Friday, March 25, 2016

NC Bellydance and Activism

Last night I attended a rally with 500+ North Carolinian's who were protesting a law passed yesterday that, among other things, prevents local municipalities from passing anti-discrimination laws protecting transgender citizens. This is embarrassing, disheartening and in general a real downer so why am I writing about it in a bellydance blog that claims to promote "joy and happiness in your personal relationships."

Protest rally last night in Raleigh, photo credit: John Golchin

That is a good question.

There are people in our dance community who are gay, lesbian, transgender, gender fluid, gender queer and/or just don't buy into the binary gender thing and we should support them!  But that is not the reason.

I am the Mom of a lesbian teenager and I want everyone to understand that a world filled with fear and hate is no kind of world for her to grow up in.  So true, but that is not the reason.

My daughter and I at an LGBT march

I consider ATS (R) a feminist form of bellydance because of the emphasis placed on shared leadership, supporting other dancers by using clear communication, and accepting everyone without regard to size, shape, ethnicity, sexual orientation...  But that is still not the reason.

I am a social worker who teaches other social workers about the importance of standing up for marginalized and oppressed populations.  Not the reason.

My students at NCSU School of Social Work

My boyfriend is a Muslim who immigrated to the US as a child.  That means in this political climate the people I love are getting slammed from every direction.  How can people not see that these issues are all connected?  Even that isn't the reason.

My boyfriend and me

The reason it is important to talk about this issue in a bellydance blog is the same reason it is important to talk about while waiting on your daughter to finish dance class and while waiting for your oil change and while cooling down at the gym.  The reason it is important to talk about can be summarized best by Pastor Martin Niemöller when he talked about personal and collective responsibility in WWII.

 “In Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.” --Pastor Martin Niemöller, 1945

I just listed all the reasons I have to speak up and they are good reasons.  Maybe you don't have a Muslim boyfriend or a lesbian daughter, but if we don't talk about homophobia and transphobia, racism and sexism, economic disparity and all of the other issues that are important to our brothers and sisters NOW, then when?

I will leave you with one final quote:

"We must always take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented."  Elie Wiesel

by Lisa Allred, LCSW
Opinions are my own.  Well, Terri agrees too.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Communication: Electronic or In Person?

When my daughter and I dressed as each other for Halloween,
the nonverbal communication was a huge part of our costume!

So much of what I used to do as a therapist and what Terri and I do as consultants is to help people with communication: with spouses, children, parents, co-workers, troupemates, and friends.  This got me thinking about the ways we communicate and how different they are than when I was growing up. I often see people choosing to say difficult things via email or text.  With electronic communication, we don't have to deal as directly with someone else's disappointment, or worse, anger.  In an text or email, people are much more likely to say things harshly, or to have the things written be interpreted harshly, since there is no ability to observe body language or to clarify in real time.

I wondered if there is there any research that helps us know which method of communication is best for particular situations?  Well, as you can predict (or else why would this be an interesting blog, right?); there is!

Our sister, Kristin, and my boyfriend Hasan.  Hmmm

The results of the research are pretty clear.  If building trust is important, in-person communication works the best!  This is true for several reasons:

1- We touch each other.  Formal business meetings usually start with a handshake.  Visits with friends or family often start with hugs.  I went to an Albanian wedding with my boyfriend, and was greeted by everyone with 3 kisses to the cheek.  It took me a minute, but then I figured out to go right, left, and then right again!  Even brief touch, like shaking hands, can cause the centers of the brain associated with rewards to activate.  Touch increases cooperation, promotes good feelings and results in more positive interactions.

2- We are able to gauge consistency between words and body language.   If words and body language are consistent, we are more trusting.  You might not know a lot about reading people's body language, but nonetheless, you will pick up on things you aren't even conscious of, for example, a person's eyes dilating when they are happy.

3- We mirror other peoples' emotions.  This is called emotional contagion. If you just need to share factual information, an email is fine, but if you need to encourage excitement, in-person is better.

4- Finally, for all of the reasons above, we tend to like people more when we meet with them in person.

My daughter, Kristin, who like my sister, her namesake,
is a master of nonverbal communication

So what if we can't communicate in person?  Don't despair.

The next best choice is video chatting.  That works 80% as well as an in-person meeting.  After that comes audio chat, followed by texting or IM.

I know what some of you are thinking... that you are not, have never been, and never will be comfortable talking about difficult things in person.  Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will address that very issue!

Here are some articles in case you want to read more about this topic:



Monday, October 19, 2015

Keeping our sisters (and brothers) safe

Many years ago I attended a bellydance event in another community.  The husband of the dancer who was organizing the event was there the entire weekend.  I commented on how great it was that he was so supportive.  The dancer I was with told me that he beats his wife and won't let her out of his sight because he doesn't trust her.  

I really can't explain why this surprised me.  At the time I had been working as a clinical social worker in the field of family violence for over 2 decades.  I know that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men are victims of [some form of] physical violence by an intimate partner during their lifetimes (CDC, 2010).  Over the years, countless people (upon hearing what I do for a living) had disclosed their stories of sexual and physical violence.  I know that family violence can happen to anyone regardless of socioeconomic level, race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion, etc.  So why was I surprised?

When I walk into a dance studio it is like a sacred space.  Dance is my form of meditation and the dancers are my community.  It feels safe and good and somehow protected.  But I KNOW that there are women who enter the studio who are being emotionally or physically abused when they go home after class.  Statistically, in a class of 20, there are at least 6 of us who have experienced intimate partner violence. 

I believe there is an opportunity for those of us who dance to hold our sisters up and let them know that they are not alone.  This can be as simple as leaving brochures from the local domestic violence program in the studio restroom.  Don't know anything about the local program?  Search "[name of your county] domestic violence" or go to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence website.

Want to do a little more?  Educate yourself about domestic violence.  Go to the National Coalition website.  Read some of the fact sheets and learn about the types of power and control that can occur in an abusive relationship.  Physical violence is only one of many abusive behaviors.  Read about how to recognize signs of a potentially abusive partner.  I call them "red flags" and they can include things that might seem flattering at first... wanting to spend all his/her time with you, constantly texting you to see where you are, telling you what he/she likes you to wear.  Tell your friends about what you learned.

Want to do even more?  Consider making the local DV program the recipient of any profits from your next hafla.  Check with your local DV shelter and see what they need right now (most don't have space for storage).  Put a cardboard box in the corner of the studio to collect toilet paper, diapers, hair care products, etc.

If you want to talk further about this topic, get in touch with me or Terri.  We both have extensive professional experience working in the field of family violence.



Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Victim Blaming: Why We Feel Safer When We Blame Others and Ourselves

Victim blaming can be defined as “putting blame for the occurrence of a traumatizing event on the survivor instead of blaming the perpetrator.” (1)

Victim blaming occurs in many contexts.  Homeless people are blamed for not being able to support themselves, targets of bullying are blamed for not “standing up to the bully,” robbery victims are blamed for walking down the street wearing flashy jewelry.  However, we would like to discuss victim blaming in the context of sexual violence and objectification.

The Social Context of Victim Blaming

The phenomenon of victim blaming is common in hate crimes, discrimination, rape and bullying.  Victim-blaming doesn’t occur in a vacuum, the social context that gives rise to it occurs when a perpetrator of crime enjoys a privileged social status, authority or power over the victim. Most sexual and family violence is perpetrated by members of a privileged group (men) upon members of an unprivileged group (women, children, weaker men).

Perpetrators, bystanders, society and even victims themselves practice and enforce victim blaming.  “Each group does so for different reasons based on their power or lack thereof, self defense and desire to find logical reasons for abuse or social injustice." (3)

Why do Offenders Blame the Victim?

This may be the easiest to understand.  Offenders blame their victims in order to avoid punishment and maintain the freedom to abuse in the future.  We have both worked extensively with offenders of sexual and domestic violence.  In every single case, the offender had a sense of entitlement over their victims because they had some form of power over their victims (age, financial control, size, threat of emotional or physical harm, etc.).  This was the case for hands-off offenders and hands-on offenders.

Making the victim completely or partially responsible for their behavior allows offenders to abdicate responsibility while at the same time staying in a position of power.  The reasoning follows that if she (sic) hadn’t dressed skimpily, agreed to my authority by marrying/dating me, smiled at me, etc. then I wouldn’t have targeted her.

One time I (Terri) was working with a man who broke into women’s houses and raped them.  He described a situation where he was pumping gas and a woman smiled at him.  He followed her home and began casing her.  When I asked why, he said that she obviously wanted to have sex with him, because she had smiled at him.  These errors in thinking are called cognitive distortions.  Types of cognitive distortions include rationalizing, justifying, minimizing, and blaming the victim. 

Why do Others (bystanders, society) Blame the Victim?

Victim blaming occurs for several reasons.  First, it occurs because we don’t want to acknowledge our own vulnerability.  “When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable.” (1)  I (Lisa) have worked a lot with rape survivors and one day I realized that despite my training and knowledge, I was doing this too.  As a way to feel less vulnerable I was carefully avoiding mall parking lots, certain apartment complexes, meeting men at bars, etc. because those were all ways I knew that survivors had crossed paths with rapists.  It is human nature to look for ways we are different than anyone who experiences a traumatic event in an effort to feel that false sense of security.   

This phenomenon is called the Just World Theory.  It is the idea that bad things only happen to people who did something to deserve it.  “If an event establishes the world as unjust, people put the victim at fault or try to convince themselves and others that no injustice has occurred.”(3)

Victim blaming also occurs when we as a culture or community resist holding the actual offender responsible for the behavior in question.  This reasoning follows that someone has to be to blame for the bad behavior, and we know that the offender is a good guy; so it must have been the victim.

In our experience, victims of sexual or family violence are believed more often when there are aggravating factors in place such as physical injury (not just emotional) or the offender is a stranger.  It is almost as if the victim has to meet certain criteria to remain un-blamed.  Victims of “hands-off” offenses (like sexual harassment, voyeurism, verbal bullying, and emotional abuse) are often faced with disbelief. 

Why Do Victims Blame Themselves?

Because all of us live in this culture where rampant victim-blaming occurs, victims are not immune to this socialization.   In addition, by blaming himself or herself, the victim re-gains the sense of control that was lost.  For example, if I never walk alone at night again, I won’t be attacked.  “By taking responsibility for the actions taken against them, victims feel that if they avoid the behavior that purportedly caused their abuse, the will avoid the abuse again.”(3)

What Can You Do About Victim-Blaming Behavior?

-       Challenge victim-blaming statements when you hear or read them.
-       Let survivors know that it isn’t their fault.
-       Hold abusers accountable for their actions without minimization, blame or excuses.
-       Acknowledge that survivors are their own best experts.


Terri and Lisa

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Understanding the Sexual Objectification of Women

Sexual Objectification of Women

There is currently a lot of conversation in our community about the sexual objectification of women.  Many dancers have written eloquently on why it is an important issue.  We hope to add to this dialogue by defining the term and giving some examples.  Unlike our average blog, this one will contain citations and a bibliography.  Because of the nature and timing of this blog, it is important that we not just share our own experience, but also point you in the right direction if you are interested in reading more. 

To objectify someone is to view them as an object, rather than as a subject, or a human with feelings, thoughts, opinions and value.  To sexually objectify someone is to view a person as an instrument of sexual pleasure.  Objectification occurs in interpersonal relationships and in the broader culture as pornography, prostitution, sexual harassment, and sexualized representation of women in mass media.(1)  Sexual objectification is not the same as sexual attraction.  Sexual objectification occurs when the individuality of the desired person is not acknowledged or recognized.

The dehumanization that results from objectification can cause a host of problems for the subject, object and community.

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is being objectified

When people are objectified, they are denied personhood.  Research indicates that objectified women are seen as less competent, sincere, moral and intelligent.(2,3)  Further, exposure to sexualized images of women negatively impacts how the male viewer perceives other women (not just the woman being pictured).(2) Objectification not only harms the women who are objectified but also harms women in general.

Impact of sexual objectification on women in general

Each individual act of sexual objectification has consequences. When many representations of women are sexualized (i.e., objectified),  a “rape culture” develops, where women are blamed when they are victimized and rape is trivialized.(7) 

Further, women who grow up in a culture with widespread sexual objectification tend to internalize those messages.  This is called “internalized self-objectification.”  If you grow up in a culture that objectifies women you will do this to some extent without even realizing it.  This internalization can result in issues including eating disorders, depression, body shame, sexual dysfunction, depression, and substance abuse.(4)  

Impact of sexual objectification on the person who is objectifying another:

There are negative implications for the person who is doing the objectifying as well.  If you discount a person’s feelings, thoughts, and dreams, instead focusing on their appearance, they become less than real to you.  Carole Heldman, PhD, has found that exposure to images of sexually objectified women causes male viewers to be more tolerant of sexual harassment and rape myths.(5)

What can I do?

First, remember that people who are objectified respond in different ways.  Some, particularly those with a history of sexual violation, may be deeply impacted by an instance that another person might consider a nuisance.  You can respect each person’s unique response and offer support accordingly. 

Second, remember that the impact of objectification extends far beyond the people targeted to the entire community. Just as the ones objectified have varying responses, so do those in our community.

Third, remember that demonizing the people who acted in ways that objectify others is a form of objectification in and of itself.  Holding people accountable for these attitudes and actions is appropriate.  

This is a deep topic and we will be exploring more facets of this issue over the next several weeks.

Be kind to yourself and others, breathe and let us know if you need anything.

Terri and Lisa

If there is a topic you would like us to blog about, just let us know.


Monday, September 14, 2015

Challenging Unkind Behavior

Do you ever read a rant about a dancer on Facebook?  Have you overheard dancers at a show commenting negatively about others?  Have you ever been to a bellydance event where there was clearly an "in" group who were not friendly to dancers unless they were "important"?  How do you feel about challenging these behaviors when you see/hear/read them?  How do you decide when challenging the unkind behavior is better than ignoring it?

In this blog, I am going to talk about challenging unkind behavior in the dance community by applying some ideas from research on bystander behavior and confronting racism.  Our ultimate goal is to respond to unkind behavior in such a way that the other person can hear our feedback.  This isn't always easy to do and getting better at it is a process.

Initially, we may find that we are only able to identify unkind behavior (our own or someone else's) after the fact, maybe because someone else points it out to us.  Eventually, we are able to recognize the behavior at the time it occurs. Ultimately, we want to be able to decide the best way to respond at the time the behavior occurs. Sometimes this means choosing to respond later in private.   Sometimes it means responding immediately.

So how do you respond?

Discussion Tips for Challenging Unkind Behavior:

Discuss the person being disparaged in the context of your relationship to them
    Mary is an ATS(R) dancer from my community.  She may not have a lot of skill, but she is kind and friendly and really eager to learn.

ATS(R) Homecoming 2015 was a great example of a supportive dance environment
Picture of Terri's veil workshop

Ask questions (statements can generate resistance, questions invite conversation)
    Why do you say that?  How much do you know about the situation?

Consider planting a seed rather than needing instant resolution
    I have been thinking a lot lately about how I interact with other dancers in our community and part of that is not staying in conversations that are (or could turn) negative.  I would love to tell you about my thoughts sometime if you are interested.

Appeal to the person's best self
    I'm surprised to hear you say that because I have always thought of you as a person who was very supportive/kind.

My daughter sleeping on the floor with her dog who was too old to jump on the bed anymore.
It was years ago but this was the sweetest picture I could find.
We all have that kindness inside.

Talk about how it makes you feel (telling them how to behave- what to do or not to do- can be disputed, but how you feel cannot)
    It makes me uncomfortable to hear you say that/ to talk about this/ to read this.

Approach the person with respect rather than self-righteous indignation
    I know how tempting it is to vent about _____ because I struggle with it also, but we made a commitment not to talk negatively about others and we have to help each other stick to that promise.

In the past when my behavior has been challenged, I was much more open to the feedback when the person talked to me like I was a good person who just had a lapse in judgement.  Think about the ways you would be most open to hearing this kind of feedback and try to follow the Golden Rule (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)

Good luck and don't hesitate to touch base with Terri or I if we can help you problem-solve about a specific situation.



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Keeping Passion Alive in your Relationship

Hasan and Lisa at a recent show that involved audience participation
Photo credit: Josh Edwards

This post is for bellydancers who are in intimate partner relationships.  Like me, there may be some of you out there who struggle with balancing the needs of your partners with the needs of your troupe!  Here are just a few of the things MY partner, Hasan, tolerates (I am guessing some of this will sound familiar):  work vacation days used up for bellydance events, weekend get-aways starting on Saturday morning because troupe rehearsal is on Friday night, listening to endless fangirl stories about amazing dancers, and requests for back rubs after hours of dancing with ATS® arms. 

We spend a lot of time practicing our dance, perfecting our technique, and bonding with our troupe mates.  Here are some ideas for things you can do to focus on your partner.

1-      Turning towards each other

“Turning towards each other” behaviors will increase connection and trust with your partner.   In every relationship, people make “bids” for each other’s attention, affection or support.  This "turning towards each other" is the basis for emotional connection, romance, passion and a good sex life.  These bids for attention can be small, like a smile, or bigger, like leaving a voice mail when you know your partner is going to have a stressful day.   Rather than thinking of romance as a lavish gift, think of romance as flourishing in the everyday, little things—all of these “turning towards” behaviors.  Lavish gifts in the absence of these small and constant expressions of love can feel insincere. 

2-      Solve your Solvable Problems

There are some problems you may never solve… differences in political beliefs, ex-partners who interfere, or if your partner is a morning person and you are a night owl.  So how do you solve your solvable problems?

First, if necessary, adjust the way you are thinking about your partner.  Trust that your partner has your interests in mind by behaving as if you believe it, even during a disagreement. 

Second, when you bring up a problem, use this format:  I feel _________ about (what)       and I need ____________.  For example,  I feel concerned about the car registration and I need you to send in the renewal tomorrow. Framing things like this describes your feelings and sets up your partner to respond in a positive way.

3-      Self-Expansion Theory

Self-expansion theory posits that people have an innate inclination towards growth and towards expanding their self-concept.  One of main ways we do it is through our relationships.  In other words, satisfying relationships are those where partners help each other grow as individuals. 

Close relationships open up new worlds to people.  Small parts of yourself change and become more like your close friends and partners.  My partner works in advertising and I now talk about being "on brand" which is a concept I would have never used before I met him two years ago.  Relationships not only help shape our identities; they also provide us with shared resources.

Opportunities for self-expansion are highest early in new relationship and as self-expansion decreases so does relationship satisfaction.  Therefore, self-expansion theory also explains how to increase relationship satisfaction- ask couples to participate in new and exciting things together.

Terri and Daniel in Mexico

4-      Prioritizing Sex

Touch is such an important part of love and sex.  The United States is a very “low touch” culture.  There are actually researchers who study how often couples touch each other in different countries.  A psychologist, Sidney Jourard, studied couples around the world who were out to dinner and recorded how often they touched each other in an hour.   Couples in Paris touched each other 115 times- not a surprise!   In Mexico City couples touched each other 185 times an hour.  In London, the average number of times couples touched each other was zero; and in Florida, 2 times an hour.  In the USA, touch is a much underutilized strategy for increasing love and passion in a relationship!

If sex is important to you in your relationship, create a deliberate intention to cultivate a rewarding sex life.  This starts with positive self-talk.   Thinking or saying you are too tired and stressed to have sex contributes to creating that reality.  Prioritizing your relationship including the sexual part might seem like an impossible task with dance, busy jobs, children, pets, relatives, bills, etc.  However, once you start prioritizing time alone with your partner you will find that you have more energy, are less stressed, and have a greater overall life satisfaction than when you didn’t make time. 

I would love to hear what other dancers do to “keep the passion alive.”  For more info on this topic:

xoxoxo, Lisa