By Shepherd Bliss
La Tierra community’s warm barn in the Sebastopol countryside in Sonoma County, Northern California, heated up on Jan. 24. It became the hot site of an exciting dance rehearsal for One Billion Rising, which is scheduled to build and climax in 182 countries around the world on Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.
That number was selected to name the event because it is the amount of women on the planet that are raped, beaten or sexually abused during their lifetimes. The huge global gathering seeks to give artistic voice to anger, rage, and wrath and transform them into unifying, uplifting, and healing public events in order to “Break the Chain” of violence against women and children. “Strike | Dance | Rise!” is the invitation.
Sebastopol 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 brought smiles to our faces as she learned the steps. “Seehe women we live with and breaking the chain of violence against them is a central message of the dance,” said Ginella.
Thousands of rehearsals for the Feb. 14 Rising have been happening around the planet, including at Dominican University in San Rafael, where this writer teaches part-time. Another Rising is scheduled for Petaluma, and “flash mobs” are expected to occur elsewhere.
If this event draws anywhere near as many people as its ambitious goal, it would be the largest art event in history. Rather than be “a shot heard around the world,” it would break silences and be a shout hear around the world, hard to ignore.
Playwright Eve Ensler, author of the successful “Vagina Monologues,” which has been performed throughout the world, including here in the San Francisco North Bay, for many years, inspired One Billion Rising. It will occur on the 15th anniversary of the annual V-Day that she and others have organized in many different languages around the globe.
“On my knees I pray. I’m not afraid any more. I will walk through that door,” are words that help open the dance. Then the dancers erupt in skillfully coordinated 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.”
“We can talk and talk and talk,” noted male dancer Dean LaCoe. “When you add music and dance, it goes to your heart.”
The rehearsal helped build community among its participants, many of whom were planning to perform with hundreds the following Saturday in San Francisco.
Watching the dynamic women and their male allies dance, at times I thought about my mother. Her life was difficult, raising five children and dealing with a military husband who could be violent. I was not the only person in the room whose memories were evoked by the dancing. Tears could be seen on the faces of some dancers.
Negative memories of violence can be replaced by positive ones of togetherness, unity, and even love, as the dozen people began to coordinate their movements. They succeeded in replacing 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, then with its doors open to the cold winter, they were highly animated by their time together creating an uplifting art form combining spoken words, music, and movement.
“Noise at Noon” will initiate the Dominican activity on Feb. 14. All are welcome to Angelico Hall at 11:50 with “posters, noise makers, and high energy to protest local and global violence toward women and girls, rain or shine.” A march down to the 4th Street Plaza will follow. “Breaking the Chain” will follow with a panel about local and global issues, meeting in Angelico from 1:40 to 2:55.
Flash mobs will occur throughout the day in Petaluma. From 3 to 9 p.m. people will gather at the Petaluma Community Center, 320 N. McDowell.
More information: www.OneBillionRising.org for video. www.HerRising.org for Bay Area flash mob details. www.VDay.org for material on the global movement to end violence against women and children.
The Steps:(Shepherd Bliss [email protected]} teaches college and farms.)