learn, and whose respect, admiration, recognition, honour reverence and love they desire. Heterosexual male culture is homoerotic, it is man-loving.”
This happens in a way that separates, demotes and marginalises women.
This dance, although masterful, is not first and foremost to be admired, it is to be felt. Through this truly man-loving dance which allows possibility in its fullest, I feel invited into parts of myself that are beyond the treacherous ‘normal’ cultivated in the daily institutions of school, media and production, the parts not normally seen, espoused or written about, the parts often ridiculed, marginalised or suppressed.
I’m 49, and there is conditioning in the ether about what it is to be middle-aged, I can feel it. The dominant messaging about who intimacy, sexuality, sensuality, desirability is available to has the capacity to close doors around and within me. I feel that I have come to the end of the road of being a certain kind of woman and I’m not sure what other road there is to take ahead of me. Nevertheless, I am walking.
This dance offers us all freedom to roar, freedom to dress up, freedom to touch, freedom to hold, freedom to dream, freedom to connect deeply, freedom to create, freedom to shine, and of course freedom to dance,
While writing this piece, I went back to listen to one of my all time favourite songs, The Pet Shop Boys, haunting 1990 song ‘Being Boring’, in which Neil Tennant sings about finding “inspiration in anyone who’s gone and opened up a closing door.” And that, my hearties, is exactly what Johannes and John have done.
If you want to watch the slightly longer video clip, including intro to the dancers, the dance, and Judges comments and scores, watch below
I sat for some time underneath the 'Hive' sculpture at Kew Gardens at the weekend. There is a drone musical accompaniment which was intended to resemble the 'hum' of the bees. Honeybees communicate by vibrating messages against the honeycomb.
After sitting here, then sitting somewhere else where i could hear the hum, and then somewhere else, all in the range of about 20-50 metres of this large structure, i felt really relaxed and enlivened. There's something about humming that really relaxes and restores. Many sound and healing modalities encourage an intentional hum for self-soothing. Benefits of humming
I need constant reminding of how well my being responds to embodiment, to paying attention to all aspects of my being, to going within and connecting to sound.
All of the work I/we as individuals do is so important to create social justice, greater equity and a more peaceful work. It all requires being really grounded and resourced so that we can respond with empathy and self-connection in line with the greater good and truth that a situation is calling for.
So today, why don't you hum a little and envision healing, justice and equity as you do so!
I was in a seminar earlier on in the year with people from various racialised backgrounds and we were exploring tackling white supremacy. It was named several times and it really struck me the importance of white people accessing anger and rage at the injustices that are happening and have happened.
When white people aren’t accessing anger, it’s left to Black and Indigenous people and people of colour to do this work, which then leaves BIPOC labelled and judged as angry and reactive as a means of control and avoiding the issues.
Our anger and rage can mobilise us into action and I find being ”angry that,” rather than “angry at” supports me to direct anger in a grounded way. When I’m ‘angry that….’ I feel more connected to my pelvis and legs. When I’m ‘angry at ….’ I’m more in the upper part of my body.
I'm angry that so many young people are being killed in London (and other cities)
I'm angry that talking about colonialism and the harm it causes is not at the heart of our public discourse.
I'm angry that the glaciers are sliding into the sea
I'm angry that the trees are being devastated in the Amazon
I'm angry that indigenous people's lands have been taken from them and no reparations have yet come.
I'm angry that so much energy is put into policing, rather than supporting people and really tackling issues.
What about you? What are you 'angry that' ....?
Who are you going to speak to about this? Who will witness your anger? Who will support you to connect to your needs, the shared needs, and then get clarity on your next request to self or other?
This blog is part of the Blogging Carnival for Nonviolence 2021
A couple of notes about the environment
1.That word ‘environment’ is so fraught with meaning. How can we all engage with and protect the environment? What does it mean to say ‘the environment’ when we are all differently placed to engage with it? The environment is all around us, in our streets, in our homes, in our parks, in the air we breathe and the water we drink. Let’s have a broad understanding of what the environment is and means to us.
2. If engaging with the environment is as simple as walking down the street. What happens to us as we do? what do we encounter? what are we faced with? what challenges do we have? For some, walking down the street involves risk. Some people, young people particularly, are faced with higher levels of violence and I’m really devastated to say that this week there’s been another fatal incident locally, in which Chino Johnson was shot dead when out walking his dog. Some parts of our local community are dealing with such huge grief of youth-on-youth, lateral violence, and is in fact, a public health crisis.
I invite you to pause for a moment to honour the tragic loss of life of Chino Johnson.
3. With whatever happens from this point on in relation to the climate and ecological crisis — if we face increasing floods, food shortages, drought, more breakdown, more pandemics — as well as the public health crisis of gun and knife violence, what we are going to need is a solid community to lean into. So that no one gets left behind and so that communities facing gun and knife violence can heal. So that when things get tougher, we grow our networks of support, and solidarity becomes the way we do things.
The metaphor that inspires me to keep going comes from Aria Doe, speaking after Hurricane Sandy struck New York in 2012.
“Even though you have a hand pushing you down, you still offer a hand to help people up.”
(All the things the climate cannot change)
I love this. It inspires me to keep reaching out to people and being there for people, even when things are hard for me. What if we lived that principle everyday of our lives?
4. To be true to the complexity of life, we need to celebrate the initiatives that lower carbon emissions and protect nature and call for the ones that also create greater social justice and equity that aren’t yet happening and need to be happening. The times we are in necessitate a good hard look at what we aren’t doing, what we are failing to find ways to do. It needs to be OK to acknowledge the shortfalls.
It was an incredible privilege to be alongside
Kwesia, AKA City girl in nature in on an incredible journey, and speaks openly about growing up in Deptford with the challenges of marginalisation and exclusion. She got the opportunity to go on an expedition to the Peruvian Amazon rainforest and shares her love of nature with others and her passion that everyone should have the opportunity to connect to nature.
Nick who works with and advises XR, Transition town, Stand up to Racism, Healthy living platforms. His doctoral research focusses on the intersection of environmental sustainability and social justice, particularly on why environmental movements are ‘Green, but mostly white’ and asks these questions:
· Why social justice and race matter for environmentalism?
· What do we mean by community sustainability and resilience?
· Who is included in our understanding of community? Who is excluded and why?
· How can we build solidarity across differences?
It was also fantastic hearing about the Remakery, Loughborough Junction Action Group, Father Nature, Myatts field Park horticulture and Lambeth Council Climate Change team
As I welcomed and introduced the speakers, I realised I was holding John Berger’s book Hold Everything dear which he wrote in the aftermath of the second Iraq war. He articulated in 2005 the destruction we are facing ‘The blunting of the senses, the hollowing out of language, the erasure of connection with the past, the dead, place, land, soil, possibly too the erasure of certain emotions, compassion, mourning, hoping.’
It was to restore right relationship with our emotions … to grieve, to talk together about the difficult things, the conflicts, increasing the skill and capacity for empathy and celebrating our amazing people in our communities, that Lahnah, Golda and I created Amplifying the Good Energy (2020–21) and the Conflict and Grief project in 2016.
As we reflect on community, community is not really those people who look like me or like the same things as me. As Dominic Barter said,
“Community is not primarily made up of those with whom I identify but of those with whom I share resources (material and affective), with whom I share risk, with whom I persist.”
Finally, back to Aria Doe. “One of the things we do is to make the community feel safe, secure and loved. And what do you do if you feel safe, secure and loved, you dance! What else do you do?!” (after Hurricane Sandy, New York 2012)
On that note, this is our Jerusalema dance, May 2021
1. Assume positive intention of the other person.
Know that the other person is always trying to achieve something life affirming. Even if they go about it in ways that have a further impact on you.
When someone does something I find challenging to receive, I find it incredibly helpful to ask myself ‘What are the very good reasons that so and so is doing this?’ This question validates the actions of the other person.
This assumption helps us to genuinely consider the perspective of the other person, and possibly ‘step into their shoes’. This is about empathic understanding.
2. Name impact clearly
I will encourage you to name impact in the following way:
1. Naming what happened – what the other person said or did.
2. Focus on the impact on you, (rather than focussing on the other person)
3. Focus on your values or what is important to you that wasn’t lived up to in the situation
Eg, when I read this email, I felt hurt and angry because being included and hearing from everyone is so important to me.
The reason this is helpful is that it focusses fully on you, what happened to you, the impact on you and on your values. If this gets heard, then you and your experience is validated.
If,on the other hand, you spend your time saying that what the other person has done is wrong or outrageous or whatever, you spend your energy focussing on them. Your experience actually gets lost.
I’m trying to give more space to your experiences. This is how reconciliation and healing can happen.
3. Hear impact without reacting
I’ll often invite people to reflect back what they are hearing during a conflict support session.
• I’m hearing you say that ….
• Don’t follow it with .. but… (that undoes all your work of listening!)
• Don’t follow it with your perspective immediately.
• Check that this is accurate if necessary. This means the person speaking feels you are listening to them.
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I've got a little pack of Flower Essence cards made by the Findhorn Foundation. Each one has a picture of a plant, the plant’s name, a quality that this plant evokes and a sentence affirming this quality. I pick a card a day or whenever I need to and a life affirming quality comes into focus for me. Today I picked GORSE – Joy – I live my life with joy and passion. Other cards show that GARDEN PEA is associated with Expression, HAZEL is associated with Freedom and SPOTTED ORCHID is associated with Creativity.
For me, there is a resonance between the qualities shared in the Findhorn Flower Essence system and the ‘human needs’ that Marshall Rosenberg catalogued as he went about creating Nonviolent Communication.
As we get deeper and deeper into chaos, polarization, confusion and inequality on a societal level, these qualities - through whatever system or modality that is harnessing them - are touchstones or guiding inner resources that I absolutely know the felt sense of because I will have experienced each of them at some point in my life. I can actively recall these experiences in order to reconnect to the quality right now. This supports me, when on one level, I am faced with overwhelm and a sense of powerlessness about the state of the world. Holding awareness of these qualities gives me an anchor, a resource, some relief and a little bit of juice to move forward.
I bring focus to this similarity between the list of Needs in the Nonviolent Communication system and the Qualities in the Findhorn Flower Essence system because I’m very interested in the places where different traditions meet. I imagine that someone who might have never heard of Nonviolent Communication might see this connection and feel a spark of opening towards it; similarly someone who might have never heard of the Findhorn flower essence system, might suddenly feel a resonance with this earth-connected spiritual system. Both systems have a fundamentally spiritual basis.
Here is a link to the Findhorn Flower Essences website
Here is a link to NVC UK website where you can get Feelings and Needs cards
Here are the Human needs outlined in the modality of Nonviolent Communication (NVC)
“The simplicity of the approach is the most important thing. The message for me is that I can stay with the grief and I need it to be seen but I do not necessarily need “the therapists” and two years one to one sessions of talking with psychotherapist.;-)
Walk Participant, May 2015
“Thank you for doing it and for the trust that we can deal with it, stay with it by simply walking.”
Walk Participant, May 2015
“Thank you for the experience of the walk.I liked all of the information you gave us about communication. It felt a lovely, supportive environment.”
Walk Participant, June 2015
“It felt special to be sharing whilst walking, whilst out in nature.I can honestly say that your walk was a significant element of a weekend that made me feel I had helped myself shift psychologically.It felt a truly meaningful thing to do.” Walk Participant, June 2015
“Since the Walk, I think something has shifted in me. It’s as though there is now the possibility of not having to automatically burying painful emotions. It like it’s OK to feel loss or sad (now) about a friend who is seriously ill. Facing this is new and it feels honest. Thank you so much, for opening up this possibility for change. It’s the very best of learning.”
Walk Participant, June 2015
“Thank you for Wednesday’s Walk. What you say does sink in and it has helped me this week. I thought you facilitated the session with a light touch and very skilfully and that’s what made it possible to share our thoughts and emotions. Being outside, having tea, walking, coming together under the tree………………….. provided a lovely calm setting that balanced well with the openness of our conversations with you and each other. Once again thank you for providing this community event.”
Walk Participant, September 2015
“I actually came away from the Grief walk quite stunned by its power.
It was an unexpectedly beautiful day in terms of the weather…….for me, the walking round in a threesome really worked……it was very powerful to listen to people’s stories and I did genuinely feel heard from the quality of the thoughtful responses I received. A theme in our separate threads was identified and that was very helpful…it wove them together!!!
It had seemed really important to me to go on the walk, it was exactly what I needed.”
Warm Wishes, October 2015 Walk Participant
“I’d never given ‘grief’ substance before now. The emotion itself. Awakening unspoken agonies long ago dulled by grief, yet always latent and from time to time touching your soul and yearning for a moment to express. Today’s walk did that. Sharing made the turmoil less tumultuous. Thank you Ceri and our cosy group – it felt so natural.”
L Johnson, November 2015
Cultivating the Strength to Love: 2 day training in Nonviolent Communication. Transforming conflict in relationships and groups
Conflict is feedback that hasn’t happened.
How many times have you noticed an unease inside of you about something that is happening that you don’t want to be part of, or something that someone is doing that you don’t like, or something that you are being expected to do?
This is happening all the time on a micro level in interpersonal relationships, at work and on a bigger scale in our shared reality of living in this city together, in this country, on this planet. Things are happening that we don’t like, and we very often don’t even acknowledge this to ourselves, let alone speak up about what is happening, let alone find support to collectively transform the situation.
One of the skills needed is the capacity to give and receive feedback.
The parts of this skill include having compassionate understanding of:
This 12 hour Foundation training will give you a solid overview of the tools of Nonviolent Communication that support giving and receiving feedback, speaking truth, self-care and compassion.
This workshop will transform your potential for speaking your truth.
What is Nonviolent Communication? And this series of workshops Cultivating the Strength to Love?
Nonviolent communication (NVC) is a process, skill and consciousness which can be learned. NVC strengthens practices of:
The African American Bishop Curry transformed the energy of the Royal Wedding with his sermon. He flagged up what "The Rev Martin Luther King said, We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. Love is the only way. There is power in love. Don’t underestimate it."
Cultivating the Strength to Love is about learning how to cultivate love for self, others, community and the world. The Strength to Love is one of Dr Martin Luther King's most famous sermons and this training is designed to help you cultivate this power of love. I evoke the memory of Dr Martin Luther King with care. As a white person, I want to be aware of the tendency of white people to appropriate words (and resources) carelessly. I don’t want to be appropriating his words without also integrating the vastness of his vision and practice around racial justice; something he lost his life for.
So far in this series Cultivating the Strength to Love (NVC Foundation Trainings) we have looked at Authentic Relationships and the systematic blocks to authenticity and ways we can transform these with different structures, acknowledgments and practices.
We have looked at Choice, Consent and Creativity and how the practice of NVC can begin the generative cycle of empathy and choice, alongside support and collaboration so we can tackle larger systemic challenges.
Why these themes? I know that I’m caught in a ‘cycle of violence’ when I get scared, confused or stuck. We don’t exist in a vacuum, so the systemic cycles of violence appear in our personal lives insidiously as we go about our daily interactions. Very often, if we have more privilege we are blind to them, or if we have less privilege, we are numb, angry or relentlessly caught up in the violence of them.
This is what Marshall Rosenberg, who built on the nonviolence of Dr Martin Luther King and Gandhi, called ‘Domination culture’, and since the time that Rosenberg was writing and attending to social change, we have even more understanding about trauma responses and about systems thinking for social change.
“If you are not aware of how you are part of the problem, you can’t be part of the solution.” David Peter Stroh
And about money ...
I work in a creative way with money ... pay what you can and what meets your needs.
People pay what they can, considering their needs and mine. Some people pay more. Some people pay nothing. It's a fascinating journey towards a needs-based approach to money.
And I like working with different levels of experience so while this is a foundation training, I welcome people who have more experience in NVC.
In the course of my training in NVC, I repeatedly attended and assisted on Foundation trainings, where I revisited again and again the foundations of nonviolence. As paradigm shifts or changes in habits and patterns take a long time to take root, the repeated practice was very important to create change.
Come and join me for 2 days of learning and connection. Book here
If you haven’t encountered NVC before, have a look at these 4 pages of Information
Or what Marshall Rosenberg https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O4tUVqsjQ2I NVC Training course with MR 9 hr vid
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEqmZ2E1o64 The purpose of NVC (3 hr)
A=Allow and accept what you are hearing and how it is being expressed (unless you really can’t, see below).
B= Boundaries. Use a Time Boundary. Use reflecting back Feelings and Needs as a structure.
C=Connection. Use your Resonant Warmth and Generosity so that the other person really feels your humanity radiating towards them. Empathy is not mechanical.
ABC of Empathic Listening (more detailed guidelines)
A=Allow and accept what you are hearing and how it is being expressed. If someone is stuck, you are not trying to ‘unstick’ them. Try and connect to the relief of not trying to fix anyone. A is for Acceptance, not for Action (although Action comes, and there may be times when you cannot ‘accept’ what you are hearing)
B= Boundaries. Empathic listening is a very boundaried practice.
C=Connection. Use your Resonant Warmth and Generosity so that the other person really feels your humanity radiating towards them. Empathy is not mechanical.
If you can’t be in this resonant space of warmth and generosity. Stop, acknowledge you don’t have capacity. Go and do something lovely for yourself.
Remember, when people are offloading with a lot of energy, this is because they have a very deep, strong need to be heard on something. This need may be chronic and urgent.