Groups of dancers in the San Francisco Bay Area, as well as elsewhere around the planet, have been rehearsing and engaging in public Flash Mobs. They show up, unannounced, start the music on a portable system, and begin dancing. They are building toward a February 14, Valentine’s Day, One Billion Rising action, scheduled for over 190 countries.
“Eve Ensler, the author of the play ‘The Vagina Monologues,’” explained Valerie Richman of Petaluma, “read a United Nations’ statistic that one of three women would be the victim of violence. So she got the idea of a billion women and those who love them standing up to strike, rise, and dance to end violence. A song was written, ‘Breaking the Chain’, along with choreography by Debbie Allen.”
One billion women are raped, beaten or sexually abused during their lifetimes. This huge global gathering gives artistic expression to anger and grief to transform them into unifying, uplifting, and healing public events in order to “Break the Chain” of violence against women and girls. “Strike | Dance | Rise!” is the planetary invitation. It will climax on the 15th anniversary of the annual V-Day that Ensler and others have organized in many different languages around the globe. “The ‘V’ in V-Day stands for Valentine’s Day, Victory over Violence, and Vaginas,” explained Petaluma’s Trisha Almond.
“Dancing is an expression of the power we don’t always feel we have,” explained Diana Ellis of Petaluma. She supports “a vision of how men and women can work together in simple artistic ways to fight violence against the one billion. Like the large number, the problem of solving sexual violence can feel hopeless. But a billion minus one, minus one, minus one …. eventually equals zero.”
Some 400 dancers converged on downtown San Francisco on January 26. “One Billion Rising.org is a dancing revolution against the world-wide violence against women and girls on a daily basis,” reported Suzette Burrous, a mid-wife whowas a participant in that event. “I joined this movement because I strongly support the work of VDay.org. Having performed in ‘The Vagina Monologues’ seven times in the past, I was extremely excited to be part of another global movement to protect and enhance the lives of women of the world.”
La Tierra community’s warm barn in the Sebastopol countryside in Sonoma County, Northern California, where Burrous lives, heated up on January 24. It became a hot site for an exciting dance rehearsal.
Sebastopol’s lead dancer AnnMarie Ginella—a widow in her 50s with four sons—clad in a colorful One Billion Rising shirt against a black background, had expected four people to attend the rehearsal. Over a dozen came, including three men and an animated five-year-old girl with her mother and grandparents, who evoked smiles as the child watched carefully and learned the steps. By the February 3 public rehearsal in Sebastopol’s plaza some 30 dancers joined and were witnessed by many at the small town’s weekly farmers’ market.
Dominican University in San Rafael will be the site of Marin County’s February 14 action. Sister Patricia Dougherty, OP, Ph.D., chair of Dominican’s history department, sent out an invitation to faculty and staff to join the social justice effort. It will begin, appropriately enough, with a dance prayer performed by international women in the morning, directed by dance teacher Taira Restar.
“Noise at Noon” will climax the day with a march protesting violence against women and girls. It will go from the campus to downtown San Rafael. Participants are invited to “bring posters, noise makers, and high energy to protest local and global violence toward women and girls.” An afternoon teach-in described as “Breaking the Chain,” the name of the song to which participants dance, will conclude the day.
A group of six Petaluma dancers spoke to a communication class at Dominican and engaged in a Flash Mob outside the library on February 1, including a mother/daughter team. “The Flash Mobs we’ve been in have been fun,” noted Ronda Black. “You go in and dance without permission. When we went to a mall, a security guard came up and asked ‘Who is your leader?’ We responded that we don’t have a leader.”
“Violence is like climate change,” added Connie Madden. “People do not want to look at it. We need to shine a light on the violence and change what we do. Instead of the growing cultural clashes around the world, we need to find ways to come together as one human race, rather than warring tribes.”
“In Berlin over 5,000 people were involved in a Flash Mob,” noted Richman. She also explained that the group is male positive and includes men, noting that many men are also victims of violence. After the Petaluma group–mature women mainly in their 40s to 60s–demonstrated the dance, the college students jumped up to join them and learn the steps in 12 movements.
“On my knees I pray. I’m not afraid any more. I will walk through that door,” are words that open the dance. Then the dancers erupt in skillfully coordinated, crisp movements.
“We are mothers. We are teachers. We are beautiful creatures,” are other affirming words that are spoken and danced to. “I raise my hands to the sky. I’m no longer afraid” are more proud words that stimulate the dancing, as is “You don’t own me.”
“This is my body. My body is holy. In the middle of this madness, I know there is a better world. Break the rules. It’s time to break the chain,” are other words to which the dancers move.
“We can talk and talk and talk,” noted male dancer Dean LaCoe in the Sebastopol barn. “When you add music and dance, it goes to your heart.” Rehearsals help build community among its participants.
Watching the dynamic women and their male allies dance, at times I thought about my mother, Alice Miller Bliss. Her life was difficult, raising five children and dealing with a military husband who could be violent. This reporter was not the only person in the barn whose memories were evoked by the dancing. Tears could be seen on some dancers’ faces.
Negative memories of violence can be replaced by positive ones of togetherness, unity, and even love, as the dozen people rehearsing in the barn began to coordinate their movements. They replaced some of their pain with the joy of being together in a vital connection against violence and for healing. When they left La Tierra’s barn–by then with its doors pushed open to the cold winter–they were highly animated by their time together creating an uplifting art form combining spoken words, music, and movement.
Feeder events are happening in Petaluma, including an art show extending from February 1 to March 3. Its call for art requested that which “is a positive expression of women; their resiliency, their sensuality; an expression of what the V-Day movement means to them; why they are RISING; or artwork relating to women’s empowerment and prevention of violence against women and girls.”
If February. 14 draws anywhere near as many people as its ambitious goal, it would be the largest art event in history, including the already beautiful posters and videos available on numerous online resources. Rather than be “a shot heard around the world,” it would break silences and be a shout heard around the world, hard to ignore.