And We Danced

Jun 9th, 2014 | By | Category: Blog

Last summer, I had an experience that I would describe as life changing. That sounds overly grand, particularly given that the setting was a fundraiser wrapped up in a dance party for the bicycle advocacy non-profit that I had been interning with, but bear with me. I had been supervising the merch table for most of the night, but a friend took over for me as things were winding down, and I got a chance to join in the festivities. I ended up jamming with a group of folks who, as I had guessed from their slightly bizarre dress and lack of familiarity with the other guests, were not affiliated with the cyclists’ union, but were instead Swedes on a one-week visit to the United States. Between songs, one guy and I ended up discussing, of all things, labor movements and collective organization. When his friend called us out for discussing politics at a party, we  responded vehemently that such a line was artificial. The very act of dancing, of flailing and hopping and swaying, was political. We decided, in our moment of giddy weightlessness, that there could be no better way to thwart a system that at times seems hell bent on inciting despair and division than to refuse to be overwhelmed by its negativity and to instead dance. I think The Trucks capture this pretty well in the lyrics to their song “Zombie”:

You hate yourself so you try and hate me/But you can’t hate a girl who looks good dancing./It looks to me like your barely breathing/You’re half alive and your pulse is leaving/If this was the end would you die not dancing?

However, if flash in the pan girl groups aren’t your gig, Maya Angelou also speaks to the theme of joy-as-resistance in her poem “Still I Rise.” Addressing the expectations of an unnamed reader that all of the forces working against her will break her, she writes:

Did you want to see me broken?/Bowed head and lowered eyes?/Shoulders falling down like teardrops./Weakened by my soulful cries.//Does my haughtiness offend you?/Don’t you take it awful hard/’Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines/Diggin’ in my own back yard.

This is not to suggest that we can laugh away subsidies programs that lock our agricultural system into toxic relationships with corporations and industrial practices. I do not mean to say that we can dance our way out of climate change. However, I do absolutely believe that both of those joyous elements – laughter and dance and communion – are critical to both sustaining and justifying activism. It is very difficult to keep tilting at windmills without bearing in mind a vision of the world that we are working towards. This is part of the reason that I am so excited about both living in Weybridge and the Fifth Day components of our curriculum; these shared spaces and times provide opportunities for those accidental moments that, while perhaps not as directly related to improving the food system as our day to day efforts, help to clarify why we are making such efforts.

TL;DR: I think that “Be joyful/though you have considered all the facts,” may be one point in which I am in complete agreement on with Berry.

3 Comments to “And We Danced”

  1. Erin Reid says:

    Still I Rise is probably my favorite poem, as I discovered it when I was really young at a time that I needed to hear her words.
    Something about the poem that I thought of immediately, is how Angelou addresses sexuality.
    “Does my sexiness upset you?
    Does it come as a surprise
    That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
    At the meeting of my thighs?”
    The act of sex is linked to reproduction (sorry to take y’all back to 5th grade health class), but even though it is a basic element of human survival, it is also distinctly tied to pleasure. Sex as a symbol of the tension of survival/pleasure in my mind links directly to food (irregardless of the erotic quality of certain foods), because we need food to live, but we can also derive so much joy from eating. And so it is with every aspect of our lives–we must be joyful and experience pleasure in order to truly survive, and to feed our souls.

    Anyways I don’t fully know where I’m trying to go, but I think Maya Angelou’s words are very poignant, so thanks for bringing them into the discussion!

    • Elizabeth Oyler says:

      Erin, I really like the direction you’ve taken these thoughts. You and Anna both bring up a concept I love– that basic and essential human joy is a substantial force, an energy that we can combine and harness to power our human pursuits, or contribute as positive energy to our world. Food and sex both bring to mind a kind of fundamental and shared pleasure. I cannot help but think about the cyclical quality of energy, and that when we are able to share in our delight, we take part in some sort of energy transfer– in the case of food, we are physically nourished. It seems reasonable that the similar experience of love– sexual or otherwise– would provide a similar renewal and restoration of strength.

      We have much to fight for, but we have delight– the ultimate green energy– on our side.

  2. Gurlyn Grewal says:

    Well put Anna. Your point that joy is crucial in order to justify activism especially resonates with me. If we become consumed by the pessimistic predictions about issues like global warming and industrial agriculture, we will be unable to do good work to effect change. We will become hopeless. But if we have an acute understanding of the joyous elements, we will have a better ability to make a difference in the world.

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