On 14 February 2013, one billion people in 207 countries rose and danced to demand an end to violence against women and girls. My friends were part of a flash-mob last year and while I was keen to participate, it never happened. "No time to make it to all the practices", I said. "Okay, so if you can't dance, click pictures for us on the day," they urged. "Will do", I thought. That didn't happen either; and I regretted it. I heard enthusiastic reports of how awesome it was. "Anyway, maybe next year." But 2014 came and I forgot all about it till mid-January, when I met Leona Rodrigues, for a story on hula hooping to stay fit. Within three hours, I decided to take up hooping. And I did. Leona told me about planning a hoop dance for One Billion Rising (OBR) and I asked her to keep me in the loop... there was a good story there. Little did I know then that my involvement would include more than just a story. A week later, an incoming Whatsapp from Leona read, "Check your email and get back to me by Wednesday".
It was an invite to participate in a hoop dance to the OBR worldwide anthem, this year. "If you're worried about practising, wipe it away. I will use simple steps and share a video with you. We can practice individually or in small local groups and have one final rehearsal the weekend before (8/9 Feb)," Leona's email reassured us. 'Yes,' I replied, without a second thought. This was barely two weeks since the first time I picked up a hoop. When was I going to practice basic hooping, let alone the dance steps? If there was practice mid-week, would I make it? No clue. Leona sent us the video. I ended up watching half the video only on the morning of our first and final practice (as a group) on the 8th of February. I knew guys hooped, and I knew that they took part in the OBR campaign. But watching the guys in action on that first day of practice, still took me by surprise. We had two guys and an eight-year-old girl hooping with us. It was the first time I met them, but I was proud of them, for inexplicable reasons. We met once again, on the 13th, to figure out our positions on stage and before I knew it, it was OBR day.
Be Brave, Dream your Dreams, Be the Change, Believe in You and Push the Boundary—pink, purple and orange flags fluttered, at the amphitheatre on Carter Road in Bandra, as the sun dipped into the sea. The stage was set. 'MUMBAI IS RISING TO DEMAND JUSTICE' stated the stage backdrop, emphatically. It was 7 pm and the Akshara volunteers bounded onto the stage. It had begun. Mumbai was rising for justice. Regular joggers stopped by to find out what was happening. They stayed! Sneha Jawale, a burn-victim, took the stage and through tears told us how her in-laws burnt her, because her family had not paid the dowry completely. "Be confident. We want to live. We are normal," she encourages victims of acid attacks and burns to face their fears and fight for justice. Then there was Shurbhi Sharma from We the People encouraging girls to stand up now. "If you wait for something to happen to you, it will be too late. Stop feeling conscious of the way you've dressed, when men look at you on the street. We don't stop and stare when we see a man walking down the street with his zip open!" It takes courage and strength to stand up and fight, but more so to relive life-scarring moments, telling a bunch of strangers about their personal battles. But they do it!
Just before we went on stage, they aired the official OBR video about the struggles of women (a documentation of people taking stands). I knew what I was dancing for and I knew why I was participating, but it hit me then! For the first time, I was a part of something so much bigger than myself–one little person among the one billion (or more) people in 207 (or more) countries, rising and dancing for justice. Leona's words came back to me, "A hoop dance is empowering. It makes you feel good, confident and sexy. It totally goes with the theme 'to let go and release through dance." And that's just what we did. We let go and danced. As Swetha Jairam came on stage for the finale, she ensured that she got the audience to rise and dance, the Zumba way, for justice.
Did we make a difference? Or was it just a good show? The former, I hope.