How to Cultivate Community for Yourself

There can be no vulnerability without risk; there can be no community without vulnerability; there can be no peace, and ultimately no life, without community.”  ~ M. Scott Peck

A year ago I was training for several dance competitions and found myself writing about fellowship, adversity and values highlighted through dance; the sense of belonging support and community in dance, specifically ballroom dance. A year later I find myself reflecting on how we cultivate and become members of community. The word “community” is derived from the Old French communité, which is derived from the Latin communitas (cum, “with/together; munus, “gift”), a broad term for fellowship or organized society.1 To come together plus a gift, that is something shared, a pretty wonderful thing in life. To share in a gift, to give a gift to openly and wholly receive a gift we must be open and vulnerable otherwise we remain outside the fold of companionship and fully formed relationships.

A “sense of community” requires four elements: 1) membership, 2) influence, 3) integration and fulfillment of needs, and 4) shared emotional connection.2 To these four elements I would add vulnerability. Vulnerable not to expose yourself to danger, but rather to allow access to something about yourself that increases the gift shared.

Consider the critiques given to dancers, “Your technique is apparent, but your heart is not.” “Give yourself over to the feel of the movement, rather than only the steps.” “Don’t worry about the steps, just feel the music and let your body move with it.” What these comments point to is the need, really the requirement for a connection, on an emotional level, between the individual and others, the audience, the dance hall, or their immediate partner. To dance without feeling is a hollow communion. It is just technique displayed not something shared.

So how to cultivate community for yourself? Here’s an example:

You move to a new city and looking to find ways to connect with people, and explore your interests, like dance.  So you breakout the phone book, run an Internet search, ask around, look at the announcements and ads in local publications for dances, studios, and groups. Saturday night you go to the free lessons offered by the local social dance group, meeting new people out of your respective individual needs (integration and fulfillment of needs). There you learn about the different dance studios getting a sense of where you might feel most at home and then go to the group dance lessons at a studio. Next thing you know you are one of the folks taking group lessons; you and the other students and the instructor are bound by a place, membership boundaries are set (we dance at the such-and-such studio).  Spending time together learning steps, laughing over missteps, applauding the “I-finally-got-it moments”, and testing the feel of different leads and follows slowly but surely you influence each other and find yourself emotional invested. As you begin to help each other master patterns and transitions between patterns suddenly you realize you are freed up to improvise because you trust your partner and yourself to feel the moment and the music together. And then most wonderful and magical things happen, like being transported into the “MusicDance”. Others comment about how much fun looked like you were having or how they felt the tenderness in the dance, or “Can you show me that steps?” It gets started because you make yourself accessible to others and vice versa.

The fellowship experienced in dance is a thing of beauty and of strength. The gift grows with, for and because of each community member.  In my Values of Dancing post I noted Community/Fellowship as a value reflected in ballroom dancing.  When you share in a community, you have something in common with others, a shared experience, even if in only one area of life. You are connected and contribute to that shared bond of belonging to a community. People in a community celebrate together and pull together in times of need.

I know this sounds all woo-woo and frankly maybe to out there, too soft for many folks- too bad. We should all be so open to vulnerability to we live life we are playing out hearts out in a game or dancing our hearts out.  We should all be courageous enough to be with soul, knowing the scrapes, bruises and bumps that come with risk temporary, but the joys of connection and community are lasting, transferable and nurturing.

I will now get off my soapbox and back to the cha-cha-cha.

1“community, n.” OED Online. July 2009. Oxford University Press

2 McMillan, D.W., & Chavis, D.M. 1986., Sense of community: A definition and theory, Journal of Community Psychology, Vol. 14., pp 6 – 23

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2 thoughts on “How to Cultivate Community for Yourself

  1. Deirdre, these are beautiful and thoughtful words. Vulnerability opens our hearts and the space around us to create much more vibrant connections. I think you’re absolutely right on! I’ve been seeing this play out among my facebook friends, and I’m now experiencing a spiritual community with the greatest depth I’ve ever seen in a large group. No one set ground rules! We’ve all just shown up completely and safety filled the space. It’s a paradox that allowing vulnerability creates safety, but I’ve seen it happen that way time and again. Thank you for sharing, Deirdre! Your words are always so full of wisdom. Much love, Denise

    • Thank you Denise for sharing your wonderful experience. Vulnerability can paradoxically cultivate safety and I would add from that grows strength and opens you to possibilities.

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