As a choreographer, I study how movement creates meaning, not only narrative meaning, but personal and political meaning as well. When I embrace a partner on the dance floor, I choose to transmit openness, trust, and acceptance. This choice impacts the shape of my step, the quality of my stillness, and the visual representation of what I am doing for all who are watching. When I embrace people who represent a variety of genders, orientations and ethnic and cultural backgrounds, tango becomes, in my view, politically significant because it enacts inclusive values. The tango community is far from perfect in this respect, but it nevertheless provides a small arena in which to practice physicalizing values in public.
But even in private, as I move through the actions of writing at my desk, scanning the news, and walking to the post office on a mild sunny day in Southern California, I give form and weight to the creative, reflective values that I cultivate. But, sometimes our actions are less mundane. Something or someone pushes us to move in more extreme and unanticipated ways. For example, last week I sprinted across a coffee shop to pull my bicycle out of a would-be-thief’s hands. That certainly wasn’t on my agenda, and I had no idea I would respond with that particular sequence of improvised "steps." I learned something about myself that day, and it reminded me that every action, whether on the dance floor, on the couch, or on the sidewalk, concretizes beliefs into physical reality. Moving communicates. Moving makes real. Moving shows you who you are.
On January 21, I will join the Women’s March LA, one of nearly 300 sister marches organized in solidarity with the Women’s March on Washington. I have been thinking a lot about the act of marching in this context: what I want my march to express, what I want it to be. The female leaders of this event have published a platform that declares the march to be a broad stand for human rights and social justice. I believe in this platform. I want full and unequivocal civil rights, including reproductive rights, to be a reality in my home, my community, my country, my world. I will stand and walk for those things next Saturday, and perhaps on other days as well.
On a stage, unison movement amplifies meaning. Sixteen dancers jumping usually creates a bigger effect than one dancer jumping. If one woman leads on the dance floor, it’s easy to dismiss her, but as soon as eight or ten do it, female leading is normal. That’s reality transformed through movement.
In the marches next Saturday, hundreds of thousands will walk in unison as a living breathing reality of the following tenet: “Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights.” For the length of the event, this truth will live in our collective body, and afterward, it will not be able to be un-lived. On the contrary, it will have been seeded firmly into our consciousness through the act of intentional movement, and from there it must, though we don’t know yet how or when, grow gradually around us into words, meetings, laws, institutions, and traditions. This phenomenon appears in performance theory as a mechanism for connecting with an audience, in yoga philosophy and empowerment coaching as a means for engineering individual life changes. When applied in the public sphere, it is called activism.
When I visualize the Women's March as a long dance unfolding over years and decades, even centuries, I find what can be rare in these times: motivation. I’m grateful for that insight, and for the opportunity to participate in such a grand "performance:" the dance of democracy. In this spirit, we follow a long and fierce tradition of those who have literally walked before us in order to bring new worlds into being. Thank you Martin Luther King. Thank you Rosa Parks. Thank you John Lewis.
What do you stand for? Leave your stories in the comments.