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One Billion Rising Against Violence – Feb. 16, 2012
by Leah Carey
One billion. It’s the number of modern women who will be beaten or raped during their lifetime, according to the movement “One Billion Rising.”
On Thursday, women across the globe took to the streets to dance as an expression of outrage against those statistics and joy in reclaiming their bodies. A group of about 150 women converged in St. Johnsbury to join the global day of dance.
They are women like Mitya Schoppe, who is one of the group’s local organizers. “What’s been really powerful for me is realizing that I’ve accepted as a norm that a third of my women friends have been abused. That my mother was raped when she was in her 20s. And that we women go through our day to day and we kind of tuck that away. Doing this has really brought out for me – wait a minute, that’s really NOT okay!”
They are women like Melissa Burroughs, a teacher at St. Johnsbury Academy, who danced with her 12-year-old daughter. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for the two of us to get out together, to do something we both believe is important, and to do it with a group of women. … We all have good cause to come out and support a worldwide effort when there are clearly indicators all over the globe that this is an issue that’s only mounting and worsening.”
They are women like Ela Golden, who danced as an expression of reclaiming her own body. “I was raped when I was 17 years old and it really began the journey of silencing for me. I didn’t tell anybody for many, many years and I realized that it had a profound effect on my life. As I began to heal and find my voice, I realized that I could be as passionate and creative as I wanted to be. It was me that was shutting myself down and continuing the abuse. This has really been an amazing time for me and another reminder of the ways in which I make myself smaller than I am.”
Each of these women committed their Valentine’s Day to dancing for students, for the community, for little girls, and for themselves.
They began their day at St. Johnsbury Academy, dancing during morning Chapel. As the music started, about 30 adult women walked onto the stage of Fuller Hall from the wings and another 30 students streamed onstage from their Chapel seats. About halfway through the 4-minute choreographed dance, the audience started clapping and grooving with them.
When the music stopped, the applause was thunderous. As the crowd surged to a standing ovation, it was the men who rose first.
Four hours later, St. Johnsbury police shut down Main Street between the Hilltopper Cafe and the Eastern Avenue intersection so the group could – quite literally – dance in the streets. With music blasting from speakers, there were about 150 women dancing with even more people on the sidewalks watching.
St. Johnsbury Police Chief Clem Houde said that it’s the police force’s job to provide security for events like this, but he was also happy to be in the crowd to witness it. “It was great to watch and everybody was high-spirited. I think maybe somebody has started something that may not be able to stop now.” Showing his soft side, he added that it was great to see this event on Valentine’s Day because, “It’s all about love today.”
When the police re-opened the street, cars drove by honking and waving, showing support for the cause of rising up against abuse.
At 4 p.m., the dancers gathered one more time in front of South Congregational Church on Main Street. It was a smaller group dancing this time, and there were fewer people watching, but co-organizer Elisa Lucozzi said that it was just as powerful. “Because of where we were, there were people driving by, rolling down their windows and stopping to watch.”
Lucozzi noticed a couple of mothers walking with strollers and a little girl on the other side of the street who stopped to watch. “The little girls were kind of wiggling to the music and it was really sweet. They’re who we’re dancing for too.”
The group danced to the “One Billion Rising” anthem song, “Break The Chains.” Lucozzi has her own story about breaking the chains. She is the assistant pastor at North Congregational Church and she worried about how the congregation would feel about seeing their clergy dancing. “What is becoming of a pastor to do?” Lucozzi asked herself. “I had to work through my own mind about that. I think this is exactly what I should be doing,” she said with a big laugh. “I’m doing this for myself. I’m doing it for all the women that I love, and there are so many of them, whose lives have been touched by this.”
As our community approaches the one-year anniversary of Melissa Jenkins’ death, her name was on the lips of many of the women involved, as was the name of the young woman who was recently killed during a gang rape in India. “I really wanted to do this here, in this community, espeically in light of what happened to Melissa Jenkins last year. I thought it would be a great healing moment for the community,” Lucozzi said. “I’m dancing for Melissa and Jyoti in India, and all the other women who can’t dance. I’m dancing for them.”
“As women in this society, our bodies are controlled,” Lucozzi continued. “There’s a million dollar industry of makeup and the billion dollar industry of clothes telling us how we should look and use our bodies. So many of us walk out of the house worrying about how we look because we’re afraid how that might be seen by other people – as an invitation, rather than as an expression of who we are. That’s why using our bodies as an expression of joy through dance is so important and valuable.”
Fellow organizer Schoppe chose to reveal herself and reclaim her body in another important way. Schoppe lost her left leg in a motorcycle accident six years ago. She has a prosthetic leg and chose to wear clothing that revealed her leg during the dance. “I made a choice to have it visible today rather than cover it up, because we all have challenges. We all have our own limitations and strengths. Part of life is realizing what you can do with them. That was important for me to show.”
It is important to note that this event was not just for women – there were a few brave men dancing at each location in support of their mothers, sisters, wives, daughters and friends.
The women want to keep the dance going. The St. Johnsbury/NEK contingent of the One Billion Rising is planning to do one more dance next Wednesday at the benefit “Vagina Monologues” performance at Lyndon State College. After that, they’ll bring the group back together for a potluck and conversation about how to keep rising up, reclaiming their bodies, and dancing in the street.
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