Saturday, November 19, 2011

Nourishing an Occupation 9: the Quaker Bellydance Peace Team

Are you cooking for an Occupation? I'm looking for guest bloggers to write about their experiences of the Occupy movement and their food. Please contact me here (note: this link will take you to another website)

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
-- Leonard Bernstein

So far, in this blog, I've talked about nourishment only in terms of food - but it's not the only way to nourish. Our bodies and spirits need to be nourished in other ways as well. This post is about nourishment in the form of dance and music - in other words in beauty and joy.

Occupy Poughkeepsie held a big rally and march, 'the People's Day' on Nov 12, 2011. Often, what motivates people to get off their sofas and onto the street is anger. That is useful as a first step but it's not sustainable and ultimately it doesn't build the kind of movement or society that we want to live in all the time. Joy and beauty are much better long-term responses to injustice. In most rallies, you have a mixture of both. As an activist and organizer, I feel that we can be deliberate about fostering one energy or the other. I choose to promote beauty.

One way of doing that is through music and dance. I'm a drummer and I've seen that when one introduces rhythm into a gathering - if it is done well and is not so overpowering that no one can hear themselves think - something happens. If one observes carefully, you can see a subtle shift in body language even in people who appear to not be paying attention.

Direct action is about putting our bodies into the play of creating change in the world. That means being aware of our bodies and managing how they feel. In the face of threat or challenge, adrenaline floods our bloodstream and we experience a 'fight or flight' response that makes holding a discipline of non-violence more difficult. We ignore our bodies at our peril.

One way to help our bodies, minds, and spirits connect to our best intentions is through movement and dance. The Quaker Bellydance Peace Team is about doing that. My collaborator, dancer Donna Barret, and I are not a performance group. We are a participation group. Our goal is to invite others to play and dance with us and experience the movement of positive energy towards peace and justice.

On Saturday, Nov 12, we were scheduled right in the middle of a long lineup of speakers and performers. The overall tone was very positive and about building community and reinventing the institutions of our society as much as about tearing down the power structure of oppression. We began by inviting the crowd to join us in a moment of silence and then began slowly to drum and dance. As the tempo increase, Donna passed out some little tambourines and encouraged people to clap, shake, and dance. After a moment, a man sat down next to me with a saxophone and asked if he could join in.

He started to play, and right away, I heard a beautiful trumpet joining in from across the park. I searched with my eyes to find the source of the amazing trumpet counterpoint, and finally found a grey-haired man standing behind a cluster of people holding signs. In a moment, 2 clarinets, a trombone and a tuba joined in. As this spontaneous band improvised to an Egyptian rhythm, Donna encouraged more people to dance. Some members of a women's drum circle supported the rhythm on buckets and drums. Within minutes, the park was filled with dance and music

What amazed me the most, personally, is that Donna & I came with the intention of shifting angry, protest energy into defiant joy and ultimately, we weren't needed. The joy was already there and we simply added our small measure. We did, however, demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, Quakers are not 'just like the Amish'.

1 comment:

  1. <3 this! I have a friend who belly danced at the site of the Twin Towers right after 9/11... Now she has three little kids, so she's been making spanikopita for the Occupiers. :*)