Blog: dancing for One Billion Rising

Staff and students dance to end gender-based violence

Ann Brookes brought colleagues and students together to dance as part of the world’s biggest mass action to end gender based violence.

The One Billion Rising campaign was launched on Valentine’s Day 2012 as a call to action based on the staggering statistic that 1 in 3 women on the planet will be beaten or raped during her lifetime - that’s more than one billion women and girls. It has since grown into the world’s biggest mass action to end violence against women - cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence.

Earlier this year I organised a One Billion Rising event in the Lancaster Environment Centre atrium to raise awareness of gender-based violence in all of its forms. As a member of the LancaSter Environment Centre Athena SWAN Committee I have an interest in tackling issues of gender discrimination, and I was really inspired by the One Billion Rising movement’s holistic vision of what constitutes gender-based discrimination, their inclusivity and their commitment to raising awareness of these issues globally and seeking solutions.

We put together statistics to inform people of the shocking scale of gender-based violence. It is predominantly perpetrated against women, but is also used against members of the LGBT community and against men. Gender-based violence includes physical and sexual violence, but also more subtle forms of domination and oppression including land rights, discrimination and racism, environmental plunder and economic oppression. An example of this last form is the University’s gender pay gap statistics which were released shortly before the event.

 I chose to explore how dance has been used in communities around the world to express themselves and find solutions to their problems because this seemed like a more positive way to respond to the shocking and depressing facts. I used the themes of solidarity, resistance and healing for the dance sessions to give a focus for the dances, and invited other people to give 2 of the 3 sessions.

The first dance of the day was the dance for solidarity. We used the Break the Chains dance which was written and choreographed for the first One Billion Rising event in 2012 and has been danced at events around the world ever since. A small group of staff and students had learned the dance which we performed, and then we invited other people to join us so that everyone danced together. Doing the same dance as others across the globe who were also thinking about the same issue was important for me as it rooted the event in the global movement.

The second session of the day was the dance for resistance. This was a Capoeira session led by Fernando Bandeira. Fernando introduced us to the history of Capoeira and then led us in a Capoeira session. Capoeira originated from when African people were taken as slaves to Brazil. They were not allowed to learn martial art or to practice their own culture and so they developed Capoeira as a form of dance and music allowing them to maintain aspects of their different African cultures and to practice martial art moves.

The final session of the day was the dance for healing. This was a Circle Dance session led by Dr Ana Borges Da Costa from the University of Cumbria. Ana explained about her research on how Circle Dance can be used in occupational therapy and then taught us some Circle Dances that she has used in her practice. Circle Dance is an ancient form of dance that has been a part of community life for as long as people have been living in communities. Circle Dances have been used to help the people of Novozybkov who were affected by the Chernobyl disaster, as well as in occupational therapy in Brazil and the UK.

Aspects of Circle dance that are important for its healing qualities are:

  • The circle – everyone is equal, everyone is welcome and everyone contributes
  • The steps – these are set at a level that allows everyone in the group to join in and they repeat so that people can pick them up quickly
  • Holding hands – Physical touch is vital for well-being, but some isolated members of the community don’t often benefit from this

The Circle Dances that we did were simple and meditative and allowed us to experience being and moving together in a new and powerful way.

The day saw a lot of staff, students and visitors joining together to take part in the dances. The participants mostly ended the dances smiling. There were lots of comments about how positive people felt after dancing. It also gave people the opportunity to think about and discuss gender-based violence issues which are normally hidden or ignored in society, and several people said how grateful they were to be given that opportunity.

Author Biography

Ann Brookes is an administrative assistant in the Lancaster Environment Centre and a member of the department’s Sustainability Group and the Athena SWAN Committee. Ann is interested in issues of sustainability and well-being and how these can be combined to create solutions that work for people. 

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