Top image: ©Greg Cook/WBUR (more beautiful pics here!)
Last summer, I had an idea: I showed up to lead the dance troupe I co-facilitate with School of HONK in our “simple, powerfully fun” dances. But I felt really sad that day. I felt sad in my body.
I didn’t want to dance joyfully that day; I wanted to dance sadly. I thought: probably it’s possible to experience a certain kind of joy while also dancing out your sadness?
This idea came to fruition Wednesday night: I led a group of dancers in a procession/vigil in honor of World AIDS Day, as part of A Day Without Art, presented by Medicine Wheel Boston. In this 24-hour event, 300 visual artists contributed panels that filled the room, and over 100 performers offered up art, starting with our 11pm procession and ending at midnight the following night.
Here’s how it was:
It was 11pm. It was cold. It was raining. I had checked to make sure: will this happen rain or shine? Yes. It would happen rain or shine.
My dancers were Jeanette, Merrilyn, and Daniela play with me in the School of HONK community band. I mentioned to them that it would be cold. That it would be raining. Were they still in? Yes, each of them replied. They were still in.
Boston’s City Hall was bathed in red light. It gave our white outfits an eerie glow. Julie Burros spoke about the impact of the AIDS crisis on the art community. Michael Dowling of Medicine Wheel told us that for gay men of his generation—he is in his early 60’s—one in four died of HIV/AIDS. One in four.
This is the history that we don’t talk about, I thought. As a society, as a community—and even for those of us who did not live through it, this is our shared history. Ours to claim, if we will be so honorable and so bold.
Miraculously, when it was time to step off, the rain had died down.
We danced slowly down the sidewalk, arms raised, arms reaching, arms pulling, hands over our hearts. Behind us, a silent single file vigil—Michael Dowling led about 30 intrepid souls, each of them carrying a votive bag marked with a red ribbon. Instead of candles, the votives were lit by flashlights, which remained undaunted by the rain.
As we approached the Boston Center for the Arts, the rain began to pour. I turned my face to the sky, my arms upraised. By the end of the walk, I did not flinch away from the rain. I talked to the other dancers later, and others had had a similar experience: It’s ours, this rain, we felt. Ours to claim, if we will be so bold.
I was honored to be part of this moving event. For more, see this piece by Greg Cook in WBUR’s The Artery.