by Cassie Jensen
Last Thursday, more than 400 people packed the Grand Hall of the Missouri History Museum chanting, dancing, sweating and celebrating. A white-haired woman grooved in her wheelchair. A pig-tailed girl clapped from her perch on her mom’s shoulders. Women, men and children of every age, skin tone and type of dress whooped it up. A group sporting pink feather boas twisted and shouted next to an impeccably groomed man in suit and tie. The positive energy was incredible, the people-watching opportunities phenomenal. And no, this wasn’t part of any after-the-fact Mardi Gras shenanigans.
We were dancing in protest of violence against women and girls. It didn’t feel like a protest. It felt like a celebration. We were part of One Billion Rising. Eve Ensler, writer of “The Vagina Monologues,” created the movement not just to create solidarity but to mark the 15th anniversary of her anti-violence nonprofit, V-Day. Safe Connections, the local nonprofit where I work as a teen educator, put the St. Louis dance mob event together with the support of the museum and STL TV.
I would be lying if I said I hadn’t practiced the dance several times before the event. But when we all got in there, it didn’t seem to matter how well you knew the steps. It was all about the excitement of the crowd, the group commitment to ending domestic and sexual violence. The hundreds were mostly women, but pretty much every population was represented… survivors… loved ones of survivors… social workers… advocates… politicians… educators… teens… children.
At one point, I turned around to see a teenage son dancing with his mom. At the end, both sweaty from dancing, they hugged and thanked each other. Getting one billion women and the people who love them to dance is a revolution. I’m proud – as a woman and a professional in the teen dating violence prevention movement – that I got to be a part of it.
Videos of dance events from all over the world poured into the OneBillion.org site. Our local St. Louis Rising video made it, thanks to my sister who recorded it and who continues to support me in this work by showing up and shaking it for the cause.
Last week, a female student at one of the schools where I teach said of a boyfriend, “If he is jealous that’s how I know he loves me. I mean, sometimes it’s part of the territory of being a women.” Next week, I will return to the same classroom. I hope to help that student look closely at her beliefs on how she should be trusted and treated in relationships. In the days until the next One Billion Rising, I will be happy each time I see a student rise and imagine her relationships without controlling behaviors or violence.
The Safe Connections 24-hour Crisis Helpline is there for anyone who has questions or worries about dating, domestic or sexual violence issues. Call 314.531.2003 and you can get access to resources, referrals, safety planning and, maybe most importantly, compassion from someone who has been trained to help.