The Dancing Feminist
Miles Davis Big Fun album cover

Image by dou_ble_u via Flickr/Creative Commons

You know “your jam” instantly. All it takes is the base intro, and no matter where you are, your feet tap. Your head bobs. Your hips wiggle. If you’re driving, your fingertips or palms drum the steering wheel.


And if you’re in dance aerobics class, you strut,

shuffle, stomp

shake your hips,


shimmy your shoulders

roll your body

arch your back

and repeat.


And if you’re a feminist, you think, “I should walk out right now,” or, “I should neither dance to this song nor enjoy myself as I do it,” or, “Are we really playing Chris Brown right after Beyoncé? Because that is NOT okay!”


These are my real thoughts many Wednesday nights when I go to dance fitness class. My instructor has a habit of playing “Run the World,” then “She Ain’t You,” followed by “Booty Work,” in that order. “Blurred Lines,” this year’s song of the summer, is the song of dance aerobics class, too.


“These are the lyrics to that song I like? Shit,” I thought when I finally Googled a few words from “Blurred Lines” after weeks of catching only a few ending notes of the chorus every time it faded off the radio. The rap is graphic, but the song is (arguably) about not knowing the meaning of consent. I have no qualms about the lyrics to “She Ain’t You,” but the singer reminds me of …


“[Miles Davis] is guilty of self-confessed crimes against women such that we should break his albums, burn his tapes and scratch up his CDs until he acknowledges and apologizes and rethinks his position on The Woman Question.”


Pearl Cleage repeats this suggestion four times in her essay, “Mad at Miles,” a work in which she demands accountability of black men who commit violence against black women. I first heard this suggestion posed as a question: “Is it unreasonable for us to break his albums, burn his tapes and scratch up his CDs?” women in a stage adaptation of “Mad at Miles” asked the audience as they performed in the aisles of the theater.

Mad at Miles cast

The cast of UofL African American Theatre Program’s 2012 production of “Mad at Miles”


“No,” I responded.

“Thank you,” one of the actresses said.


But when I got home, I didn’t scratch up Sketches of Spain or The Essential Miles Davis. I haven’t listened to the collections in a while, but I had a minor panic attack when I thought they were among the CDs I left in a rental car this summer. And I don’t leave dance class unless my healing back tells me to. Is that okay?


I remember attending an arts meets activism workshop in which a woman was stumped with a question about what issues she’s exploring or demonstrating with her art. Her main concern in her life at that time had to do with self-preservation through health insurance, but her art didn’t make a statement about universal healthcare. Another woman encouraged her. She said sometimes she just wants to explore the beauty of painting rather than social justice related to her identity as a queer woman.


I love to dance. I have since before I started taking dance classes at age three. I imagine I was a lot like my favorite cousin, Noodles, a two-year-old who can’t help but move—on beat no less!—every time she hears music, and who’s been like this since she could pull up on the furniture. She likes “Blurred Lines.” She refers to it as “hey, hey, hey.” If she knows any other lyrics, I hope she doesn’t understand them. Not that she would share my sentiments about them if she did.


I worry about the messages she receives in many situations, but I see the joy she gets from music and movement, and it’s as if she’s saying, “You don’t have to be ‘on’ all the time. You don’t have to be the spokesperson for feminism or anti-racism every second. You’re not dancing along the lines of feminism; you’re just dancing. Belief is one thing; living is another.”


Not to say that’s the way it should be …


[Today’s findings inconclusive. What do you think?]



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2 thoughts on “The Dancing Feminist

  1. Great post, Mariam! I struggle with this type of thing ALL THE TIME. Quite frankly, I don’t want to be on all the time. Sometimes I just want to dance. Sometimes I just want to look at pretty clothes and not think about problems in the fashion industry.

    This post reminded me of Joan Morgan’s “When Chickenheads Come Home To Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks It Down.” You’ve probably read that already, but if you haven’t you should. I think you would enjoy it.

    1. Hi Javacia,

      Thanks! Yes, I’ve read it and enjoyed. What prompted this post, in addition to dance class, was a reading from my History of U.S. Feminisms class about The Furies, a group of radical lesbians from the 1960s and 70s who were so determined to live out their feminist theory that they contemplated sharing toothbrushes and banned the children they already had from living with them. I don’t think walking out of a dance class would be as extreme, but the reading illustrated how problematic putting your belief into practice can be.

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