It’s not easy to walk away from what you know. And it can be even harder to come back with a whole new perspective and feel accepted. But there I was. About a week ago I got a call from an old friend, someone who knows me from my previous career. What she had to say almost knocked me out of my seat. “We want you to do a radical bellydance workshop for us!”
The “we” is the Western States Center (WSC), a great outfit whose mission is “to build a progressive movement for social, economic, racial and environmental justice in the eight western states: Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming.” Their annual summer conference in Portland is an amazing three days of intensive training and networking, with workshops ranging from Beyond Diversity: Dismantling Racism, to Civic Engagement 101. I had facilitated racial equity trainings there in the past.
When I moved on to shimmier pastures, I half-jokingly suggested that they bring me back to teach radical bellydance to their participants. But for them it was no joke! There is a major lesson in that response for me. I had always taken my justice work seriously, with a little twinkle of levity, of course. But had that changed? Did I view writing an article about racial disparities in health care differently from a blog about body justice? Shame on me if that was true. The mission of spreading the gospel of bellydance, body justice and joy, of helping women to love our bodies and demand respect for them through our classes, workshops and performances is just as worthy a cause.
Your Body Raks’ presence at the WSC conference makes an important statement about the need for social movements to embrace the arts as more than just a pretty accessory; they are an essential strategy that keeps our humanity intact while we demand justice for us all. And knowing from personal experience how women in the movement routinely put ourselves last on the list of justice, our work is especially needed to reconnect and reclaim our bodies and souls. So leading a five-hour workshop at the WCS conference is indeed validating. But it is also good and needed work that we do with great reverence.
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