How Sexual Empowerment Intersects with Healing Racism

In response to my recent article, Getting Your Sexxy On While White, featured by the Body is Not an Apology, I have been receiving many questions and comments, thank you! I would love to engage this dialogue by sharing more about why I created Love Making Dances and how I see connections between sexual empowerment and healing racism.

I want to celebrate the love and sexual energy in women’s bodies. The World Health Organization reports that more than a third of all women worldwide experience physical or sexual violence in 2013. Mind you, this is counting only the ones that have been reported, not to mention the violent experiences of other genders including men. This is an epidemic that begs the opportunity for us to not only end sexual violence, but to discover and respect the power we have as sexual beings.

The media and pop culture set the tone for our self-exploration. But the incredible nature of our sexuality is much more expansive, cosmic, and regenerative than most of what we see. Love Making Dances is about recognizing sexuality as the intersection of body and spirit — that set up this agreement for us to be here in a body — and that can be resourced to deepen our purpose and our passion for it.

Earned sexual power (the soul gifts, discipline and expression we cultivate) is distinctly different from Unearned sexual power (socially constructed privilege, which is dictated by visibility in the media/pop culture.) Love Making Dances focuses on our Earned sexual power, because this life force power is independent of the power systems based on class, race, and gender! The potential here is much greater than amazing orgasms.

I want each generation of women to have increasingly more trust, love, and passion in their body and in their intimate relationships. I know that this can “refinance” our inner resources and by doing so increase our external resources. When we have an open heart and personal power in our sexual energy, we have more energy available to give to our friends, family, community, and financial ventures.

I have yet to meet someone who felt their family was a healthy model for sexually, spiritually, nourishing relationships. So the opportunity for us right now is to change the legacy of the next generation by cultivating our true expression.

When a woman can listen to the wisdom of her womb and her body, she can transgress society’s messages not only about her value, but also about every aspect of her life because she now has a felt sense of her ALIVENESS. The heart and womb know how to heal, how to create life, how to connect. When we honor these regenerating organs we are transforming the future of our healing, creativity, and connection. This is the world I cannot wait to share with you!

Love Making Dances moves people into the highest energy states of gratitude and ecstasy. The archetypes of the victim, oppressor, and martyr cannot co-exist when we are in states of gratitude and ecstasy. I have seen (in years of activist and anti-racism work) what happens when women try to shift the power dynamics solely from a political or theoretical place. Love Making Dances is a visceral way to transform from the inside out, from the body, which directly changes the beliefs, relationships, and visions that we live.

What I see in my own journey (as a white woman) and many of my clients is that until we truly learn our roots, accept them, forgive our family for all the things they didn’t teach us that would have made it sooo much easier, we aren’t going to clean up all this cultural appropriation. Believe me, it’s easier to be angry than to take responsibility to accept our white history no matter how much we would have wanted to write a different story. But there is nothing else to do but that, ACCEPT our history. Sometimes we need to experience the wisdom of other cultures to understand what needs healing in our own culture. Not just mimicking the dances, but learning their source and intention and creating relationships with the communities that choose to share them with us.

West African dance was part of my realization about the lack of sexual expression in ballet, modern, and yoga (often appropriated when taught as fitness and divorced from its traditional roots). These were all movement cultures that white western culture had directed me to.

Different West African dances have unique purposes and cultures of origin. Sunu is a rite of passage into adulthood, and it’s also a courtship process amongst the Mandingo people in Mali. Dundungba is a demonstration of strength by the men, as the women support (traditionally in a hetero-normative context) and a harvest festival dance in Guinea. Mandiani is an initiation for adolescents and also a wedding dance in Mali, Guinea, and Senegal… to name a few traditional dances. These examples already demonstrate that there is a value of coming into your adult body with celebration, with ritual, and in the presence of community.

Let’s just say that after 20 years of ballet I had not learned these values through my community and nobody had taught me how dance can be engaged for a powerful initiation ritual. It wasn’t just the movements of the hips, but the comfort and acceptance people in the classes had with their own sensuality that allowed me to realize how I had been socialized to not express this energy. As I traveled to different continents and cultures dance became how I experienced the values and possibilities a community created. I realized that Love Making Dances could use dance to create the values and possibilities I want to live by: celebrating the love and sexual energy in our bodies to deepen trust, passion, and creativity.

And yes, for the white folks reading this, unless you are an emotional virtuoso that probably means moving through the stages of grief (credited to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book “On Death and Dying.) They are the same stages when you lose a person and when you lose an identity – which is what happens when we break down whiteness. The goal is to acknowledge and move through these stages with commitment, dance and community ritual is a powerful way to do so! This is part of the collective cultural racism detox!

1. Shock & denial (What do you mean once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination for employment/housing/right to vote/educational opportunity/food stamps apply, just like these same discriminations used to apply to being African American?!)

2. Guilt (I feel bad my family paid for most of my college, and I’ve always had a safety net.)

3. Anger (ok, I hate that the black men my age don’t have role models in their family because everyone is either dead or in prison by their 30’s and so now they haven’t been dreaming about what’s next! Trayvon? Don’t even…)

4. Bargaining (well, maybe racism is in full force but it’s also hard being a woman/queer/Jewish…)

5. Depression (maybe this is breaking my heart, how come everyone else seems to be ok?)

6. Acceptance & hope (got it, I’m paying attention, it’s time to cultivate trust in ourselves and in others, independent of the ways white culture teaches us self definition, sexuality, and self worth)

While this is some of the journey for white people with this work, the Love Making Dances community is very diverse across race, age, body type, sexual orientation, relationship lifestyle (poly/bdsm/monogamous…), experience (virgins, professional dominatrix, sexual shamans). By nature of who comes and the shared commitment to authenticity it provides a space for us to get vulnerable, honest, and courageously curious about each other in a way that cuts through invisibility politics and main stream messages.

Some of our recent community conversations have explored the complexity of how pop culture represents the sexuality of African American women. Some voices spoke of feeling hyper sexualized experiencing a dual narrative of the pure white under expressed sexuality and a narrative of the impure sexually deviant person of color. While other voices spoke about the minimization/reductionism of African American sexuality being underrepresented in the kink community, in the adult entertainment industry, in the sex worker professions. The visibility of white sexual identities and lifestyles (i.e., queer, kinky, sacred prostitute) being more prevalent in media and pop culture than of other races represented with a variety of sexual identities and lifestyles. Part of what we do in Love Making Dances is create erotic self portraits to express how we want to be represented, and to discover what sexual fantasies we are most thrilled and terrified to own…and why?

Exploring our true sexuality, not the one we are socially or racially dictated to express, but the one at the core of our humanity is the focus of the Love Making Dances movement! My goal is to support women of all racial identities (without being color blind to the complexities of race) to reclaim our sexuality and its representation in connection with our heart and spirit. Love Making Dances is about reconnecting our sexual energy to source energy and healing the fragmentation within us and between us. The true power of sexual life force is independent of the power systems based on race, class, and gender. I think that’s part of why the old paradigm is afraid of sexual empowerment because knowing our Earned power (the soul gifts and discipline we cultivate) will make our Unearned Power (socially constructed privilege) irrelevant.

The Love Making Dances community is committed to the next generation having trust, love, and passion in their bodies and relationships. We can heal these lineages, I see women doing this work every day. Nothing turns me on more. We would love to invite you to the conversation. Join our newsletter for articles, upcoming events, and learn more about performances, coaching, dance classes, workshops and bodywork with Zahava Griss.

Zahava Griss