Break the Chain is the title of the song that was used on February 14, 2013 all over the world for flash mob performances – from the women in black in Japan to the crowd in front of San Francisco’s City Hall (you can watch an earlier performance here).
The dancing wasn’t limited to Break the Chain flash mobs, though. Just like the one billion women who have been raped or beaten during their lifetimes bring their individual stories, the dances that can be used to empower women and girls to take back their bodies are varied. For example, in San Francisco, the dances included disco and Bhangra, a high-energy dance that is based on Indian folk dances.
I experienced Bhangra at Grace Cathedral. In addition to my support of One Billion Rising, I was curious about folk dancing in a cathedral. I’ve been to several Greek Orthodox churches for dancing but in a cathedral?! I had to check that out! Plus, the Dean of Grace, the Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, had some strong words in her reasons to rise: “The Christian churches haven’t been great about speaking out against violence against women, so it’s really important that we do that and that we join in on February 14th.”
The event at Grace started with nine women from Dholrhythms Dance Company showing off what Bhangra looks like when you’ve been doing it for a while. It was fascinating and the music very inviting. After two dances, one of the Dholrhythms co-founders took a mic and asked all of us who had been watching to spread out more so that we would have more space to dance. She taught us a few steps that we all practiced, including a few folks spotting clerical collars.
After dancing the newly learned steps a few times without music, we were ready – more or less – for the real thing. Music came back on and we danced away probably half an hour or so non-stop.
Since I planned to meet some people shortly before another One Billion Rising event, the official City of San Francisco event at City Hall, I left the cathedral a little early. Passing another set of doors on California Street, I smiled because if I closed my eyes, I would have thought I had walked past a dance hall!
What does dancing have to do with violence against women? Violence against women is a bodily violation – and dance encourages us to use our bodies in ways that are fun and can even be healing. In dance, we can learn that a body can be used to create something beautiful, rather than be a place of pain. Of course, the music that goes with the dancing can enhance this empowering quality of dance. Some of the lyrics of Break the Chain put it this way: “This is my body, my body’s holy | No more excuses, no more abuses | We are mothers, we are teachers, | We are beautiful, beautiful creatures!”
The impact of One Billion Rising remains to be seen, of course. It did show that a world-wide happening can take the form of decentralized events that took on the flavor of the local cultural while incorporating themes that unite them. Most importantly, in my view, it has opened the possibility that social change movements can bring fun, not just long speeches, to the world! And who wants to be part of a revolution, if we can’t dance?