Mr. J., my neighbour, wants me to study Islam. He can’t understand my outside dancing.
“Mr. J.”, I say, “my dancing is a prayer. Everything I do is dedicated to being good and doing good in the world”.
He can’t see beyond it.
“Out there, like that, uncovered!” he says.
I tell him covering me would be like putting a blanket on the ocean, asking the wind not to blow, or the birds to sing.
He says, “you read Islam, then you let me know what you think”.
It’s good we have this exchange I suppose. He practices Islam traditionally, goes to the all-male Mosque five times a day, wears traditional clothes and is a good neighbour, bringing me plates of food on Eid and Christmas cards every year.
And, conversely, other Muslim neighbours are positive about my dancing.
But with Mr. J. – well I don’t know if our chats enlighten either one of us to the other’s way of life in any significant way.
He is always full of questions, trying to figure me out.
I am like, ‘get in line Mr. J. I’m working on that one myself’!
It must be so odd for him, an old guy from Pakistan in Glasgow living next door to an American-performing-arts gal who chooses to dance outside. Sounds like the beginning of some crazy sitcom. But in fact, what context is there to understand who I am or what I do?
If I went to church once a week, and declared myself Catholic he wouldn’t be so concerned. And in exchange for me reading his Koran (which I have studied bits of) what texts of ‘mine’ would I suggest to him to read? Where to begin? My spiritual path is directed by spirit, there are no boundaries. I am informed by religious teachings but not held to them. To him, and to many, this seems weak, uncommitted, a cop out. Thankfully I do not need him to understand, that’s my journey. But equally I wonder if there are other ways of providing insight and exchange?
I think about my dancing.
And I consider the print advertising that litters the bus shelters with woman splayed half-clothed across the page, selling perfume, or on television or music videos – where there is no abash to the adage ‘sex-sells’. And I consider the statistics of 700,000 to 4 million women who are sold for sex-trafficking every year. I think about the recent Georgia law that was put forward to identify a ‘miscarriage police’ wherein women would be brought to trial if the cause of their miscarriage is ‘unknown’. I consider the changing of the definition of the rape laws in America and the rampant attacks on Planned Parenthood.
And conversely I consider how the moral high-ground is taken on behalf of women when it is convenient to politics – as in the case of Julian Assange or Bill Clinton with Monica Lewinsky.
In that instance millions of dollars of resources are pulled into play.
I wonder if both these things reveal a vital truth in our big world – that women are still seen as disposable. Whether in being trafficked for pennies behind closed doors in the UK or on the streets of India; where support to “extras” like childcare, and maternity care are cut in favour of more ‘economically sound‘ choices.
In the light of these home truths it seems women dancing, and equally men dancing for women, is very necessary indeed. We need to create new stories on our streets.
For women and girls of all backgrounds, shapes, sizes, ages, to feel absolutely empowered to LIVE completely and wholly for who they are on every dimension, and to make THAT the normal thing.
For where are the examples of such things?
No wonder Mr. J. struggles.
I don’t wish him to change, but equally I don’t wish him to wish me to change. But maybe that’s what I need to accept, that he always will. It’s who he is. Thankfully I live in a country where I am still allowed to dance, for now. And so I will exercise that right, celebrate it and invite others to be brave enough to do the same.