I was at the GlowFlow jam last night and was giving an impromptu lesson to a random new student who borrowed some poi and had joined in with her friend. At a certain point, I turned to the student and, wanting to correct her form through manual manipulation of her hand, I asked, “May I touch you?”
Anyone who studies at Temple of Poi will know this is standard practice for all the instructors and that we will always ask the student prior to touching and, unless we are in a container in which all parties in the container are aware we have the agreement not to ask again, this happens every time we approach a student to enter their physical space and touch their person or prop.
More and more in the past few months this topic of consent has come to the forefront of the conversation and I wanted to share three things as related to consent.
First, here’s a little bit about why I think it’s important to ask permission every time. Having been an instructor and using this phrase for over 14 years now, it is an ingrained habit and something that I do without thought. I had a moment of utter awakening to it last night when the student’s friend said, “Oh, that consent is so sexy!”
While I always thought I was asking permission, I never equated it to the cultural hot button dialog we have going on about consent even thought it seems so obvious after someone else made that connection. I had always thought about it from a much more practical perspective of wanting the student to know I was going to come near them and to stop swinging their tool and to make space for me. In a sense, it was a way to ensure I didn’t get bopped by the poi and that, for me, as the asker stepping into their space where prop might hurt me, was just as important.
But the reality is, that’s pretty much irrelevant. I ask because I have no idea what the student is going to do. I don’t want to touch them and them not expect it because how will we work well together if we aren’t communicating effectively? Students have asked me why I continue to ask if I’ve asked once and I repeat, “I’m asking for everyone in the room. By asking permission in front of other people, they also know they are safe and I will also honor their boundaries.”
Which was what was so beautiful last night. It built rapport with both students when I asked one for consent and he said as much when we discussed how sexy it was that I asked. I have to say, it felt really good.
For all you instructors out there who are manually adjusting your students — be it a professional or non professional context — please take the time to ask permission before touching them. It goes a long way toward creating mutual respect and the repercussions may well be beyond the direct interaction. You are creating an example for everyone else in the community to follow as well.
Second, this extends not just to touching someone’s person but to touching someone’s prop. When I first started spinning people gave me so much grief when I didn’t want to share my props, as if it was wrong of me to want to honor my expensive gear. As an instructor, I have a sense of people’s level of skill (especially when students ask) and a decade ago, props weren’t lifetime guaranteed and virtually indestructible. They were hobbled together, easily broken and replaced frequently.
I often ended up at events with people asking me to borrow my gear. This became a social challenge because I clearly would play favorites based on a very practical criteria: skill level of the asker. If you’ve ever operated in community you’ll understand that anyone who has an ego — which I’ve found to be pretty much everyone on the planet — can get prickled if you say no to them because you’ve essentially said, “No, you’re not good enough at using poi to use my poi.” On a practical level, this was necessary to protect my gear but this can easily be taken as a personal judgment. Thus, it became easier for me to simply say no to everyone to ensure no one’s feelings got hurt and I protected my gear and my own needs.
The unfortunate consequence of that is that people gave me attitude, as if I was wrong to say “No” to other people. Along with, ask permission to touch people’s person and props goes the wisdom, you can’t have a strong ‘yes’ until you have a strong ‘no’ because your ‘yes’ is meaningless if you can never say ‘no,’ even when it’s in your best interests. Which means practice saying ‘no’ when you mean ‘no.’
Because, thirdly, No Means No! I’m saddened to have spoken with a friend of mine who recently was a victim of assault and battery in the community perpetrated by another member of the community who didn’t respect the “no” when it was given.
When you are getting to know someone, no means no. It’s not a maybe if you ask a different way it won’t be a no, it’s a no. It’s not an opportunity to push boundaries and try to pressure the person into changing their position. You didn’t get consent. Deal with it. Move on.
Additional resources can be found when you subscribe to our newsletter for mailbox delivery of this and other articles written by Temple of Poi founder and visionary, GlitterGirl, who has been a full time flow arts coach and instructor since 2002. If you seek business training or guidance associated with creating a safe performance, obtaining a permit in San Francisco or other personalized coaching, contact GlitterGirl directly: