In today’s episode, I’m at Rise Up 100: Songs for the Next Century; a concert taking place in Old Market Square at the corner of King and Bannatyne. This year, the city is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Winnipeg General Strike.
This narrative is vital to our collective history, but it’s not the story I want to tell today. Today I want to talk about my experience at Old Market Square where my partner Corinne and I went to see Ani DiFranco perform. More specifically, I want to tell you about a young dancer I observed at the concert.
I am 30 feet from Ani DiFranco and drummer Terence Higgins as they work to fulfil everyone’s wish for a pleasing end to a music filled day. Ani is on stage delivering her truth as I shift around in the crowd, eventually finding a clear sight line between two heads among a collection of open umbrellas.
Steps away from me, a young dancer bounces barefoot in a raised flower bed, the ripples of their satin kimono glisten in the ambient light of the overcast sky.
The knee high terrace elevates them above the crowd as dirt is pounded flat by their stamping feet. Their eyes are fixated on the stage while they appear to be holding up the heavens with their fingertips. The cool rain seems to quench their fired up soul, as Ani, makes them dance.
The sound of her quivering guitar percolates as the drummer’s hands skip along with her muted finger picking. Everything slows down as I feel the magic of their synchronised meditation which enhances my perception of the young dancer’s movements. I watch for a minute before the song ends and I turn back toward Ani.
The small gap that provided a view of her fills in, so we move about the perimeter of the crowd looking for a better vantage point.
( Ani speaks to the crowd )
She talks about democracy and the importance of voting—how people’s apathy toward politics produced the current U.S. administration. She declares that Canadians have a lesson they can teach Americans about democracy. The crowd cheers.
We end up at the back of the audience where we find a reliable view of Ani over the heads of her 500 or so fans. From this distance she is somewhat lost in the landscape, but her singular voice draws me in.
The young dancer suddenly reappears and sweeps past us to claim an open patch of long tangled grass, they immediately set their body back in sync with the music.
It’s getting dark now and it is difficult to see detail but my estimate is that they are in their mid to late twenties. They have a wiry frame, angular face with deep eye sockets, thick eyebrows, and a mustache that dissipates into a thin beard. They removed their kimono, revealing black tights, a short white skirt patterned with black patches and a black form fitting shirt with three quarter length sleeves. Their dark hair is mostly one length, wavy and hangs down to the small of their back. Their energy is incessant and their physical pliability is remarquable.
I move closer, as the dancer holds a Chakrasana pose. Then, they stand up and do fan kicks where their shins sweep by within inches of their forehead. They channel Ani’s musical offering into an improvised dance routine, later marching in circles with their arms up as though surrendering to the sonic beauty that locks them in the here and now. They appear to be simultaneously filled with delight and serenity, hands open to the sky, with a trance like gaze that reveals an individual who appears to be in accord with the universe, both within and outside of themselves.
Their demeanor makes me question what it means to be free, to be blessed with self-determination and to be liberated from constraints. What about the power and grace of being decisive in who we are? What does it feel like to honour that?
At various times in my life I felt insincere because of the masks I put forth into the world. When sad, the mask was content. When afraid, the mask was fearless. When insecure, the mask was confident. Doing this, denied me the opportunity to connect deeply with others and my relationships always felt at arms length. I lived out a complicated interpretation of what I thought the world expected of me.
It took a long time for me to discover my own truth. Fifty years into my walk on this earth, I understand how masks can help you survive, but the truth is, once you leave them behind, that’s when you begin to thrive. The young dancer symbolises all of this for me.
They are facing the stage, confidently revealing themselves with an unfiltered enthusiasm among a crowd of comparatively composed listeners. They leap up and down in one spot like an excited child cheering on their best friend as they sprint around the bases toward home plate.
Their animated silhouette is cut out against the glowing stage as their excitement sparks a spontaneous play session between a small group of children who join in on the fun. Their contagious energy inspires the kids to take turns doing cartwheels. The dancer acknowledges the children and mixes in with them momentarily before handing off the space and disappearing into the crowd.
In the dancer I see a person who rejects all the troublesome masks that a complicated world can impose on someone, unencumbered by any expectation to behave any other way than how they feel right then and there. I also see a person who inspires courage— the courage to be seen. As I absorb the joyful feeling that arises from the music, the people, the children and notably, the dancer. I’m grateful to have witnessed this bonafide expression of love and beauty, it was a fine example of how to live.
( Concert MC speaks )
As Corinne and I walk home, she asks if I heard what the dancer was shouting as they retreated back into the crowd of people. I too heard them, but I didn’t comprehend what they were saying. Once home, I watched a video recording I made of the moment and with some sonic filtering I discovered what they said.
( Video clip plays )
“I have rights too!” they shouted along with the music. “I – have – rights – too.”
Immediately, I think of what Ani DiFranco said about Canada being a good example in the world. Yes, we do have rights up here. And in my mind, that’s because of all the people who chose to speak up and act without fear, those who did not hesitate to be counted. This is a truth that I cherish and respect.
As I continue to watch the video, I think to myself, “Maybe this is a story about what happened 100 years ago in this northern prairie town.”
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