ITHACA, N.Y. – What would a dream nightlife event be like? Entertainment that energizes the crowd, music that gets people dancing, and according to the organizers of the Ithaca pop up dance party POP’d at the Cherry, a culture of enthusiastic consent.
“It should be really obvious that that’s something people are looking for: to feel safe and like they can express themselves,” said Double T, one of the event’s producers and the stage manager coordinating a packed line-up of dance, drag and burlesque performances. The third POP’d at the Cherry party will open at 9:30 p.m. this Saturday, May 25, at the Cherry Artspace, and like the first two iterations it will try to set a new standard for safety and consent on the nightlife scene.
When co-creators Mickie Quinn and Jonny Tunnell met they both had years of experience producing and promoting events in the area, from Whisky Bingo to the Grassroots Festival. They both knew the pitfalls of nightlife events and venues around town: over serving, overcrowding, and environments where risky or threatening behaviors went unchecked. As the two talked at a “Barstander” bystander intervention training led by the Advocacy Center’s Naomi Barry, they began brainstorming ideas for an ideal party.
“We realized with our forces combined we could pull off a fun event that’s fairly unique,” Tunnell said, “that is focused on consent and being sex positive and being an educational tool.”
They assembled a team committed to the idea that having a good time means having a time free from unwanted attention and advances, and pulled together ideas like hanging educational posters around the event space, posting the names and locations of security personnel and preparing an enthusiastic consent skit.
Aleshia Akers, a producer and member of the DJ crew Spirit Posse with Tunnell, said they debated whether interrupting a dance party with a skit would be taking the educational mission too far. “But the feedback was amazing!” she said. Actors start out by performing how not to approach someone on the dance floor, one running up behind the other and slamming their body against them. “The crowd was yelling, ‘No, don’t do that, that’s not how you do it!’” Akers said. When the actors then showed how to respectfully approach a dance partner the crowd cheered.
“People love that we’re teaching consent and inclusivity,” Quinn said. “This whole entire dance party is a (public service announcement).”
Even the organizers admit they’re surprised by how popular the educational party is. At the second POP’d event on Feb. 2, a line snaked around the building after the room reached capacity. To the crew, the popularity proves that people want a safer nightlife culture and would embrace venues around town that took cues from POP’d.
At the POP’d event, a consent monitor circulates to watch for risky behaviors – everything from a person buying someone drinks they don’t want to showing aggressive body language or just looking uncomfortable. The role of the monitor is to check in with folks and notice small signs of discomfort that are often ignored, defusing risky situations before they escalate to violence or sexual assault.
“We have this dream of training an army of consent monitors that can be hired to be at bars, at college parties, to start this bigger conversation of having someone there to make sure everyone’s okay,” Quinn said.
Already, some elements of the POP’d approach are seeping into bars and events around Ithaca. Earlier this week staff from Moonies Bar and the Ithaca Festival joined in a Barstander training, learning how to intervene early in risky situations and coordinate across roles to curb problems. Staff from several area venues have participated in past trainings.
But as the POP’d team works with partners throughout the community to spread education about consent, by crafting their own event from the ground up they’ve created a space unlike any other in Ithaca.
“We’re not aiming for perfection, but we’re striving to do better than our predecessors,” Tunnell said.
Double T added that the crew is also striving to do better than their last event with each new iteration. “We’re learning to navigate what it’s really like to have a safe party.”
Saturday, guests who enter the Cherry Artspace will be welcomed with the event’s mission statement. “In this space we welcome all people,” it begins. “We love. We celebrate. We dance. We are sexy. In this space we tolerate nothing less than enthusiastic consent. If we see something, we say something. We show up. We speak out.”
“Anyone who walks through those doors knows they’re coming in and being welcomed into a community,” Quinn said.
POP’d at the Cherry will take place 9:30 p.m. Saturday, May 25 at the Cherry Artspace, 102 Cherry St. Attendees must be 18 to enter, 21 to drink. A full list of performers, DJs and bartenders is available on the event page. Proceeds will benefit the Advocacy Center’s Barstander training program.
Featured image: The crowd at the Feb. 2 POP’d event provided by POP’d at the Cherry (Ed Dittenhoefer)