Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

One Billion Rising, B.C. style: Women dance in peace and solidarity

Curious pedestrians stopped to watch. A man in a taxi stared out the back-seat window. A nearby sidewalk vendor with a kazoo and crazy red costume sold Valentine’s trinkets to passersby.


But as darkness descended last Thursday, thirteen women in downtown Vancouver, BC, Canada focused on slow, spontaneous movement, in silent unison. We were part of the global solidarity dance One Billion Rising, held on Valentine’s Day as a symbolic demand to end violence against women and girls. (The name of the event, created by Eve Ensler’s organization V Day, refers to the reality that one in three females on earth will be beaten or raped in her lifetime, which amounts to more than a billion women.)

While women in cities around the world gyrated, sang, and held flash mobs, our group, arranged in a line, clutched a long, rolled-up red cloth. We lay it on the ground in front of the old courthouse steps on Robson Street, now part of the Vancouver Art Gallery. This defined our space, as a symbolic boundary, while a supportive male friend watched our belongings.


With informal facilitator Ingrid Rose, we took turns leading an improvised series of synchronized movements, decided in the moment by each rotating “leader.” Some of us used flashlights to spark the night as we all clasped hands to our hearts, raised arms skyward, bent down to touch the earth, and maintained an ongoing fluid flow of motions with our arms and legs.

I learned that such group movement with no set pattern or formation, yet with everyone doing the same motions, is called “flocking.”


This group activity, embodying the intention of nonviolence, felt like a combination of tai chi, yoga in motion, and Gabrielle Roth’s “flow” rhythm. All but one of the women were strangers to me, yet sharing this collective action felt like an ongoing hug from warm friends. We came together, we cared, we acted, without attachment to others’ reactions, and without fear in the night.


We danced not as spectacle or as separate performance, but as an extension of everyday life. Beside us, a First Nations man displayed hand-carved wooden masks, laid out on the steps for potential buyers. Electric trolley buses rattled past. From the top of the steps, a drunk man with a beer can heckled us briefly, then ignored us.

We were dancing both for ourselves and for women and children everywhere. Some in the group cried out or intoned as we danced. After forty minutes, we stopped and formed a circle. Without any planning or discussion, we each spontaneously called out words or phrases that our dance had inspired, things like “empowerment,”  “peace,” and “safety.”


Under a crescent moon, amidst the harsh lights and noise of the city, it was a rare opportunity to extend and experience a soulful presence. It invited us to redefine our relationships through peace, not just with others, but with ourselves.

In Sechelt on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, about 25 women and one man danced at Trail Bay Mall in front of Clayton’s supermarket as part of One Billion Rising.  As Jan Jensen led a lively group to song lyrics that celebrated women, more than two dozen people watched and clapped in appreciation. Dance participant Wendy Crumpler says: “It was amazing: a very moving experience as well as being fun. Afterwards, there was this wonderful feeling of having done something together that was important.”

Click here to see video of One Billion Rising event in Sechelt.

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February 19, 2013 at 9:49 pm Comments (0)

Pecha Kucha in Gibsons, BC: art and community unite

One of the photos from my Pecha Kucha presentation, taken of Tibetans  protesting the torch relay in San Francisco for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Fun with mouldy food. Road kill. Keeping communities creative. These three topics hardly seem to share a theme, yet they all came together last month in a wonderful visual presentation in Gibsons, BC.


As part of the town’s first Pecha Kucha night, nine Sunshine Coast residents each shared about six minutes of photos and storytelling on any subject of their choice. The rules were simple: 20 images, 20 seconds on each. This format, which draws its name from the Anglicized version of the Japanese term for “chit-chat,” started in Tokyo in 2003.


The Pecha Kucha framework began as a dynamic way for designers and architects to share their work in public without droning on about every miniscule detail; the images are programmed to switch automatically every 20 seconds, beyond the control of the speakers. Today, hundreds of cities around the world have hosted Pecha Kucha nights, drawing on the collective creativity and talent of their communities.


The Gibsons event made for a delightful evening of storytelling, from wry irreverency to poignant homage. Gibsons councillor Lee Ann Johnson started off with Creating Community Glue, followed by artist Junco Jan, who gave a heartfelt tribute to her recently deceased mother. Photographer Alan Sirulnikoff shared images as symbols of life and death while puppeteer Sandy Buck introduced her creations under the title Can Puppets Change the World? Photographer Barry Haynes showed local beauty shots of lesser-known getaways, taken from land and water, and had the audience guess the location of each. Coast Reporter arts reviewer Jan DeGrass explained her love of dance while Lou Guest gave comic close-ups of mouldy food in her piece, The Hairy Eyeball.


I was amazed to discover a talented, young glass artist, Robert Studer, who lives in my own community of Roberts Creek. I had never even heard of him before, even though he just lives across the highway and up the hill from me. He presented some of the large-format glass installations he’s done in public spaces and private homes, which resembled wavy lines of multi-coloured sky and giant other-worldly spheres. Incredible!


As a presenter, I was surprised at how nervous I was beforehand, because I usually enjoy public speaking and feel at ease with it. But the thought of this twenty-second time frame had me unnerved. Originally, I was going to do the whole thing ad lib, but decided to prepare a text in case I blanked out. In the end, I half read and half ad-libbed.


The packed house at The Arts Building was indeed appreciative, whistling and hollering after their favourites. Emcee Wendy Crumpler, who organized the event and spent many hours preparing the presentations on computer, created a warm, welcoming, and upbeat atmosphere. Much-appreciated thanks to her, all participants, and the audience. This made a great addition to the local arts scene.


(My evening’s contribution, Three Protests: Free Speech on the Street, can be viewed on YouTube.)




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February 5, 2012 at 3:45 pm Comment (1)