I admit it. I’m a knitting flunky, a drop-out. Somewhere in the universe there is a single, lonely mitten to prove it. A relic from my girlhood when my grandmother, an accomplished knitter, crocheter, apple pie baker, attempted to teach me to knit. I remember my anticipation as I chose a skein of variegated, multi-colored yarn out of her yarn basket and waited impatiently as she prepared the pink knitting needles for me to work with. I relished the feeling of being with my grandmother, the woodstove burning in the backroom and a pie in the oven scenting the house with apples and cinnamon. This was the archetypal world of Hestia.
However, Hestia was not smiling on me as I struggled trying to knit mittens. I think it was having to count stitches. My creative mind just could not stay focused and I’d have to undo entire rows of knitting because the count was off and then start over again.
Eventually, I was the proud creator of a mitten. One blue, purple, pink and green variegated mitten. I think my grandmother had managed to knit almost an entire afghan in the time it took me to finish that single mitten. That’s when I made the decision. I was done. Finished. No more mittens. This mitten would remain mateless. A lone and lonely sentinel to my attempt at entering this world of Hestia that was my grandmother’s domain. Knitting was not for me. I am not a knitter.
I am, however, a dancer. Dance is the world where my soul breathes and comes to life. In order to make a dance I have to go to a place that is frighteningly authentic, the deepest part of me that cannot be expressed with words. Words have always come easily and quickly, oftentimes too quickly. Over the years, I have borne the wounds of my own words recklessly flung out into the air, coming back like a boomerang to leave their mark on me.
But dance comes neither quickly nor easily. It is born in a place where the waters of my most closely guarded feelings run deep and silent. At times raging with the whitewater of anger and injustice, at times running still and unbroken with a contemplative peace and contentment, these are waters that cannot be contained in language. These are waters that call to me to give them expression, that beckon me to lift the floodgates holding them in, that challenge me to get out of my own head and listen to the sound of their running, strong and swift or of their silent calm and surety.
As I read my newsfeed, filled with the atrocities directed against women and girls every day, I want to deny they exist and in this denial exempt myself from having to make any attempt to do something about them. Dance gives me a way to grieve, to “mourn with those who mourn and weep with those who weep.” The embodied grace of dance allows me to wrap the trauma with a transgressive beauty that gives me the courage to keep breathing, to keep moving forward, to refuse to give up on humanity. To dance is to find a way to express the universal cries that make us human, that keep us wrapped in a blanket of shared triumphs and tragedies, loves and longings, hopes and dreams.
It may not be a coincidence that from the beginning of time, armies were led into battle not by weaponry and generals, but by musicians, and dancers, who were placed out in front of the regimented formations of soldiers. From the Old Testament Hebrew armies, to the Incas, the Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans to the American Indian and the Civil War; music, bands, musicians and dancers were an integral part of preparing for and entering into battle.
From as early as 3000 B.C., stone reliefs depict Assyrian and Babylonian musicians leading armies marching in procession. Here we see a marching metaphor: that of the artists, musicians and dancers, as precursors to the chaos, upheaval and seismic shift of power and influence that war inevitably brings. Perhaps the ancients understood something which contemporary society has collectively “forgotten:” the power of the creative to usher in profound transformation.
Philosopher, Albert Camus, writes: “In the face of so much suffering, if art insists on being a luxury, it will also be a lie.” Today, as my newsfeed is flooded with articles about President Trump’s plans to defund the NEA, and the grant programs supporting organizations working to end violence against women, as I listen to podcasts shared by evangelicals, decrying the 3 million women marching around the world as being driven by a “Jezebel spirit” and witchcraft, I am heading back into the dance studio. I am marching back into the dance studio.
There was a time I was told not to dance and I did what I was told…for a season…and I lived in a half world of grayness and shadows, of conformity and compromise. I kept the truest part of myself padlocked away, hoping it would eventually cease to be….until the day I found the courage to unlock the door, to throw open the windows, to breathe deeply…to enter a world of color and promise and unexplored possibility and yet to be discovered beauty…to (finally) give myself permission to dance.
As I watched the oceans of pink knitted hats flooding the streets of Washington, D.C. and cities across the country and around the world, I was reminded of my grandmother and of how we are all knit together by our lived reality of being women in a patriarchal culture. There is much that can divide us. We need to find a way to stand together on the common ground of our collective experience while acknowledging our nuanced differences of beliefs and opinions. Some of us are knitters. Some of us are marchers. Some of us are dancers. All of us are women and it is time to rise together and change the world.