She Just Wants to Dance, but She Can’t Fight the Rhythm

13 May

(A Performance Excerpt by Caitlin O’Connor)

She just wants to dance.

He just wants to groove

In his fly dancin’ shoes.

Seconds lapse between his favorite steps, Doin’ tha

Ass tap, dip back, hip thrust, she like that.

She dances because she can’t fight the rhythm.

He grinds, he grins at the lyrics that he’s hearin’.

He thinks he’s got his certified ho and she’s deafly dancing so she don’t even know.

She just wants to dance.

He just wants to groove.

But the lyrics, they spit bullets

Into the faces of dancing girls

Who hope to exist meaningfully in this world.

As the music races, his hand he places in her face, in her spaces she had felt
His breath on her neck before
On the dance floor with the beat no longer
Against space,
Behind a locked door.
Muted beat,
Lyrics play
She finally hears what he’s got to say.

Ass tap, dip back, hip thrust, she like that.
He think she like that.
Syncopated rhythms of harsh hands.
Syncopated rhythms of harsh hands.
Syncopated rhythms her heart stands…Still. You dance.

You can dance. Do a dance-step
At a funeral or at the scene of a crime.
Rape with the
words and rape of the body
Are both rape of the mind.

A victim of dance can promise you this:
When there is no longer a beat
The music doesn’t always sound so sweet.

I open with this performance excerpt because this past week Caitlin closed my office door to purge a poem she’d been holding since we parted. It was a poem purposefully memorized. For months we passed each other, pitching empty promises and pocketing good intentions about reconnecting. When others cycled through my office, she sat unmoved–clutching her bag over her gut as if secrets were stashed there. She said I had to see her, to hear her—the near-tear and the crackle. She wanted me to bear witness to the poetics of her life.

Her poem haunts me.

On the one hand, I am ecstatic she distilled a semester-long discussion about hip hop feminism into a performance. The teacher-me says well done. On the other hand, the need-to-be-togetha-me has come undone with the fleshed-filled reminder that to do this work is to engage constantly in collective healing and self recovery. And women, we are not well. The stories we choose to tell are often triumphant yet traumatic. I wonder if the two represent our carefully choreographed two-step, our coping with the incomprehensible. So, we dance. So, we write. So, we try to get back (into) ourselves that thing that has been lost or taken from us. The triumph of self awareness and the trauma of sexual assault converse. Caitlin crystallizes what we’ve managed to dance around: the psychic toll of violence—real and representational. The victim-survivor trope she uses is a familiar one in our feminist creative-intellectual work. Why this trope? Why these stories?
We empty ugly onto the floor and the page to form art that moves folk, an art form that propels (a) movement. What are we moving toward? What do we make of this cathartic dance we write? Caitlin demanded that I see her, hear her. With recognition comes accountability. I just want to dance right? I just want to dance right. I just want to dance.Write. I sit with her poem and can’t shake that we are stuck in a groove, listening to another woman trying to fight the rhythm while we sing the same tune.

4 Responses to “She Just Wants to Dance, but She Can’t Fight the Rhythm”

  1. Tiffany May 13, 2010 at 7:55 PM #

    Wow, this is so powerful and commands the attention from everyone. I especially identify with just wanting to dance…just wanting to dance. It is so crazy what we as women subject ourselves to by ignoring the misogyny. This was so powerful and thank you for sharing.

  2. Desiree May 15, 2010 at 4:59 PM #

    As always, your thoughts and words wake me in new directions…to share…

    It seems to me that socio-cultural oppression is so pervasive in the lives of some, so a part of what seems ‘normal’, that when we look for the edges of what this includes, it feels almost impossible to find. Recognizing incidents of violence and environments of violence are often an important place to start. Speaking on violence, asks us to look at and acknowledge the pain from some of the more jagged edges of oppression and breaking the silence around it is empowering.

    Having said this, I believe that the quality of care we give ourselves in our communities, with each other, building new environments with the ability to allow new meanings of self, sexuality and desire has incredible potential for creating love, joy, safety and dignity in our lives. For me this is the key spot. This work can be done in so many ways. And carefully, carelessly, gently, assertively, quietly, loudly, by tugging at and asking to be with each other in the ways we desire is how it rolls for me. How we pay attention to each other…the quality of care….. these are my own parameters and holding this while opening to the parameters of others is where its at…

    And how do we dance here? And how do we write here?

    I like those questions….

    Thank You Aisha….

  3. Caitlin May 15, 2010 at 6:18 PM #

    Thank you so much for posting my poem. Your class was such an inspiration to me and I could not have written this without you. Many tomes I perform this and have people tell me that I make them feel bad about listening to hip-hop. I always tell those people no, I am not “bashing rap music”. What I am doing, however, is interrupting; making us aware. What are we dancing to? Singing to? Living to…? In these questions, my hope is that we will come to understand how real lives are affected by the verbal violence and misrepresentation of women that find a home in our popular music. I just want is all to realize what exactly it is that we are dancing to. That’s the first step to change.

  4. Celiany May 19, 2010 at 11:16 PM #

    This moved me:

    “Rape with the words and rape of the body
    Are both rape of the mind.

    A victim of dance can promise you this:
    When there is no longer a beat
    The music doesn’t always sound so sweet.”

    Thank you Caitlin and Aisha for fleshing out the symbolic and real violence that women face in and out the dance floor. What I love about both of your reflections is how it can be applied, yes to hip hop, but also to reggeaton, dancehall, salsa, merengue, bachata… and really any kind of music that is produced within a patriarchal and heterosexist context.

    There are way too many misogynistic, images and representations out there for us to jump into the dance floor, walk into a movie theater or attend a concert without armoring ourselves with a feminist understanding of the issues.

    Thanks so much Caitlin and Aisha for your powerful words and work!

    Respect and love! Celiany

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: