a small dance of reclamation

In November of 2016, like many women who have been victims of various gradations of sexual violence, assault and oppression, I found myself in shock, fear, rage and dismay. Since then I have been struggling to find a way out of a space of disempowering trauma and back to a space of action and, to quote Barak Obama, “relentless optimism.” Perhaps not surprisingly, I have found the first steps of my path in words uttered and actions taken by both men and women. Encountering their words/stories in the series that I did, when I did, has been critical to my own healing process, and for that I wish to give them credit.

Since my first ballet classes at the age of three, dance has been an important part of my life. Like water, dance can nurture life and transform obstacles in its path. It connects us to the earth and the sky. It helps us dream and understand. It gives us a language to ask questions of the unfathomable when our words are lacking. It reminds us of our humanity. It teaches us to love each other, and perhaps most importantly to listen with all of our being to the world around us. As an adult, a series of Japanese butoh dancers also taught me that the body can still dance beautifully over the age of 80, and that dance can happen in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and forms. In October of 2017 at the Creative Time Summit, I was reminded during Wanda Nanibush, Sylvia McAdam and Cannupa Hanska Luger’s panel discussion of another thing dance can do: to quote Cannupa, “dance can destroy floors.”

A couple of weeks later, I came across the following in a book I was reading:

The recent [2013] protests in Turkey gave us at least two confirmations that the “body can be a weapon.” The first was a dance protest in solidarity with demonstrators occupying Gezi Park in Istanbul helped by members of Turkey’s State Opera and Ballet. One of the protesters said that dancing on stage was the only way they could express themselves: “Our only aim, as we can only express ourselves by dancing, is to show our protest like this too.” The other example is the so-called, now famous, “Standing Man.” Does it come as a surprise that this man wasn’t a simple protester? His name is Erdem Gunduz and he is a dancer and choreographer. The first evening he was standing there for five hours…It was a brilliant strategy, reminiscent of Tiananmen Square’s “Tank Man’ or the recent silent standing performance of Jelena Topić. [1]

These two utterances led me to ask what if, in this moment of standing up and saying #itsnotok and #metoo, women also used their bodies to reclaim their inherent power? What if we could imagine a simple dance, one almost anyone could do, to protest against all the abusive predators (not just the famous ones), and remind us that civility, dignity and openness are much better ways of being in the world than the behavior of the pathetic bulliers and cruel abusers in any positions of power?

Instructions for a small dance of reclamation

This Standing Lady [2] dance can be done at any time, anywhere, to any music or sounds around you, for whatever length of time necessary to sense the reclamation process is beginning.[3]

Step 1. Stand with your legs slightly wider than hip-width apart. Your legs are straight with knees relaxed, not locked. Feel a sense of stability establishing itself, not a stiffness or fixedness, but rather a grounded readiness. Feel the way your feet connect to the ground beneath them. Feel the earth there beneath you, feel its power, its energy, the force of life it has supported for at least 3.8 billion years.[4]

Step 2. Feel that life force, in all its magnitude, beginning to flow up through your feet, up your legs, and into the base of your spine. Now feel that force pushing up your spine, and out the top of your head. Almost as if you are a balloon slowly inflating, your back should begin to straighten, with your gaze finding its natural level looking straight out at the horizon.

Step 3. To support the free flow of this power, from the ground straight through the top of your head, your arms can serve as valuable buttresses to the upper part of the body. Extend your arms out fully, at a natural angle, about 30-45 degrees from parallel to the body. Wrists extend straight, palms facing behind you. In this position, you can feel yourself beginning to take up more space, opening out to the world. Your fingertips and palms may begin to buzz a little with all the energy.

Step 4. Now feel your reach extending beyond your fingertips — you are creating two imaginary “guy-wires” (yep that’s what they are called) extending out from the center of your palms to the ground. Use this reach to the ground to create a stretch between your shoulders and your neck. As the top of your head continues to grow taller, your hands are reaching to the ground, feeling those guy-wires connecting through the palm, feeling the life force from the earth beneath you begin to run up those wires through your palms, up your arms, and into the base of your neck, and up out the top of your head.

Step 5. Now take those wires into your hands, wrapping your fingers around them and creating a kind of fist, and begin to pull them up to your hips. Connect them to your hips through your fist by placing the knuckle part of your fist on the upper part of your hips, a little to the rear, on the part of the hipbone that is sometimes called the wing of the ilium. This wing is your connection point. Plug the earth’s life force in here, into your wings. With your arms in this position, they begin to look a little like wings too. Your shoulders should relax into this position, spine continues extending straight through your neck, elbows pointing out and just a little behind your body, you might feel a little stretch across your chest as it opens wider to the world around it.

Remember, the “guy-wires” we have created give you stability, help you withstand particularly forceful lateral loads, and, in our case, provide an additional path for the earth’s life force to flow up through you. They are not meant to tie you down or bind you, but rather to support you and feed you, to help you stand even taller. They are meant to be accomplices in this work, not restraints. You can take them with you wherever you go. You can also let them go, if you want to. You are in control of their connection to you.

Step 6. With power flowing from the earth up through your body, look out, straight out. Look out into the world, take it in, take it fully in through all of your senses. If it helps, take a few deep breaths from your diaphragm as you settle into all this power now flowing through you.

The stance you are taking is not one of rebellious defiance, your chin is not up, you are not looking down on those around you. The stance you are taking is also not one of exasperated longing, your eyes are not looking to the sky for help or pity. Neither is the stance you are taking one of exhausted defeat, your chin is not tucked down with your eyes looking to the ground for relief.

This stance is open, strong, and ready to dance. It is fearless, free and reclaiming its space in this world. You are looking straight out into that world. Maybe you even have a little smile on your face, because you know this world is also full of wonder, and, as you work with others to solve the issues, conflicts and problems of our world, you are going to experience that wonder too.

Step 7. Hold this stance for as long as you can, want, or need. And when you are finished, carry it inside you wherever you go.


[1] Srećko Horvat, The Radicality of Love (Polity Press, 2016), p 140-141.

[2] The choice of “lady” is intentional, as opposed to the gender identifier “woman”. It is meant to evoke a polite nobility inherent in all women, a strength of character as well as inner resources. Acknowledging also, that those qualities can sometimes be derided and the term has been used in sarcasm to denigrate women, or mark them as objects of possession, or imagine them as weak & fragile hysterics, or as frivolous women who have sold themselves for access to spending capital, or as mistresses to be kept on the side, or as objects of perverse devotion. This dance attempts to reclaim the term as well as the power it represents. When we are our better selves, we are not goddesses, we are not super heroes, we are humans, who should claim the rights to human dignity, to be treated and treat others with respect, to draw on the wealth of our own resources to engage in improving the world around us. This is what “lady” is meant to represent, the aspirational form of being a woman, the form focused on fostering our better selves, even in the face of all the adversity and forces working against that.

[3] If you are in a small confined space or restricted to a bed or chair, try closing your eyes and imaging yourself following these instructions in your mind. Like a race car driver imagining racing her car through a particular track’s combination of turns, straights, or inclines, with some focus and concentration, just the act of imagining may create the desired feeling.

[4] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/10/scientists-may-have-found-earliest-evidence-life-earth