A Biodanza teacher's look at Covid-19.
There are many diverse opinions surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic and as Biodanza teachers we find it necessary to navigate these and come to some conclusion as we considering when and how to continue teaching. Our training in Biodanza gives us what I consider to be a unique perspective and one worth exploring.
Biodanza is founded on a principle of biocentricism - of putting life at the center of our thinking and decisions. The theoretical basis is firmly scientific and rational yet able to view the world and our place in it systemically, and more holistically than traditional paradigms. With this bases what sense do we make of the ongoing Covid-19 situation?
As a member of the Biodanza Association UK committee I have been thinking very carefully about what response I would like the association to have but ultimately can only offer the following as a personal perspective.
It is inevitable that we will encounter a large range of opinions across the participants in our classes, across the biodanza community and across society at large. Everyone has a unique experience, level of vulnerability to the disease, set of needs and beliefs and exposure to different ideas. I believe that the number one principle we should observe when considering the situation is that:
* Everyone is acting in good faith and doing their best according to their lights in a complex and unprecedented situation.
This applies as the base hypothesis to individuals, organisations, governments and activists. It may not always be true, but it is the basis from which we should start. Scientists call this the null hypothesis.
From here we can look through the lens of biodanza's holistic rationality at the range of views and our responses and responsibilities.
Since we are likely to come across them I think it is worth first considering the 'conspiracy' theories surrounding Covid-19. These alternative views are held passionately by a number of proponents. Kerry Cassidy for example has released videos that convinced many people of an alternative agenda around the pandemic. However his message contained all of the markers of irrational thinking. His argument is essentially unstructured and self contradictory - claiming that the virus was a) an engineered bio-weapon, b) not a virus at all, c) that it was 'mutating' d) not contagious e) designed to eliminate a large proportion of the population f) that the official figures are faked and overblown. All of these things simply cannot be true at once and we can take this as sign of the quality of the position. Similarly Cassidy makes random unsubstantiated claims to a hidden truth: "Trump is working with JFK who faked his own death." The rest of his arguments relating to vaccines and 5G do not pass even the briefest examination and should be discounted through their own inconsistencies and logical fallacies.
However, these ideas have spread and have a resonant effect on the mainstream debate, for better or worse. The rapid spread and passionate belief in these ideas has resulted in polarisation and suppression of debate from mainstream organisations and social media. This is doubtless harmful in some ways but equally passes the test of "everyone acting in good faith and doing their best." The situation invites robust dialog about the interplay between responsibility, freedom of expression and censorship in a post truth society.
It remains by far the best assumption that Covid-19 has natural origins and that leaders are responding as best they can, but this does not prevent opportunism, self interest and even best intentions looking like conspiracy. Claims to an alternative narrative such as "Facebook is suppressing the truth" become like truth simply because of the resonant response. Beyond that conspiracy can be a legitimate expression of dispossession by the political system. For many the world is one in which the cultural and social disorders that we combat in biodanza and that are endemic in the established economic, industrial and political systems are a conspiracy to control, depersonalise and exploit individuals. We should bear this in mind.
For all of us struggling to makes sense of the situation we can perhaps gain more from asking unanswered, even unanswerable questions than from choosing the comfort of certainty through dogmatic conclusions.
The mainstream policy can perhaps be summed up as 'avoid contact, avoid unnecessary death.' While these seems compelling it is probably fair to say that most of us as biodanza teachers have some unease around it. In particular our disquiet is becomes more pressing as time goes on.
As biodanza teachers we are acutely aware of the healing power of tribalisation, community and touch. It is out task to create an environment where barriers to the other can be lowered with trust and safety and our bodies have a chance to recover from the stress of isolation. No teacher wishes to be instrumental in the spread of a deadly disease and yet we are aware of a fuller picture when it comes to health - that a strong sense of safety and community builds a strong immune system for example.
So we ask: for how long should we withdraw biodanza? A few months is one thing, a year is another, and permanently submitting to a new culture of isolation is another altogether. Social contact, including touch is necessary for life, not just for a good quality of life but for life itself. This is often missed because of the timescale. As a rule of thumb we can survive without breath for maybe three minutes, without water for three days, without food for three weeks, without social connection for maybe three years. Studies have shown that the most significant factor in life expectancy is the level of social connectedness.
It was Rolando Torro's mission to reverse the toxicity of a culture of fear and isolation. This is baked into biodanza where it arose in the destructive and depersonalising environment of the Pinochet regime in Chile. It is right for biodanza teachers to continue the mission of healing systemic inhealth though our offering of health, strength and wellness. However, in this environment we have no enemy. There is no wrongness in the basic wish to protect lives. The gift of this situation is perhaps to move the discourse away from the rhetoric of war. We don't have anything to fight, to combat, to overthrow or defeat. But we do, in earnest consideration, consider a position that is inevitably different to the mainstream. It is right that we should ask how do we measure the impact of social isolation? What is the impact of abandoning our freedom and choosing compliance? What is the impact of polarisation and the suppression of discourse? What exactly are we buying with our restrictions and especially with a "new normal".
What exactly are we getting for our payment is an interesting question. It is worth remembering that the message right from the beginning was not that lockdown and isolation would or could prevent anyone from catching the disease but that its value was to slow the exponential spread so as not to overwhelm the health service.
I have recently become aware of the Great Barrington Declaration. Great Barrington is a town in the United States which hosts the American Institute for Economic Research where a petition was created and signed by three significant medical academics advocating a libertarian approach to Covid-19 policy. Of note to us in the UK, one of the three originators is Professor Sunetra Gupta - a professor of Epidemiology at the University of Oxford. Wikipedia has this to say about the professor: "Gupta has been a critic of the lockdown approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that the cost is too high for the poorest in society. She has also questioned the quality of the debate on the pandemic. Arguing herd immunity is a way of preventing vulnerable people from dying, her view is that countries should follow the general approach taken by the infectious disease epidemiologists in Sweden, shielding the vulnerable as best possible while those with minimal risk go about their lives and allow herd immunity to build up"
The Great Barrington Declaration argues that focused protection of the vulnerable is a more effective than lockdown. And that the social cost of lockdown is too high for the benefit, with an impact on health that will need to be measured in years. Sweden has been a model for this approach and has mortality rates similar to the UK. Reading into the declaration the arguments appear to be sound and legitimate and the people behind it well qualified, well respected and well-intentioned. The response to the petition has been interesting, with Reddit, Facebook, Twitter and Google accused of censoring it. The Guardian headline "Herd immunity letter signed by fake experts" is disingenuous. It refers to the public, who are invited to sign the petition, some of whom have made up silly names and qualifications. This is to be expected and in no way reflects on the argument or its originators. This in itself is not news worthy at all, where as the headline seems to be asserting that the originators of the petition were fake experts (they are not). Curious times. The declaration also has legitimate opposition - from the London School of tropical medicine, for example. It is equally is to be expected that there should be debate and disagreement. In addition it has been accused of being funded by American economic interests. This may or may not be true and may of may not have a bearing on the validity of the declaration.
There is no doubt that the desire to teach biodanza has given us curious bed fellows and has become more complex than any of us ever expected.
We must each navigate through the field, taking in considerations of our beliefs, personal risks and civic responsibility.
What can the Biodanza Association UK do to aid in this? To me there is a clear mandate for the organisation to support the choices of its members as individuals including offering personal support, the backing of the tribe, for anyone facing backlash or opposition for thinking differently.
If we choose to teach in person we must at least accept that it is a high risk activity. We might choose to mitigate that risk by degrees of social distancing but we should be clear to ourselves and our participants that the risk is greater than staying at home.
Nuanced and considered opinion is never going to be a meme. It will not sweep the nation, but choosing peace around uncertainty seems our only choice.
When we considering running classes there are some questions we might ask of ourselves. Personally I am excited by the fact that for each of us with different values and perspectives the answers and outcomes of these questions lead to radically different actions and opinions. To me this a great invitation for different and equally valid positions to meet with mutual respect.
How does our approach generalize - what if the world were doing this? Would it be a good thing or a bad thing?
Is our wish to resume teaching for the greater good, or just appeasing our own personal desires?
Is non-contact biodanza significantly safer than traditional biodanza? If so, how much safer? And at what cost?
What responsibility do we have to share and uphold our views?
And, to quote Russell Brand - "What dream are we awakening from that this is our reality?" How do we dream differently?