In 2011, I quit dance. I quit largely out of shame, though I told myself it was in self-preservation. Maybe it was both. At twenty-two years old, ten years of “commonplace” aggression toward my body and space had long turned inward. It was aggression that I’d learned I was to see as simply a side-effect of being female —street harassment, threats, verbal and physical abuse by so-called “overly passionate” lovers. I emulated the violence toward myself daily, raging at my body’s inability to be impeccably thin as well as its apparent refusal to perfectly replicate the choreography of my teachers. I had grown to resent my body’s inadequacy and susceptibility to violence with such magnitude, I no longer felt safe showing my body expressively in public and creative spaces.
My some strange miracle, I returned to the dance floor two years later by virtue of the compelling word of mouth of a freeform ecstatic movement class downtown. I’d condemned myself harshly the whole subway ride downtown, but I was there. In the fifth floor studio, I wiggled my rigid body hopefully through the sea of sweaty strangers. As the music’s momentum grew, one absurdly simple thought emerged through my uncertainty:
The way I move through the world is not choreography imposed by society after all, but in fact something I myself choose daily to take on. By this truth, I am innately free; we all are. Regardless of gender, threat, history or experience, we are always free to move, free to express hugely and loudly, free to choreograph our bodies and lives however we choose, free to make the most out of what we have with these bodies and these hands.
That spring and summer, my body became my Zuccotti Park, the place of immense transformation, empowerment, and an ongoing (and often uncomfortable) rehearsal of my right to be present in this world. I began to watch myself move throughout everyday, enraptured; watched as my body’s patterns of miming fear manifested themselves in everything I did. My posture, the way I spoke, the way I sat on the subway—all were made of unconscious attempts to take up as little space as possible.
So, I changed it all. I stood bigger every moment I remembered to. Gradually, I rechoreographed my entire life to present power instead of fear, embodying a new revolution of confidently taking up space, whether I actually felt confident that day or not. Low and behold, in a very short time, rehearsal became internal.
That fall, Eve Ensler’s call out to the women of the world to dance in revolution for the sovereignty of our bodies seemed to be perfect timing. I immediately joined a group of women rehearsing for a moving flash mob around the city. From the moment I stepped foot into my first rehearsal, I felt this was going to be an epic, multidimensional social demonstration. In dancing, we returned to the scene of the crime, our body—and simultaneously the other scene of the crime, public space.
These two spaces feel constantly unsafe for women all over the world. But on February 14th, in unison with a globe of women, we were reclaiming them. Presenting ourselves expressively through dance, fully and fearlessly in public space was quite literally the embodiment of a greater paradigm of equality. Incidentally, it was exactly what I’d spent the last nine months practicing.
Months after One Billion Rising 2014, I left the city for Taos, New Mexico, a small, rural mountain town tucked in the majesty of the North American Rocky Mountains. In New Mexico, a state with a population of just over 2 million, 25,000 women are raped or beaten in their lifetimes and Taos in particular is a place where domestic violence is terrifyingly commonplace. Although rape, abuse and domestic violence occur at similar rates in rural areas as they do in urban areas, a number of studies over the years have concluded that the issue is far less of a priority in rural regions such as Taos.
In Taos, far more incidents of violence go unreported, and of the ones that do, very little happens thereafter; there are fewer charges, prosecutions, and convictions served to the perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence. Due to this devastating neglect on the part of the law and public officials, there is a general lack of confidence among the females of these populations in the public services that in other parts of the country would be considered positive tools for safe action.
Seeing such injustice play out multiple times amongst new friends in just the first few months I lived in Taos, I knew I had to take part in Taos’ One Billion Rising. I called the organizers from the previous year’s OBR and they invited me to jump on board the planning for 2015.
I had never been in a position of organizing such a huge event, but the Taos community was hugely enthusiastic. In Taos, a movement such as One Billion Rising needed very little translation—the community was ready for change. Just a few weeks into planning, we had fitness centers offering us rehearsal space, newspapers calling us for interviews, and what seemed like the entire county buzzing in preparation for the big day. At last, on February 14, 2015, we arrived in the center of town. Women, men, and children began pouring in from all directions. They were carrying drums, balloons, and homemade signs. We were a sea of pink and red. The music began and we danced.
For this year’s One Billion Rising, I am proud to say that I will be dancing with the Taos community for the second year in a row. The more I dance, the more I understand how so much of oppression is about space. Whether we’re talking physical or nonphysical space, I believe this is true. One bedrock meaning of revolution lies in recognizing and practicing one’s innate, human right to physically and vocally occupy space—any space, both public and private. Inequality manifests not only in the blatancy of violation, but also in the body and behavior of those who have been told to “be quiet” for generations.
This revolution is as much the responsibility of the sisters as it is the brothers. We cannot move through our world in reaction to someone else, we must live in proaction for ourselves. Bringing these minute-by-minute choices of posture, voice, and movement into intentionality is to thread together an outfit of transformational and socially contagious personal esteem. This is a revolution of body, and uprooting the unconscious practice of inequality in everyday life is, in huge part, our duty as women who inherited the world at this place in time.
One Billion Rising Organizer
Taos, New Mexico