Intimacy and consent in the professional space

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Physical touch is unavoidable in dance, but how do you ensure that no boundaries are crossed? In the second part of her feature, NINA LEVY explores the role of intimacy coordinators.

How do we handle consent when scenes involve sexual intimacy?

While any form of physical touch in the dance studio requires consent between the people involved, dance works that involve sexual intimacy of any kind require particular care.

That’s where intimacy co-ordinators come in. An intimacy co-ordinator looks after the physical and emotional well-being of performers who are required to engage in intimate scenes, and ensures that informed consent has been given for these scenes.

Intimacy co-ordinators have become increasingly common in the film, television and live performance industries in recent years, and the practice of hiring an intimacy co-ordinator is beginning to infiltrate the dance sector too.

Artistic director of Force Majeure Danielle Micich has been working as an intimacy co-ordinator across film, television and live performance for over 10 years. She describes that role as “a translator, or a liaison, between the performer and production”.

She explains, “My job is to go in, and say, ‘Okay, let's look at what the scene is, let's look at what your character needs to be doing. Let's see what you, as a human, are capable and wanting and able to do, because there is that negotiation. You don't have to do everything that’s set. Nowadays, you get to go, ‘These are my boundaries.’

“In some cases I don't do too much other than listen to a conversation and ask questions. And the times I have to get in and assist with actual scenarios where people are unsure, I say, ‘Well, what do you feel comfortable with?’ And we start piecing together a kind of step by step, which I call ‘beat by beat’, of how to go through the action, because if you have to repeat an action, you've got to repeat it exactly the same each time … if you know what those beats are, then it’s just like any other fight scene or other type of choreography, you know what the steps are, and you follow the steps.

“I put that into place by speaking by speaking to the performers, and then when everyone's in agreement, we decide if we need to document it, and then we move on from there.”

How do you know if you need an intimacy co-ordinator?

Like Molly Tipping, Micich emphasises the importance of negotiation in conversations about consent. If either directors/choreographers or dancers don’t have those skills, then you might consider using an intimacy co-ordinator.

“You have to talk to the people and make sure they understand what their character is going to need to do, and if they are comfortable in negotiating that with another person,” she says. “If a performer says, ‘I don't even know how to negotiate this’, or the director doesn't know how to negotiate that, or doesn’t have the time to negotiate that, then you need to get someone in who can negotiate it.”

What it’s like to work with an intimacy co-ordinator?

David McAllister, presently the interim Artistic Director at the West Australian Ballet, worked with an intimacy co-ordinator for the first time in 2023, when he was interim artistic director at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. The company had commissioned US-based choreographer Andrea Schermoly to create a new Romeo and Juliet, with Megan Adams as intimacy co-ordinator.

“Megan worked individually with the dancers before the choreography was made, and then worked with the dancers during the making of the choreography and afterwards,” he recalls.

“I think each individual couple had time with her, to discuss anything that they felt uncomfortable about, and negotiate their way through. Many of them had danced together a lot so they had that shorthand already … But there were a couple of couples who were dancing together for the first time. And I think it was really valuable for them to build that sense of what they felt comfortable doing in the studio, as opposed to onstage.”

Ensuring that the dancers continue to feel safe as they take intimate scenes from studio to stage is a particularly important part of the intimacy co-ordinator’s role, says McAllister.

“The difference between being in a private rehearsal with the choreographer and maybe some other cast members, to being in a full call with the full company, and then to being on the stage with an audience – there's levels of things that you overcome,” he says.

“The first full call in the studio with the company is often more scary than the first time you're on stage with the audience because, with an audience, there's the proscenium arch, that magic, the fourth wall ... plus, you get that lovely feedback from the audience.

“Whereas the first time in the studio, doing the full run with the company, you do feel incredibly exposed and vulnerable, because they're your peers, and most times, they're very supportive, but sometimes you can feel like,” – he gulps ­– “What are they going to think? Add the extra complexity of having intimate moments, and it heightens the emotional situation. Having someone there to help defuse some of that is really great.

“Working with an intimacy co-ordinator is really about setting boundaries and working on the path of how you get from beginning to show.”

See the first part of this article here.

See more on this topic in the current April/May/June print issue of 'Dance Australia'. Buy from your favourite dance shop or online here or here. Print is for keeps!


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