My friends, Paul David Leopoulos and his wife, Linda, created the THEA Foundation after their lovely teen age daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Thea’s academic and whole high school experience had been enlivened by her introduction to and participation in The Arts. Paul David and Linda wanted to honor Thea’s memory by offering that same artful expansion to other students in their home state of Arkansas. I’ve seen the profound impact of their arts programs on their state. As I try to describe the many ways that ART WORKS…I assess that “dance is the way the body spells.” People have observed for decades that my proprietary lettering style appears to “dance across a page.” Yep. That’s right. Dance was the inspiration for my lettering. The characters dance in a line across the page. Just the way a body spells a sentiment using its own form and the floor.
You may have read (or may not!) or heard that five people were arrested over the Memorial Day week end for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial They were protesting the same such arrest that occurred in 2008 in which folks were arrested for dancing in the Memorial while listening to music on headphones. That arrest occurred near midnight with no public eye. The demonstration of quiet dance, staged at the Memorial this week end, was intended to be caught on film and be placed in the public eye. As an objection. A demonstration against an injustice.
I have observed that in any cultural oppression, spanning the centuries, the first expression to be taken away from a culture/society is its artistic, artful expression. This Jefferson Memorial episode may seem like a small event to you but it’s indicative of a larger, and more concerning issue.
Art saves lives. Art enlivens. Art defines a community, a tribe, a culture. When we look to understand ancient civilizations one of the first measures to consider (and the measure that consistently survives) is the art of that society. How we articulate our cultural identity through art, of all forms, is a defining characteristic of our country. ANY country.
It is ironic that these arrests took place in the Memorial honoring the champion of personal freedom and the President known to have said, “A little rebellion now and then is a good thing.”
I am known by my friends to be given to fits of unanticipated dance – just about any where. Is it even conceivable that I could be arrested for that genuine, authentic expression of my joy? Last week I would have found it unlikely that such a thing would occur in my country. And today, I am saddened to acknowledge that it has. These individuals were not just spontaneously dancing as a personal expression. They were dancing in the Jefferson Memorial to make a larger statement.
Pinochet’s cruel rule over Chile comes to mind. And the women whose husbands, sons and fathers just “disappeared,” from their lives stood in the only way they could. Silently. With dance. They could not speak but they allowed their physical frame to cry out against the injustice they experienced. They danced. And danced. They danced to stave their loss and to speak for justice. And finally, the world noticed.
Will the world notice five people who were arrested in Washington, D.C. for dancing? Will they note the harsh and violent way the arrests were conducted? The more important question I want to ask is, “Have you?”