I write this after a 14-hour day at a dance competition; thankful to be home, sitting on the couch, a dog on each side and the local jazz station humming in the background. It is the kind of day that desperately asks for decompression and reflection as a teacher. It was a day filled with nerves, excitement, impressively quick costume changes by our students, and overcoming illnesses, fears and teenage insecurities. A day filled with wonderful successes and proud moments. A day also filled with tiny kids in equally tiny bedazzled bra tops, 15-year-old sideboob, a loud and constant emphasis on heteronormativity, and roaring applause for the best and biggest gyrations.
It's a confusing kind of day, that's for sure. On the one hand, there is the overwhelmingly important process of learning a craft and understanding the art of performance. Within this craft, there is lasting value in friendships made and confidence built. My passion for dance and my career as a professional dancer was born and nurtured in this world of competition. On the other hand, there are frustratingly difficult questions to answer. Like, why does that extremely talented 15-year-old have to wear a bikini for a costume? Why do children have to dance in extra sparkly (and, often times, extra tiny) costumes when they dance to Christian music about a God that accepts and loves us just as we are and values our bodies as temples? Why do girls have to expose so much of their bodies on stage but the boys wear costumes they could wear to dinner? How is a child or teenager possibly going to maintain any of the confidence being built on stage when they are all walking around half-naked in severe make-up judging each other (and, quite literally, being judged)?
Why have we not yet been able to answer, change, or negate these questions?
Well, my sister is making some serious strides towards changing the conversation. In the middle of this 14-hour day, I was brought to tears as I watched what I think is one of the best pieces of dance she has ever made. My tears were those of mourning for our world, then of hope for our world, then finally, of even greater determination to be a prominent part of the change that our world needs to see. Between crotch-shots and sparkles, we were thankfully reminded of the reality in which we live.
(Major disclaimer: There were, ABSOLUTELY, many numbers that were wonderful and positive today... I am in no way discrediting the hard work and great dancing we experienced throughout the day; this is simply a greater comment on the whole.)
My sister is a deeply gifted choreographer and always speaks loudly with her movement. However, with this piece in particular, she made a beautifully bold choice in accompaniment in the form of spoken word by Lauren Zuniga and adds to it the perfect shapes and symbols of what it means– and should not mean– to be female.
The words alone will shake and move you, but if you could just imagine what it is like to watch a group of teenage girls dance intricate choreography laced into the words below, I think it might change you entirely. Please continue reading until the end– and thank my sister the next time you see her.
. . .The things we do will make ripples, and those ripples will turn into waves, someday, big sister . . .
Read on, fellow humans.
"He says, “You can’t compete with the boys."
Don’t explode. . .
Particles splitting with each
carefully placed breath and sway.
Be like the woman with the long
cigarette in the white satin dress.
Be like Katherine Hepburn,
lifting appendages with just
a raise of the eyebrow
and a long gaze soaked in knowing.
Remember that you are Venus.
A smoldering bundle of birth and
baptismal embers but that sound and fury
should stay in your hip pockets and canals
until you are called for industry,
until we need your smoke stacks
and machine parts
to start pumping with usefulness.
We need you in the piece by piece stage,
that breast to navel to legs to ankles
to feet slipping into stilettos
to click clack across floor
in the mating call of your generation.
We need you like that.
And I say, “You know sir,
I think I know what you mean
when you say I can’t compete
with the boys, and I think I know
what you mean when you say
don’t explode, but
I don’t think you know what it means to be
this well engineered time bomb
that is Woman.
This serrated edged grenade,
hard plated and pinned,
quietly tick tick tick ticking
thrown over the barricade
into an obstacle course of
tired, jumping men doing their
best to train for insanity.
And Katherine Hepburn has been replaced
by a hundred versions of Britney Spears,
cheering on the sidelines
with bottled sun stained legs
and Brazilian bikini waxes.
We are stripped and lit like our fuses.
We’ve traded in our minds
to become sparkling jingle muses,
blissed out with bling and our
fresh copy of "How to be
a Modern Woman" Volume One:
“Spend more on your hand bag
than you do on rent!”
"Ignore that ticking and take this quiz!"
"Add your shoes plus shampoos
plus open lines of credit
subtract your weight and
body fat percentage,
divide by marriage proposals
and dozens of roses
and then you will know
if you are a worthwhile woman!"
Tick Tick Tick.
It’s okay to be smart but not smarter than him
and it’s okay to be fat but not fatter than her.
Just find a good man, and have a big wedding
the bigger the wedding, the longer he’ll stay.
Wait ‘til you have a career to have a baby
then give up your career to have a baby.
Coordinate your slings and
boppies and diaper bags.
Breast feed, but never in public.
Join classes, do yoga.
Stay sexy but not so sexy that
you forget you’re a mom
and ignore that ticking,
you are a woman
not a walking time bomb.
And I know what he means
because it can get a little messy
when that sudden loud release of
angry femininity bursts forth and
showers us with the things that
we’d rather leave on the Lifetime channel.
Feminism is an outdated word, right?
There's no need for a women’s movement. . .
But see, I think that feminism is about more
than being female and being equal,
because that's just a given.
It's about evolution.
It's about a balance of energy.
It's about a strength, dormant and unparalleled.
The strength that shields babies from bullets.
The strength that put him through
medical school while she clipped coupons.
See, I think that there is a
need for a women's movement.
Because women have been
biologically and culturally conditioned
to believe that our sexual power
is all that we have, and we cling to it tighter
than our own ovaries and we will pluck trust
from anyone who threatens to take it.
This history sits on our shoulders and
sometimes it’s hard to keep your composure.
Sometimes you just have to explode.
Boom.” –Lauren Zuniga (Girl: Exploded)
Watch Lauren Zuniga's Girl: Exploded on YouTube:
(Note: there are portions containing more mature language than that which is included in this article.)