Dance for Life: One Billion Rising
A Biblico-Theological Reflection
In 2010, I was watching television on a Sunday morning and I chanced upon the Winter Olympics being held in Vancouver, Canada. The event that was on was Dance Ice Skating and the dance partners who were performing were married in real life. For a moment in time, I sat unmoving as I witnessed a dance movement that exhibited strength and control, beauty and fluidity, commitment and partnership, passion and tenderness. It was so beautiful, I cried. I clapped my hands joyfully after, even if they could not hear or see me. I remember saying, “Pwede na akong hindi magsimba. Naramdaman ko na ang Diyos.” I truly felt God in that beautiful dance.
In 2005, when I was still a student in the seminary, I joined an exposure on prostituted women. We first went to a place called Alibangbang where only one woman was dancing. The spotlight was on her. She was wearing a two-piece bikini but we were told that when the owner felt there was no threat from authorities, she would have to take off everything. We stared at her emotionless face and passionless dance. With the light in her eyes, she could not see our faces. Perhaps it felt like she was surrounded by darkness. Even after 8 years, I still remember her face and the way she looked. I remember how I felt because I feel the same way all over again when I remember. But my sadness is nothing compared to what she was going through. During the processing of this experience, many of us asked, “Where is God in all of these?”
We have been taught how to dance using just our hands even before we could walk. We were asked to perform native and popular dances and were applauded repeatedly as young girls. When we turn 12, we begin our journey towards womanhood and dancing is not just an act. Dance becomes a movement towards subjugation or a movement towards empowerment. More importantly, as women, our movement determines how our lives, families and societies will rise or fall.
Today, I wish to talk about three kinds of dances: the dance of death, the dance for power, and the dance for life.
Dance of Death: Herodias’ daughter
Mark 6: 17-29
In Mark 6:17-29, a nameless young girl about 12 years old performs a dance that drives King Herod to offer even half of his kingdom. Herodias, a woman and a mother, asks her daughter to dance and commands her child to ask for the head of John the Baptist, a prophet of God. According to the text, King Herod feared John. The two women, according to the narrative, did not. They conspired to kill a man of God and succeeded. But did they really do all of that. Women, their bodies and their dances have long been demonized. But I want us to ponder on the following questions. Why would a 12 year old girl want to dance in front of the most powerful men in the land who were drunk and lustful? What fear did she feel in her heart when she said the words that would cause the death of a holy man? What judgement and trauma did she suffer for the rest of her life? As for Herodias, her mother, what insecurities and fears pushed her to do what was forbidden even to Herod? What pain and guilt did she bear at the sacrifice of her daughter’s innocence and trust? In all these, Herod is portrayed as helpless and blameless. But was he? In the death of John the Baptist, Salome and Herodias had nothing to gain. Herod benefits the most in the killing of John. The dance of a young girl meant not just death to a prophet, it meant death for the innocence of a young girl who will probably never want to dance again. For this dance was a dance of death.
Dance for Power: David
2 Samuel 6: 11-16; 20-23
The narratives in First and Second Samuel tells the story of David’s struggle for power against Saul and his heirs to the throne. It is about mortal combats and dances. It is about love and betrayal. We first encounter Michal in I Samuel 18:20 where the text reads clearly that “Saul’s daughter Michal loved David.” In the next chapter, Saul feels threatened by David’s popularity and power, and plans to kill David. Michal, his own daughter, betrays Saul so that David can escape and live. Michal loved David more than she loved her father. What followed must have surprised Michal. In Chapter 25, David woos and marries Abigail, the Wife of Nabal. In 2 Samuel 3, six sons were born to David by six different women. By then, Michal already had another husband. She must have given up on David. But the heirs of Saul and the house of David continued to go to war against each other. Abner was commander of the army of Ishbaal, the son of Saul, and when he proposed to defect to the house of David it guaranteed the defeat of the house of Saul. David agrees on one condition. David who now has the upperhand says to Ishbaal, the son of Saul, “Give me my wife Michal.” And she was taken from her husband, Pattiel, who was weeping after her because he loved her. Now we go to the dance. In Chapter 6 of 2 Samuel, “David danced before the Lord with all his might.” This he did as he brought the ark of God from the household of Obed-edom to the city of David. When Michal saw this from a window, she hated him. How does a woman move from love to hate? We have been taught that Michal was a jealous woman who was jealous not just of other women, but was jealous even of God.
At the beginning, Michal loved David more than she loved her own father. But what was Michal to David? When David demanded to get his wife back, he asserted that she was engaged to him “at the price of one hundred foreskins of the Philistines.” (2 Sam. 3:14) He never spoke of love to Michal. But he spoke of love for her brother, Jonathan. (1 Sam. 20:17) Michal knew that David did not love her. And so when David danced before the ark of the Lord, Michal knew that it was not a dance for God. It was a dance for power. The ark represented God, and in it’s entrance into the City of David, David finally possessed God. Just as David possessed Michal. Michal and the ark represented the power that once belonged to Saul. Michal and the ark now belonged to David. And David speaks harshly to Michal after she confronts her about his dance, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household…” He offers no word of hope for Michal. David’s dance was a dance for power.
Dance for Life: Miriam
Many of us know Miriam as the sister of Moses. At his birth, when all male infants were ordered to be put to death, Miriam along with a community of women: Jochebed, the mother of Moses; Shiprah and Puah, the midwives; and Bithiah, the Egyptian princess, resisted the orders of the Egyptian pharaoh and asserted a child’s right to life. Miriam must have watched over and followed the baby Moses as his basket was carried by the water near the princess’s palace. Miriam could have been arrested and put death when she offered help when the princess realized that Moses was one of the children of the Hebrews. In the face slavery that brought their people to their knees, Miriam must have risen up again and again, for Moses, for herself and for her people. When they escaped and sought to create an alternative society where there were no more slaves, Miriam led alongside Moses and Aaron. We know Miriam as a daughter and a sister, but we must not forget that she was a prophet.
Exodus 15: 20 reads “Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. 21 And Miriam sang to them:“Sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; horse and rider he has thrown into the sea.” Miriam did not dance for death. Miriam did not dance for power. Miriam danced for liberation for and with her people. Thus, Miriam danced for life.
Today, we churchwomen, dance for life. We strike against those who would deny us life and dignity. We rise up again and again like the women who have gone before us to bring us to this moment in history with “one billion rising.” We dance to denounce all violence against women and we dance in celebration for life, for all. Amen.