Also referred as demonstrations, protests have occurred in various instances throughout history in different places. As part of my engagement with the book I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom, I decided to choose the word “protest” for this essay. Defined as “an organized public demonstration expressing strong objection to an official policy or course of action,” the word protest can refer to both violent or nonviolent forms of demonstrations. In this essay, I will focus on nonviolent protest, as described in chapter 3 of the book. This type of protest includes “marches, picket lines, and sit-ins” (95). However, an important aspect of nonviolent protests is the way bodies are displayed in the space: moving or still. To further this aspect, one may wonder how bodies move throughout the space in order to protect itself as well as to convey meaning.
The author of the book, Danielle Goldman, addresses these questions in chapter 3. Hence, nonviolent protest, in the context of this reading, should not restricted to the random motion of bodies in public spaces but rather expansively envisioned as the strategic and meticulous arrangement, display and organization of bodies during a specific time-period at a certain place. From a more text-bound analysis, it is noteworthy the author “[hopes] to reexamine the politics of contact improvisation in the early years of its development by highlighting the subtle ways in which these explorations coincided” (95). Concerning contact improvisation, the author claims that different body movements can both serve as a means of protecting the body against unfamiliar types of contacts (e.g. brutal police officers) as well as of providing an underlying political message. Nonetheless, Goldman draws on the work of the scholar and activist Susan Foster in order to emphasize that, perhaps, it is not very appropriate to see nonviolent protests as dances because demonstrations and choreography greatly differ in “motivation and intent” (96). Hence, treating a nonviolent protest as a dance would decontextualize the nature of the act, hence potentially even delegitimizing its purpose (I would argue). Nevertheless, Goldman does claim the nonviolent protests have “choreographic elements” (96). Therefore, these elements may remind the viewer of a dance performance. In fact, Goldman argues, throughout the chapter, that preparing contact improvisation modes for nonviolent confrontations may enhance a protest’s success. Yet she does not claim that bodies should move or stand still in every situation nor she affirms that, in every case, there will be a specific preparation that will allow for body safety and expression. By claiming that “contact improvisation is a practice of making oneself ready for a range of ever-shifting surprises and constraints” (111), Goldman shows awareness that the ways bodies move in the context of nonviolent protests depend on a series of variables shaped by history, time-period, etc. In spite of the uncertainties of the variables, she still emphasizes the importance of contact improvisation in nonviolent protests, which can be much more powerful and meaningful if carefully rehearsed and thought, just like a performance.
The reason why the word protest stood out to me was due to Professor Debra Levine’s comment about civil disobedience. During the Community Dinner at NYUAD’s Torch Club, the professor mentioned that an interesting technique used in civil disobedience is relaxing the body when getting arrested. By doing so, the police officer is required to carry the body of the protester as if he/she is carrying a dead body. By practicing this act before, the protester/performer rehearses the way he/she will get arrested in order to cause a bigger impact to the audience. In fact, I have seen this technique of nonviolent protest being used in my city, in 2013. During this year, black people in my city (which correspond to about 80% of the population) were protesting against police brutality by blocking the roads. Whenever a police officer would arrest them, another person would throw red ink at the person being arrested, which would suddenly fall and let the body lose and relaxed. Hence, the police officer would have to carry a black body covered in red ink to the police car. Besides calling the public attention, this technique was also very successful because the hands of the police officer would remain red, hence exposing police brutality. However, one needs to be extremely careful about how to protect him/herself when being arrested, because leaving the body relaxed may cause injuries in case the police officer starts to drag the person across the street. I found interesting that Goldman addresses these concerns by referring to A Manual for Direct Action, which provides relevant descriptions and details concerning the physical exposure of the bodies, and how to protect them, while also using it to covey expressive/dramatic meaning in nonviolent protests (e.g. acts of civil disobedience). Overall, the word protest also fascinated me because the act of protesting is a way in which theater can be applied. I used to think that dance was restricted to abstract works that only impact society in indirect manners. However, I have realized that, by using notions from choreography and dance in acts of civil disobedience, more attention to social issues can be given, hence more directly encouraging/driving social impact and change.
Works CitedEnglish Oxford Living Dictionaries "Protest." Accessed 7 Jan 2018. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/protest. Golman, Danielle. "Bodies on the Line: Contact Improvisation and Techniques of Nonviolent Protest" I Want To Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom. 94-111. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2010.