Fort Collins flash mob protests sexual violence through dance

“We are rising because we are over girls being trafficked and sold and reduced and objectified,”  said Audrey Swenson, who works with the Fort Collins Sexual Assault Victims Advocacy Center (SAVA). “We are rising because we are sick and tired of women being on the front lines of every revolution and being pushed to the back at the moment of victory, marginalized, and disappeared. We are rising to stop the war on women in America, India, Congo, Sudan, Haiti, Egypt, name a place.”

In Old Town Square on Thursday night, dozens of men, women, and children came out to spread awareness about the issue of sexual violence thorough dance.

At 6:30 p.m. dancers of all ages and genders flooded the square with a flash mob, followed by a speech about what the dancers were trying to protest.

This event was a part of One Billion Rising, a bigger global movement to raise awareness to stop sexual violence against women around the world. Flash mobs, like the one that occurred on Old Town, happened throughout the day in over 160 countries around the world as a part of this event.

Eve Ensler, the founder of One Billion Rising, chose to express the protest with flash mobs because of her belief in the power of dance to communicate and express said Swenson.

“Billions all over the world will be doing the same dance and that blows my mind,” Swenson said. “It shows that you aren’t alone in this, there are people all over the world doing the exact same thing all day long.”

“I believe in the power of community to change cultural norms and standards [about women],” added Swenson. “This mob isn’t just an expression of the Fort Collins community, but the global community that has reached a point in its tolerance, that is saying that this is no longer acceptable. It’s reached a point, we aren’t going to put up with that, and this (flash mob) is a peaceful expression of that.”

In Fort Collins, planning for the flash mob started about a month ago, with participants going to rehearsals or learning the choreography online.

Three rehearsals were held to practice the dance, with each having about 20 dancers, according to Austin Blaho, one of the flash mob dancers and a senior at Poudre Valley High School. For Blaho, joining the flash mob was about having fun while being a part of an issue he is passionate about.

“I am in the Ambassadors program at Poudre High School, and we give presentations about sexual assault and violence all over Fort Collins and it is something I am really passionate about it,” Blaho said. “To be in a flash mob is fun, but to be in a flash mob about something that you really believe in is cool, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Fort Collins resident Kirsten Goffena believed that the it was important to be involved with the flash mob after hearing about the event at a SAVA open house.
“I believe in bringing awareness of violence against women,” Goffena said. “It is a taboo subject; people don’t like to talk about it, especially violence against children. I am a therapist, and I have heard and seen terrible things and an event like this can bring awareness and bring attention to it.”

Weather didn’t dampen the dancers’ spirits, they danced under the falling snow as “Break the Chain,” a song created just for this event, blared through a portable stereo. After the dance, Swenson made a speech telling the crowd why the dance took place.

“This is the moment, this is when it all turns around,” Swenson said. “Today, Feb. 14, 2013, millions of men and women all over the world, in over 160 countries, are rising in protest. This is where we talk back, speak back, and this is where we dance, and dance and dance and do not stop dancing. This is where we rise up; this is where we celebrate every great woman who has stood before us. This is the billion effect.”

Crowds gathered to watch and listen as the protest caught their attention, despite the frigid air.

“I thought it was brilliant,” Lindsay Wood, a bystander said. “I think a lot of people aren’t aware of all the statistics of how many people are assaulted on a daily basis and I think that people think feminists are crazy people and we are trying to make it equal and not get hurt. I liked the dance, I thought it was cute and clever.”

For Swenson, this event was about challenging cultural contexts that women are in around the world.

“I don’t have to be afraid to go out and speak my mind,” Swenson said. “I don’t have to worry about being shot or beaten because of it, because of that ability to use my voice, whether it is heard or not, it’s profound. I like to think that everyone who is coming out to dance is doing it to speak up and they think that every person out there has the right to speak and be heard.”

Collegian Writer Taylor Pettaway can be reached at news@collegian.com.