A Dance that Can Protect the Women of the World

The dancers at last year's One Billion Rising event at Bay Street Theatre | Tom Kochie photo
The dancers at last year’s One Billion Rising event at Bay Street Theatre | Tom Kochie photo

Despite all the advances women have made in the past few decades, one in three women today have still experienced violence against them at some point in their lives.

When playwright Eve Ensler, creator of “The Vagina Monologues,” did the math a couple years back, she realized that translates to at least one billion women worldwide who’ve been victims of violence because of their gender.

Surrounding Valentine’s Day in 2013, Ms. Ensler’s V-Day campaign asked women the world over to join in flash mobs, dancing a simple dance in front of courthouses, hospitals and in other public places where women’s rights can be violated. Called “One Billion Rising,” dances were held in 207 countries around the world, from Iraq to Peru to Guyana to Pakistan to Sag Harbor, where the Neo-Political Cowgirls taught a crew of women to stand up and dance.

They’re doing it again tomorrow night, Feb. 27, at the Bay Street Theatre.

Last year, the East End was hit by a snowstorm just before One Billion Rising, and this year they decided to cancel the original Feb. 13 date of the event due to snow, but tomorrow’s weather promises to not be treacherous.

The theater will be open beginning at 5 p.m., where the Neo-Political Cowgirls will begin teaching the dance to anyone who wants to participate on stage (that means men too). The performance will begin at 7 p.m., and will include music by Jewlee Trudden and Klyph Black, and poetry by Lynn Blue.

Cowgirls founder Kate Mueth promises it’s a simple dance to learn.

“You don’t have to get the steps right to learn the dance. We had the tiniest little children doing it. You can be in a wheelchair and do this dance,” she said. “Even me, for a choreographer, I’m a slow learner when it’s someone else’s choreography. I have two left feet. It’s just the spirit that’s important.”

“They recommend to do it as a flash mob in front of courthouses, public spaces, hospitals, places where women don’t always, for numerous reasons, have all their rights or needs met, even in front of jails to raise consciousness that women are keeping their eyes open,” she said. “I chose what’s a very natural kind of place for me, a theater, not on the street. The weather can be so tricky this time of year. I’m not one to cower at the weather, but last year we did it on a day we where hit by a big snowstorm, and I know people didn’t come because of the weather.”

Ms. Mueth said she believes women are still often treated with the assumption that they don’t have the right to control what happens to their own bodies.

Just a few weeks ago, she said, she was at a Knicks game with her son and husband. She had just walked away from the two of them for a few minutes, when a man in a business suit walked up to her and complemented her on the Knicks jacket she was wearing. After asking two questions, he said “my god, you look so gorgeous,” and then reached over and kissed her.

“I’m no wallflower. I’m not some diminished girl who’s an easy target,” she said. “I punch back. But it’s taken a long time to get my lovely, smart, intelligent husband to understand what we as women go through all the time.”

She briefly mulled over whether to tell her husband what had happened, and then decided she was not only going to tell her husband, but she was going to tell her son as well. After all, she thought, good men play a crucial role in preventing violence against women.

“It’s not always easy for them to have this blanket awareness of all womankind, that their job to take care of them. It takes them getting really personal with it,” she said.

And that responsibility, as much today as at any time, has a political edge.

“There’s an assumption that we don’t have a right to our own entity. It’s one level of violence to accosted — verbally, emotionally and physically — but we see how it’s doing a bizarre thing today in our society, where it’s bleeding out into our government’s belief systems,” she said. “We’re not just looking at the boyfriend abusing the girlfriend. That’s a big part of it, but when that is so accepted and common, that’s where you see them get emboldened in our government to also take away our personhood, our singular rights about being our own entity.”

Part of what’s so exciting about One Billion Rising, she said, is that the dance is being done in places where repression of women’s rights is far more severe, even in Iran, where the women dancing are covered from head to toe.

“It’s happening in dangerous places,” said Ms. Mueth. “Absolutely, this is really good.”

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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