The onslaught of summer festivals is upon us, and with Tomorrowland, Electric Zoo, Hard Summer and others still on the horizon, there's a good chance you and your friends will find yourselves in the deafening squall somewhere. So what happens when you spot someone you want to meet but the obliterating bass frequencies make conversation impossible?
These questions and more were explored at an event at last month's Lightning In a Bottle—Do LaB's transformational festival that pairs live music and DJs (headliners this year included Flying Lotus, Santigold and Disclosure) with a slate of talks and workshops. Within a cluster of tents on the banks of Kern County's Buena Vista Lake, you might have found yourself being guided through a liminal dreaming exercise while overhearing the throb of the nearest dance stage and the shrieks from the Kundalini laughter meditation class next door.
RAZMA: I would very strongly say yes. The reason it’s not put forward as a method of getting affirmative consent is because it requires a very, very deep degree of attunement, and we as a culture have lost some of our literacy of body language. There’s a re-education process that needs to happen before that becomes more of a blossoming into the mainstream culture, but I very strongly feel that it’s possible. If you’re not sure, always check in verbally, but there are contexts in which that’s not possible, like if you are in front of a speaker. You can always guide someone to a place that you can speak, but our first language is body language.
PAULA: Something that I do to empower myself on the dance floor, as someone who has felt transgressions where I really like to harness my erotic, creative energy through dance, is to open up space around myself. Sometimes that looks like me twisting my arms side to side while I sway my hips and using my elbows to secure space behind me, and sometimes that looks like me making circular movements with my wrists and clearing space to the sides of me and in front of me. If your intention is to connect with someone on the dance floor, we have so many nonverbal tools and so many things we can rely on, such as the gift economy, to open up a wedge of engagement. Something that was really inspiring to me is the way that people exchange bracelets made out of colorful beads at raves, and it’s a really friendly act that can open up a conversation and see if there’s mutual interest.
We also have to talk about bystander behavior... It’s a collective responsibility for all of us to be well-versed in observing.
PAULA: I’ve been attending festivals and raves since I was 14, so it’s been a constant struggle to deal with the people who do commit acts of transgression on the dance floor because they haven’t been socialized to respect someone that they feel some sort of gravitation towards. If you are entering a festival with an ambition to get laid, it will show in your behavior. You'll blow your cover and risk turning off and annoying potential mates because your prioritization of fulfilling your primal needs will not be in sync with the culture of mutual respect, reciprocity and collective, communal pleasure that makes festivals so unique.
RAZMA: This is reminding me of a body-based affirmative consent principle that I teach: “The Prolonged Pause.” So what you do is you give an invitation without expectation potentially in the form of movement, mirroring someone else’s dance, eye contact. And then you pause and you give them space to respond. You don’t continue to pressure energy towards them; you actually hold your desire within yourself after you’ve invited someone and you give them all the time they need to respond, and this is beautiful also because it works very well with the freeze trauma response. Tonic immobilization is what a freeze response is called in the psychological literature, and it’s an indication of a greater level of trauma. So what happens with animals is the fight-or-flight response is first—adrenalin. And then if the animal’s nervous system perceives that there’s an inability to escape it enters into the freeze state, because it’s playing dead for the predator in the hopes that maybe the predator will release its grip and then it can eventually get away, but it’s kind of like a last-ditch effort. It’s actually an escalation in the trauma ladder, which most of us don’t know. And so when we have this acculturation where we know that human animals have particular trauma responses, we can then be aware and look for that freeze state. When you do a prolonged pause it gives someone the spaciousness, even if they are in a freeze state, that you can actually track.
When I experience a transgression on the dance floor, it indicates to me that there is a pattern of extractive behavior that’s coming into the festival space.
RAZMA: I would say really dive into the delight of being present with yourself and other people. So much of the challenge in navigating these realms is lack of spaciousness. As you were mentioning, people are very spacious here, so give your invitations without expectation, in spaciousness and in a spirit of respect for other people’s body sovereignty. And if you’re seeing something or you’re feeling something that feels off, verbalize it and address it and gain clarity through communicating.
RAZMA: Let me just add a phrase that comes up: Start low and go slow. That applies to ingesting compounds, taking medicines and interactions—to move away from a feeling of scarcity and instead embody the abundance of what you seek.
RAZMA: Definitely. The pace of transformation can be slower than we prefer, but more conversations are happening, and awareness is evolving. For example, there’s the whole Me Too Movement brought to light a lot of insidious longstanding predatory behavior in the dominant culture that’s no longer tacitly acceptable. I’m seeing major changes happening in the mainstream city 9 to 5 settings that echo the evolutionary edge we embody in festival culture.