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 coreography 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.
I’m going to make two kinds of comments on this essay. The first is structural. The second will address the ideas you communicate.
First, you should work to make your opening paragraph more direct and cut out the filler. For example, your first sentence, “Also referred as demonstrations, protests have occurred in various instances throughout history in different places.” doesn’t give me any specific information — just that protests are also demonstrations. Better to start the paragraph with your third sentence, ” Defined as “an organized public demonstration expressing strong objection to an official policy or course of action,” a “protest” can refer to both violent or nonviolent forms of demonstrations.” That tells me (without the clunky effort of saying “my choice of keyword is protest” which I know already because you have titled this essay “protest”) that you are going to think about that work in relationship to dance and choreography. And then you can refine the topic to non-violent protests – like sit-ins, picket lines and marches – and how theatricality and choreography play a big part in their success. In your second paragraph, the topic sentence should not be the chapter where Goldman addresses this. Instead, what you want to highlight is that choreography is the arrangement of bodies in space to make a statement or image — and that presence of a choreographic arrangement has more power because bodies are placed in specific spaces that have meaning. Your topic sentences should focus on the big idea in the paragraph and then the rest of the paragraph lets that idea unfold. The other critique I have is that you bring in how contact improv in particular readies the protester to respond to a multitude of situations she or he might encounter in the protest. But in reading your essay, I’m unclear what contact improv is and why that dance technique might be so important to “ready” a protestor for protest. A few other things. Don’t use the term etc. – be specific about your reference.
All that being said –this was a thoughtful and beautiful essay. You read the Goldman piece really well, and then you gave a rich account of how this worked in your own experience — your language to describe how bodies both looked and responded to the touch of the police was riveting. You were able to take Goldman’s point of view of how corporal movement heightened the stakes of a demonstration and then apply that to what you know. And then what is even better is how you end with understanding that dance is not just what you see at a concert — that when applied to “real life” the skills one learns in dance or in theater can actually be activated to express dissent and specify the nature of that dissent. What is done with the body and to the body is always a powerful message. But when violence gets to be routine, choreography and theater can help renew public outrage by demonstrating the effects in a novel or striking manner. You did a beautiful job on this post.