Site-specific Protest Dance: Women in the Middle East

Heather Harrington

“They went out into the streets to make their voices heard, because that is where individuals become visible, movements are born, history unfolds, and authority is exercised.”
— Marjorie Agosín, "The Dance of Life: Women and Human Rights in Chile"

The prescribed choreography of people in the public space is a product of governing forces. These governing forces dictate what is permissible in the public space as far as movement, the number of people who can congregate, who can be seen, and how their bodies can be seen. Site-specific protest dance provokes an alternative to the defined, acceptable movement of people in public spaces. Women in the Middle East have used such site-specific protest dance to challenge the sanctioned beliefs of how they should appear and move in the public space.

The politics of a society is one of the most powerful governing forces affecting movement and ways of being in the public space. This article explores examples of ways women have used dance to reframe the public space and thus challenge politics. I focus in particular on the countries of the Middle East in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and the anti-government protests that began in 2010 throughout the Middle East including the nations of Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain. I will discuss the inherent power of dance and why it is an ideal medium for protest, describe examples of protest dance in the public space by women performing acts of defiance against societal prescribed ways of being and appearing, and summarize the ways these examples of protest dance protests have made an impact in the public space.

The Importance of Place

Prickett has examined in depth ways that the dancing body can be a tool in political protest. In Embodied Politics: Dance, Protest and Identities, she cites social scientist/geographer Doreen Massey’s analysis of the politics of space in protest dance: “locations are endowed with social interactions which can be disrupted temporally and spatially through artistic interventions.”1  Unlike concert dance, which occurs in a protected space, at a designated time, and with designated audience of ticket holders, site-specific dance can intersect with life as it occurs. The unsuspecting public can stumble onto a performance - dance that interferes with life. The established choreography of public life is disrupted by an insertion of new choreography: when a woman is seen going down the street in large lunge-like steps with a cigarette dangling from her mouth in Egypt, the city street walk has been restaged by the example of a woman who does not follow the sanctioned ways of moving. Such site- specific dance forces bystanders to be present and see their surroundings in a new way, shaken out of complacency by a fresh perspective. As choreographer Meredith Monk said of her own site-specific work, it is “a means of conveying magic and alertness and now-ness to people. And if they have those moments of being awake, maybe they could apply that to the rest of their lives.”2

 

The Power of Dance as a Medium of Protest

Dance is an integral part of being human; humans were built to dance and to be affected by dance both as participant and audience.3  It can build ritual, give a voice to the disenfranchised, and express emotions. Space, time, race, gender, and class can be reframed by dance; dance can reveal and transmit information and cultural identity. In Dancing in the Streets, Barbara Ehrenreich said "we cannot see a dancer, for example, without unconsciously starting up the neural processes that are the basis of our own participation in the dance."4  Dance serves to build empathy, to form communal and emotional bonds, and give meaning to the human experience. In Dance: Rituals of Experience, Jamake Highwater explains that “because [of] the inherent contagion of motion, which makes the onlooker feel in his own body the exertion he sees in others, the dancer is able to convey nonverbally, even nonsymbolically, the most intangible experiences, ideas, and feelings.”5  Anthropologist and author of Dancing to Learn Judith Lynne Hanna explains, “as we move, we move others; in observing others move - we are moved.”6  Humans dance for joy, religious purposes, solidarity, transcendence, and yes, protest. The abstraction of movement into a metaphor is a level of development not seen in other species. To dance is to be human.

Along with the intellectual and emotional response to dance, there is measurable biological response. Kimerer L. LaMothe explains the biological response to dance in her article “ Did Humans Evolve to Dance?. In 1996 neuroscientists discovered a phenomenon termed “mirror neurons” which are responsible for seeing a movement in another person and then being able to replicate that movement.7  LaMothe explains, “this firing creates in the observer the very pattern of neural connections that the observer would need to activate in order to make the same movement.”8  LaMothe goes on to conclude that, “for many scientists, this seemingly innate human ability to make an internal image of observed movement provides the biological template for empathy.” This is crucial for the development of human society and exemplifies the essential role that dance/movement has played in the evolution of human beings and their societies. Hanna as well points out that “mirror neurons may lie at the heart of empathy with another person, adopting another’s point of view, or social learning.”10  Both the physical and the social are intertwined in the mirror neurons. Humans are hardwired to respond to another body and its movement.

Dance is contagious and when members of a community see a person dancing, they too want to join in, creating bonding and communal experiences. Ehrenreich has explored the inherent need of human beings to dance together, emphasizing that group dance helps forge the communal bonds that keep a community strong.11  “To submit, bodily, to the music through dance is to be incorporated into the community in a way far deeper than shared myth or common custom can achieve.”12  In Keeping Together In Time: Dance and Drill in Human History, William McNeill describes his experience in the armed forces, and how moving in time with others connected him with his fellow soldiers in deep communal bonds that he saw being made by “muscular bonding.”13  He describes it as "the euphoric fellow feeling that prolonged and rhythmic muscular movement arouses among nearly all participants in such exercises.”14

The bonding that occurs when dancing together can be seen in religious activities and protest activities. The dancers are bonded together in a similar cause or philosophy, with shared gestures and movements that imprint a strong connection and devotion to a movement on the brain. Physical gestures cement the participation in a group through both the internal, kinetic experience and the outward display. Examples of a physical gesture that denote adherence to a group include the Nazi salute, the Catholic sign of the cross, an American soldier’s salute, and various gang signs and handshakes. In McNeill’s example,

The muscular side to Moslem worship may have played an important part in keeping the early community together; the prescribed ritual of prayer which required assembled believers to bow before God, repeatedly acknowledging His greatness by touching foreheads to the ground while uttering the words “God is Great.” Performed five times a day, in a rhythm defined by the summons and example of the prayer leader, and lasting for several minutes each time, this sort of prayer obviously required Muslims to move rhythmically together and in unison.15

McNeill sees dance as providing a voice and community for those who find themselves outside the circle of society. At a practical level, he says, "keeping in time was the most efficacious way to establish warm emotional bonds among marginalized and distressed persons of any and every sort."16  For women who find themselves in diminished roles in society, prohibited from holding traditional roles of power in government, dance provides an opportunity to be seen and heard. Through dance, women can redefine the power dynamics in the public space by inserting themselves in a way that makes their presence and intentions known.

Defining Protest Dance

What constitutes protest dance? Can it be a person wearing a costume, standing still, or posing nude? Can it be a body, either defined by gender, class, or movement, not normally seen in the public space? The definition of dance itself continues to go through a myriad of permutations. In the 1960s, Anna Halprin and other choreographers of the Judson Church era, including Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Meredith Monk, and Yvonne Rainer, set a particular challenge to what dance could be, breaking down many barriers that included body type, technique, location, subject, type of movement, and the relationship between the audience and the performer. Halprin brought dance from the proscenium stage to the public space, challenging a San Francisco ordinance limiting gatherings to 25 individuals by creating a dance where “groups of 24 people carried blank placards, walking a block apart from the other group, and literally taking art to the streets and to new audiences who were free to imagine their own protest slogans on the placards.”17  If dance is defined as movement with a specific intention and design in space, then using one’s body with the intent of causing challenge and change must constitute protest dance.

According to A Manual for Direct Action: Strategy and Tactics for Civil Rights and All Other Nonviolent Protest Movement, there is an ideal body awareness when engaging in a protest.18  Following that manual, Danielle Goldman’s I Want to be Ready recognized “two basic options for responding to a physical attack: stand up and try to make eye contact with the attackers, or fall down.”19  Goldman connects the physical awareness, stillness, and falls of contact improvisation as playing a role in protest activities that involve confrontation. The body in a protest must have the same awareness to the other as in contact improvisation, and be ready to improvise. The protesters must respond to a physical attack using principles of dance.

There exists a vulnerability of the body when a person decides to protest against the prescribed movements of the public space. Sociologist/dance theorist Gabriele Klein points out the existence of the unknown in what may happen to one’s body “in demonstrations or the occupation of buildings, street crossings or train tracks, in chaining themselves to buildings, suspending themselves from bridges or sit-ins, or for example in the reckless hanging of protest banners.”20  In these social movements, she says, “the word movement - the corporeal activity- should be taken literally.”21

It is only in the choreographic organization of the body that the protest itself becomes performative, in how the bodies occupy public spaces, camping, stripping, freezing Klein explains. … [These bodies] demonstrate the vulnerability of the private and intimate body, and is thus in itself a protest against the public sphere and its choreographic order as a realm of power.22

The placement of bodies in an area where they are not usually seen disrupts the order and inserts new meaning into a site. The reimagining of the space, implores the public to take notice and the public is asked to step outside of their familiarity, and see differently.

Women, Protest Dance and Public Space

Giscard Games - Intersection of Wall Street, women, and a terror alert

When one imagines Wall Street, images of women dancing do not come to mind. In 2004, I was commissioned by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council to choreograph a site-specific piece, Giscard Games, for their Sitelines series highlighting Lower Manhattan after the devastating events of 9/11.23  I choreographed and performed Giscard Games along with 6 other female dancers, on the stairs of Federal Hall Memorial twice a day for three weeks, Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30 pm and 4:30 pm. In front of the New York Stock Exchange, blocks away from the World Trade Center site, I inserted women dancing gestures of predominantly male traders, who worked in the futures exchange market before it became automated. The female dancers enacted masculine power games of chance, greed, and dominance on the stairs of Federal Memorial under the gaze of many male traders during their lunch breaks.

Frequently during our rehearsals, we witnessed men giving out cards promoting the services of exotic dancers. One evening a male trader treated us like we were exotic dancers, throwing money at us and spewing vulgarities. I used his harassment as inspiration for choreography in the dance. Five of the dancers became men at a strip club, yelling and performing the same gestures representative of the hand signals employed on the trading floor (seen earlier in the dance), now directed towards a dancer who had become an exotic performer for their pleasure. The exotic dancer is pushed to a place of desperation by the relentless taunts of the others and feigns a fall. After the fall, the dancers turn to face Trinity Church, bells are heard in the sound score, bringing a solemnity to the piece by echoing the sadness after 9/11; putting all daily activities in perspective.

The culture of Wall Street may encourage men to use power and money in their encounters with women, with exotic dance being a sexualized performance that can be bought. I inverted the images of masculine power associated with Wall Street, depicting dancers embodying cruel, sexist, empty, childlike behavior.

In addition to the issue of gender and power seen in the dance and the space, the New York Stock Exchange was faced with a terror alert on the day of our first performance, bringing back memories of the 9/11. Veronique Dupont reported, “the traders and businessmen had deserted Wall Street when the American authorities announced a heightened alert on the street that has lived in the shadow of Al- Qaeda ever since September 11.”24  But we stayed and danced even though we were surrounded by police officers and soldiers with submachine guns on Orange Alert. I had created the piece specifically for the site, and we were going to perform it, because as a city we all had been living with a sense of fear of the next terror attack. Giscard Games became a statement about proceeding with life as normal in light of the terror alert. It was not an angle that I could have planned; the confluence of the site and a current event created another layer of meaning to the piece. We as women used our bodies both to counter male stereotypes of women, change the power dynamics of the public space by depicting women performing gestures of male traders, and defying calls to stop daily life because of a terror alert.

Giscard Games continues a tradition of women going into the streets, and performing alternatives to fixed societal narratives with their bodies. The dance scholar Ramsay Burt describes how British women suffragists in the early twentieth century were not allowed to vote in the parliamentary elections, and how they used their bodies to gain suffrage. Burt explains that since “their voices were in effect silenced, many found other means, including non-verbal embodied ones, for formulating and signifying specifically female aspirations for change in a modern world. Denied the right to be heard, they used their bodies as weapons in their campaign for freedom and equality.”25  Like them, in 2012 Egyptian activist Aliaa Magda Elmahdy and two other women from Femem, an international feminist organization that protests topless and professes that their body is their weapon against forms of patriarchy, used their bodies as the medium of protest against the Egyptian Constitution signed into law by President Mohammed Mursi (also spelled Morsi). A video captures Elmahdy standing with her legs in a wide stance, with the two other women standing to the left and right of her, in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm nude with the following written on their bodies: “Sharia is not a Constitution”, “No Islamism - Yes Secularism” and “Apocalypse by Mursi.”26  Each woman holds either a Koran (also spelled Coran) with “No Religion” written on it, a Torah with “Religion is Slavery” and a Bible over their genitals.27  Their bodies are vulnerable in this act of protest that involves a specific location, a particular positioning of the body, a costume and props. The women are defying the expectations of how they should appear before the Egyptian Embassy in order to have their voices heard in their searing disapproval of religion dictating how they should behave and appear.  

The body itself, without movement or site, can be a rich source of political conversation. Researcher Ana Vujanovic quotes cultural studies expert Janet Wolf describing the body as “a privileged site of political intervention, precisely because it is the site of repression and oppression.”28  Vujanovic explains dance “reveals that the very images of the body, its positions, shapes, movements, and relations on stage could oppose and subvert the dominant ideological interpretations by offering critical alternatives to them.”29  Aliaa Magda Elmahdy and the women of Femem are using their status as women, and the power of their nude bodies to express their message. There is the intersection of the politicized body in the public sphere, the element of theunknown, and the element of a confrontation - a kind of disruption. Oliver Marchart defines a protest as a communal event that involves some sort of strained encounter. Marchart explains that the protests “do not have to imply physical violence, but there will always be an aspect of symbolic violence involved.”30

Protest Dance in the Middle East: at the intersection of gender and religion

The voices of oppression and revolution have rung out strongly and continue to do so in these very turbulent times after the Arab Spring uprisings. Instability and violence is seen in numerous countries including Egypt, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, Tunisia, and Yemen. Whenever there are limitations put on individual freedoms by the government and religion, the body and movement are targeted, specifically women’s bodies and movements.

In the Islamic religion there is no general consensus of a ban on dance, but it has been interpreted as being a banned activity by many sects.31  Several Muslim countries have gone through radical changes that have affected the presence of dance and the arts. For example, in Iran, dance was a respected art form before the Islamic Revolution. After the Revolution, it was banned.32

Zuhur Sherifa, a national security scholar of the Middle East, notes that “Middle Eastern dance predates the Islamic conquest and derives from a variety of ethnic traditions within the region, whose distinctions (Arab, Berber, Persian, or Turkic manifestations) have received little attention.”33  She says dance “may derive from fertility cults of pre-Islamic societies.”34

Scholar Anthony Shay explains the religious reaction to dance in Iran, noting that “Khomeini and his government immediately banned dance and most music after the Islamic Revolution on the basis that it was ‘frivolous’.”35  He further explains that “The free use of one’s body comes with a high price in these societies, and the power of dance and its bodily discourse are shown in the regime’s desperate attempts to stamp it out in all its manifestations.”36  Iran has gone as far as deleting images of Degas’s paintings from art books and deleting dance scenes in the film Mary Poppins.37  Egypt, Iran, Yemen, Afghanistan, and Turkey have had many movements to ban dance. In Turkey there is a ban on the Mevlevi dervish dances unless performed in a theatrical tourist attraction venue. This ban speaks to trying to snuff out a cultural identification and a preservation of a culture.38  “People throughout the vast region of the Middle East, Central Asia, and North Africa dance in the face of severe punishments and even death and continue to exercise their human rights, to own their own bodies and dance if, where, and when they choose.” The human right to dance is being denied.

 

Art Solution: A flash mob movement in Tunisia

Tunisia was the country where the Arab Spring revolts were birthed. In 2010, a 26-year-old vegetable seller, Mohamed Bouazizi, set himself on fire after being faced with the unfairness of the bureaucratic system in Tunisia.40  Bouazizi’s extreme action of desperation and frustration set off a revolution. Just nine days after Bouazizi’s death, President Ben Ali stepped down.41  People took to the streets to make their voices heard. The journalist Rachel Shabi described the flash mob that filled the streets of Tunisia in 2013, saying “one group calling itself Art Solution stages seemingly spontaneous eruptions of dance in places where dance doesn’t ordinarily belong: the edges of the barbed-wire barriers surrounding the Ministry of the Interior (still hated for all the past incarcerations, torture and instances of police brutality), and in central Tunis or the capital’s main market and old medina.”42  Art Solution is bringing dance into society. The dance is intersecting with the public, transforming the space, giving it new meaning, and offering choreographed dances that either show the joy of movement or express social commentary. The members of Art Solution end their performances by asking the public to join them in dance. Shabi explains, “here in Tunisia, artists of all types are asserting public ownership of spaces once controlled by the state, reclaiming the streets, reasserting the significance of protest as a political ideal.”43  Shabi elaborates, “that sentiment is fizzing up everywhere in the capital…in the streetdance clusters on side streets;...”44  Public spaces in Tunisia were ruled by the government, the Ministry of the Interior. Now artists were going into these spaces and changing the power dynamic, taking over the public space, and inserting their own message.

The dancers are intersecting with the public by chance, and asking them to step out of their routine, and be exposed to something new. In the past, any public display was ordained by the regime. Now the people were changing the dynamics and rules. As Shabi says, “It’s a conscious, proud, humorous repossession of spaces that were once out of bounds, used exclusively by the regime to push its own self-aggrandizing doctrines.”45  Selima Karoui, a visual artist, university teacher and journalist with the Tunisian collective blog, Nawaat, is quoted by Shabi, “Before, we couldn’t speak or do anything in the public space: it was used as a space for propaganda,”46  Art solution perform flash mobs that are a form of protest against religious extremism. A member of Art solution says, "this is our response to the impeding danger of extremists who defend freedom."47  The flash mob entitled, I will dance despite everything, was organized in Tunis's old medina on December 2012 by Art Solution.” The movement style mixes modern dance and traditional folk dance. The dancers are dancing for the joy of movement. Women are dressed without veils and there is live percussion. It is a flash mob, spontaneously happening in a public space with people randomly stopping to watch. Some of the public join in the dance. There are exalted turns, and a real easing into a sort of abandonment. It is truly beautiful to see the public join in and feel the joy of movement. It brings the people together in a shared experience.

Bahri Ben Yahmed, one of Art Solution’s founders says, “The association is conceived of as a response to the general mood of the country. We were afraid that Tunisian artists would lose their status in the street with the impeding danger of extremists, who threaten freedom.” Yahmed continues, “Nobody can resist. When men and women in the crowds join me in the dance, I feel the connection as though we are family.”50  One gets the sense that Yahmed wants to affect the people, not the governing forces, in hopes that this can lead to change.

Several of Art Solution’s YouTube clips begin with the words of Stéphane Hessel (1917-2013), the German-born writer, diplomat, concentration camp-survivor and French Resistance fighter, who died in February 2013: ‘Créer, c’est résister. Résister, c’est créer’ (To create is to resist. To resist is to create).”

Women Dancing: Gender, Religion and the Arab Space Following the Public Spring

For women in particular, the issue is even more complex. Nieuwkerk has argued that “the reason that female singers and dancers are generally regarded as immoral is related to the prevailing cultural construction of femininity and particularly of the female body. These constructions of gender and the body are grounded to a great extent in religious discourse.” Women may be defined primarily as bodies, “particularly sexual bodies”, Nieuwkerk says, thus “moving is immoral for women since it draws even more attention to their shameful bodies” There is a view in Islam that the female body is seen through a sexual lens only. Nieuwkerk explains that women are reduced to the “definition of women primarily as bodies, particularly sexual bodies.”55 53  Nieuwkerk references Egyptian American writer Leila Ahmed who explains that many of the ideas of what a woman is and how she should be treated and seen are rooted in the Abbasid era, 750-1258. The Abbasid period was the third of the Islamic caliphates to succeed the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Ahmed explains that “it was in the Abbasid era that the word “woman” became almost synonymous with ‘slave’ and ‘object for sexual use’.” The formulation of Islamic law largely occurred during the Abbasid era and its impact has continued forward to the present day. “The definition of women as sexual beings and the female body as enticing is thus a very powerful discourse,” says Nieuwkerk, and the body itself is seen as sexualized: neck, legs, wrists, hands. This particular religious view of the female body has the devastating effects of limiting a woman's control of her own body, with religious discourse dictating how she moves and how she presents her body to the public sphere.                

 

Iran: Dancing in the Subway

In, 2014, a video of a woman dancing solo on a subway without her mandatory hijab in Tehran to a song by British pop group Little Mix was posted to the Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women Facebook page, which has over 700,000 followers. In the video, the dancer may be seen as reframing the public space of the subway. Her actions defy a pair of fundamental laws; to be veiled, and not to dance in public. These laws are specific to the control of the Islamic woman in the public space. Journalist Masih Alinejad, founder of the Stealthy Freedoms of Iranian Women, told the Independent, "there are two different lifestyles – one for those who want to just dance, who want to listen to music, who want to watch volleyball, and those who want to control this society and its happy people." Reporter Heather Saul from the Independent commented that the woman’s “dancing is all the more brave in light of the punishments meted out to a group of young Iranian men and women who were filmed dancing to the song ‘Happy’, who were all given suspended sentences of prison time and 91 lashes. Saul quotes Alinejad stating, “if you live as a free person in Iran you are living as a criminal every day.”61  One woman was brave enough to express her desire for freedom of movement in the public space; one action in a particular space can be powerful.      

Egypt: Everyday Movement in the Public Space

In Martin’s Women, Dance, and Revolution: Performance and Protest in the Southern Mediterranean, dancer Hala Iman explains women’s experience moving in the public space in Cairo, “Now when you watch women walk in the streets it is like they are ashamed - ashamed of their breasts, of their eyes, of their faces.”62  She says, “When I look at ladies in the streets they are not even aware they have bodies. I want people to see their own bodies, to appreciate their bodies, their soul, their hair.” Even as Halprin sought to widen the circles of dance in the 1960’s, Iman’s scope too has widened. She says she no longer wants to perform in the theater; “now I wish I could perform in the street - it is a dream, I doubt it will ever happen.” She realizes the power of bringing dance/movement into the public space, and changing the politics of the space, but she sees the dangers of going against the ruling parties. In Egypt, Iman wants to see a woman moving freely in the space without restrictions. However, what would be the repercussions for doing so? Amnesty International has reported that 99% of women in Egypt have been victims of some form of sexual harassment.65

Martin also interviewed Dalia Naous, a Cairo-based Lebanese artist who created an 18-minute dance film with video artist Kinda Hassan entitled Cairography (2013). The piece challenged what was socially acceptable behavior in the city streets of Cairo.67  “I found that the places I was living - Beirut, Paris, Cairo - made me interested in how cities could affect the body and movement, in relation to the spatial, political and economic dimensions of locations,” Naous explains. “I found in Cairo I just didn’t want to be a woman. I wanted to hide… The first idea I had was that I wanted to talk about harassment and particularly sexual harassment in Cairo through this dance film.” Naous was aware of the conservative backlash that followed the Arab Spring and wondered, “how it affected the way women move, and walk in the streets. How does it affect what is accepted, unaccepted, expected, and unexpected?”70  There is the obvious taboo on public dancing, but what other taboos would she tackle in her piece of the body navigating the public streets of Cairo? As Naous explains the focus of her piece, “It was looking at how it is a right to walk and move in the street, at a most basic level. For example, in Cairo it is not considered acceptable for a woman to smoke in the street.” Her concern, she explains, is that “it is impossible to walk very far without getting harassed, without being an object, without people looking at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable.” In the interview she makes a very troubling statement, commenting, “I noticed how near the end of the revolution there was an aggressiveness that started to happen towards women. It seems like now the strategy of the Arab world is to abort women from society, to get them out of sight, to get them out of active roles in communities and hide them away. This is worrying”. What happens to a society when it wants to remove all traces of women from the public life?

Conclusion

Effective protest dance intersects and interferes with the public space, defying social expectations. The everyday choreography must be contested or inverted. People should be taken out of their familiarity with the site, and be surprised by a new meaning and alternative. The people on the subway in Tehran were not expecting to see a woman dancing without her mandatory hijab; her movements demanded attention because they defied the societal expectations of women not dancing in public and being veiled.74  Aliaa Magda Elmahdy used her nude body as protest against religious oppression by positioning herself in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm with her message of “Sharia is not a Constitution” written on her body, and a book with Koran written on it, in front of her genitals.75 Elmahdy used the site of the Egyptian Embassy in Stockholm to broadcast the message that she wanted to convey about the current state of Egypt, a state where secular rule was being threatened by theocratic rule. These examples and others that I have discussed in this essay demonstrate the ways the lines between the audience and performer are fluid and encourage participation. The participant is invited to be transformed by the dance through association. Similarly, the female dancers in Art Solution’s flash mobs invite audience members to dance with them, defying beliefs that women should not dance with strangers, dance in public, or unveiled. The dancers in Art Solution are intersecting with the public and calling the audience to share in a sense of community and freedom, no matter what gender a person is.

Women can find themselves at the margins of society without a voice, barred from government and ruling positions, as they are in many countries in the Middle East; through dance they can provoke a conversation with their movement in the public space. The everyday choreography of society is hegemonic, and it unconsciously reinforces the politics of society. People can be jolted out of their normal choreography with a reframing of public space through movement. Dance can change the meaning of a public space, and therefore change the social dynamics that are played out in that space. Social hierarchies can be broken down by infusing new meaning to the parks, subways, or a financial district through movement.

The ephemeral can turn into the lasting. Dance is viewed as the fleeting art form that only lasts in the present, but the memory of the dance, even a gesture, can be seared into a memory and having enduring effects. Ghosts of actions, images, spaces, and people can follow us forever. Dance can be the device to wake people up to a reimagining of the public space. Human beings are built to respond to the human body, our brains are hardwired to have an empathetic, immediate physiological and emotional response to movements of other human beings. Aliaa Magda Elmahdy’s nude body with “Sharia is not a Constitution” written on it hits a viewer on a visceral level. A body is needed to capture the people’s imagination; the people must see that body move in an alternative way to the prescribed behavior of governing forces. The body’s movement provides the seeds for a transformation to occur. The human body cannot be ignored. A single gesture, movement, or dance can indeed start a revolution.      


1. Stacey Prickett, Embodied Politics : Dance, Protest and Identities (Great Britain: Dance Books Ltd., 2013), 110.  back to text

2. Melanie Kloetzel and Carolyn Pavlik, eds., Site Dance: Choreographers and the Lure of Alternative Spaces (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2009), 38. back to text

3. Judith Lynne Hanna, Dancing to Learn: The Brain’s Cognition, Emotion, and Movement (Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2015), 39. back to text

4. Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 26. back to text

5. Jamake Highwater, Dance: Rituals of Experience (New York: A & W Publishers, Inc. 1978), 26. back to text

6. Ibid, 39. back to text

7. Kimerer L. LaMothe, Ph.D., "Did Humans Evolve to Dance? Movement and mirror neurons: Dancing exercises the skills we need to move with, empathetically," Psychology Today 31, (July 2013): accessed November 13, 2015, <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-body-knows/201307/did-humans-evolve-dance-4-movement-and-mirror-neurons>. back to text

8. Ibid. back to text

9. Ibid. back to text

10. Ibid, 21. back to text

11. Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006), 26. back to text

12. Ibid, 24. back to text

13. William Hardy McNeill, Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 2. back to text

14. Ibid 2-3. back to text

15. Ibid 90. back to text

16. Ibid 57. back to text

17. Ibid 99. back to text

18. Martin Oppenheimer and George Lakey, A Manual for Direct Action: Strategy and Tactics for Civil Rights and All Other Nonviolent Protest Movement, (New York: Quadrangle Books, 1965). back to text

19. Danielle Goldman, I Want to Be Ready : Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom / Danielle Goldman (Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan, 2010), 97-98. back to text

20. Gabriele Klein, “The (Micro-) Politics of Social Choreography Aesthetic and Political Strategies of Protest and Participation," in Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity: Current Perspectives on Politics and Communities in the Arts Vol. 1, eds. Hölscher and Siegmund (Berlin: Diaphanes, 2013), 196. back to text

21. Ibid, 197. back to text

22. Ibid, 197. back to text

23. Heather Harrington, Giscard Games, Vimeo, <https://vimeo.com/100958931>. back to text

24. Veronique Dupont, "Calm Wall Street awaits al-Qaeda storm," AFP, News/World, August 2, 2004, <http://www.iol.co.za/news/world/calm-wall-street-awaits-al-qaeda-storm-1.218648>. back to text

25. Ramsay Burt, “The Biopolitics of Modernist Dance and Suffragette protest," in Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity: Current Perspectives on Politics and Communities in the Arts Vol. 1, eds. Hölscher and Siegmund (Berlin: Diaphanes, 2013), 248. back to text

26. Everyday Rebell. "Everyday rebellion.com presents - Aliaa Elmahdy & Femen protesting against Egyptian constitution." Online video clip. YouTube, December 20, 2012. Web. Accessed November 12, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1k28ys2htw>. back to text

27. Ibid. back to text

28. Ana Vujanovic,“Notes on the Politicality of Contemporary Dance," in Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity: Current Perspectives on Politics and Communities in the Arts Vol. 1, eds. Hölscher and Siegmund (Berlin: Diaphanes, 2013),182. back to text

29. Ibid, 188. back to text

30. Oliver Marchart, “Dancing politics: Political Reflections on Choreography, Dance and Protest," in Dance, Politics & Co-Immunity: Current Perspectives on Politics and Communities in the Arts Vol. 1, eds. Hölscher and Siegmund (Berlin: Diaphanes, 2013),47. back to text

31. Omar Sacirbey. “Are Muslims allowed to dance?” Washington Post. August 29, 2012. back to text

32. Anthony Shay, “Human Rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia,” in Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice, ed. Naomi Jackson and Toni Shapiro-Phim. (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2008), 72. back to text

33. Sherifa Zuhur, ed, Images of Enchantment : Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East (Cairo, Egypt: American U in Cairo, 1998), 6. back to text

34. Karin Nieuwkerk, “Changing Images and Shifting Identities: Female Performers in Egypt” in Images of Enchantment : Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East / Edited by Sherifa Zuhur (Cairo, Egypt: American U in Cairo, 1998), 6. back to text

35. Anthony Shay, “Human Rights in the Middle East, North Africa, and Central Asia,” in Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice, ed. Naomi Jackson and Toni Shapiro-Phim. (Maryland: Scarecrow Press, Inc., 2008), 72.  back to text

36. Ibid, 76. back to text

37. Ibid. back to text

38. Ibid. back to text

39. Ibid, 80. back to text

40. Frank Gardner, “Tunisia one year on: Where the Arab Spring started”, BBC News, December 17, 2011, accessed in March 3,2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-16230190. back to text

41. Ibid. back to text

42. Rachel Shabi, "In Tunis." Aeon Media. May 9, 2013. Web. Accessed Sept. 15, 2015. <http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/rachel-shabi-tunisian-protest-art/>. page 1. back to text

43. Ibid. back to text

44. Ibid. back to text

45. Ibid. back to text

46. Ibid. back to text

47. Free Arabs Channel. "Tunisia: Dancing in the Street." Online video clip. Youtube. March 1, 2013. Web. Accessed in Sept.15, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=epV_Vvd4Dfc>. back to text

48. Free Arabs. "Tunisia Dancing in the Street." Free Arabs, 2013. Web. Accessed in Sept. 15, 2015. <http://www.freearabs.com/index.php/art/79-video-gallery/304-jb-span-tunisia-jb-span-dancing-in-the-street>. back to text

49. Ibid. back to text

50. Shabi, Rachel. "In Tunis." Aeon Media. 9 May 2013. Web. 15 Sept. 2015. <http://aeon.co/magazine/culture/rachel-shabi-tunisian-protest-art/>. back to text

51. Ibid. back to text

52. Ibid, 28. back to text

53. Ibid, 29. back to text

54. Ibid, 28. back to text

55. Ibid, 29. back to text

56. Ibid, 29. back to text

57. Ibid, 29. back to text

58. Heather Saul, “Iranian woman defies restrictive laws by dancing without her hijab on the Tehran subway,” The Independent (November 27, 2014), accessed Jan. 24, 2015. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iranian-woman-filmed-dancing-to-a-song-without-her-hijab-on-the-tehran-subway-in-protest-at-irans-9888373.html back to text

59. Ibid. back to text

60. Ibid. back to text

61. Ibid. back to text

62. Martin, Rose. Women, Dance and Revolution: Performance and Protest in the Southern Mediterranean. (London - New York: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd, 2015). 30. back to text

63. Ibid, 30. back to text

64. Ibid, 30. back to text

65. Colin Schultz, “In Egypt, 99 Percent of Women Have Been Sexually Harassed”, Smithsonian, June 13, 2014, accessed in March 3, 2016. <http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/egypt-99-women-have-been-sexually-harassed-180951726/?no-ist>. back to text

66. Ibid, 129. back to text

67. Ibid, 129.  back to text

68. Ibid, 130 back to text

69. Ibid, 130. back to text

70. Ibid, 131. back to text

71. Ibid, 132. back to text

72. Ibid, 136.  back to text

73. Ibid, 138. back to text

74. Heather Saul, “Iranian woman defies restrictive laws by dancing without her hijab on the Tehran subway,” The Independent (November 27, 2014), accessed Jan. 24, 2015. back to text

75. Everyday Rebell. "Everyday rebellion.com presents - Aliaa Elmahdy & Femen protesting against Egyptian constitution." Online video clip. YouTube, December 20, 2012. Web. Accessed November 12, 2015. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i1k28ys2htw>. back to text

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