At Judson Church on Thompson street in downtown Manhattan, there is a slow trickle of women in red and pink leg warmers and hoodies entering the dimly lit auditorium. They’re here to rehearse for what they call a “Break the Chain Flashmob Rising” – a dance organized by One Billion Rising 4 Justice NYC, Kinesis Project and Dancing Flashmobs NYC, which they will later perform in Washington Square Park. The One Billion Rising campaign to raise awareness about violence against women was inspired by playwright Eve Ensler’s V-Day movement and takes as its slogan a UN statistic that shows a third of the world’s women (about one billion) will face sexual or other forms of violence in their life-time. In 2013, one billion people in 207 countries participated in the campaign.
Groups like this motley crew of around thirty women will spend Friday snaking through Manhattan’s Union Square, Grand Central, Times Square and Harlem as part of the movement’s attempt to reclaim public spaces for women and publicize the issue of rape, domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence through dances, art, theatre and other public performances.
Groups like this motley crew of around thirty women will spend Friday snaking through Manhattan’s Union Square, Grand Central, Times Square and Harlem as part of the movement’s attempt to reclaim public spaces for women and publicize the issue of rape, domestic abuse and other forms of gender-based violence through dances, art, theatre and other public performances. Some of them call themselves “MTAs” or movement-based travelling activists, and for them, dance is a vital and collective way of expressing their politics.
Pangia Macri, a youthful-looking 60-year-old singer, dancer and activist and one of the organizers of today’s performance in Washington Square Park, explains why she and other women chose dance. “It’s a wonderful way to challenge anger and pain,” says Macri, who says she was attacked when she was 13. Most participants in the group are here to “rise” for similar reasons – to react to violence their families, friends and, like Macri, they themselves have survived.
Macri has been dancing for a couple of years, but there are many first-timers present too. Tyrone Devins, 22, is the only male participant in the Washington Square Park performance and dancing for the first time. “I’m here rising for my family, my sisters and my mother,” he explained. “They’ve always been a safety-net for me, guardians for me. They’ve suffered a lot, they’re survivors themselves and they’ve protected me from violence. And I just want to rise so that no one else has to suffer through that.”
While the dance performance in Washington Square Park is one of New York City’s local events, there are conscious efforts to connect local events to the global nature of violence against women around the world. Arpita Appannagari, 22, is one of several young women of South Asian origin attending the day’s events. She is an intern at Sakhi, a New York-based organization working with survivors of domestic violence in South Asian communities in the city. Explaining her personal connection to the day’s events, Appannagari talked about how seeing battered women in her office on a daily basis compelled her to participate. Dancing for her, like many others, is a way to reclaim women’s bodies. “[You] take ownership of your body,” she said, “because once you own your body, you can do anything with it.”
Rajdeep Paulus, an Indian-American writer of young adult fiction and mother, is here with one of her daughters. “This was on my bucket-list”, said Paulus, smiling as she mops her brow after the rehearsal. Moved by the plight of trafficked women in Asia, Paulus wanted to show her support for the issue in some way. For her, publicizing often divisive issues like violence against women and trafficking is difficult to do in traditional ways like seminars or presentations. “But how effective is that at the end of the day? (source).”