In This Dark Political Era, We All Could Use a Little More Dance

From Puerto Rico’s protests to Pete Buttigieg’s rallies, dancing was an infectious way for political movements to spread joy and solidarity in 2019

Protestors rally against Ricardo Rosselló, the Governor of Puerto Rico. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

When the chorus of Panic! At The Disco’s “High Hopes” is about to hit, Pete Buttigieg’s supporters pump themselves up like they about to do several pirouettes on command. Instead, the routine for the massively popular choreography involves just some side-to-side gestures, hand rolls, and claps. Though the dance is a strange phenomenon and one that is likely to annoy the more cynical among us, it also showcases how it can be used to create community in this exhausting political moment.

“If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution,” goes a famous misquotation of fierce feminist and anarchist activist Emma Goldman’s 1931 autobiography, Living My Life. The paraphrasing of Goldman’s words is way off, but it has resonated for decades because it captures how, for many people, political movements cannot survive only on righteous anger. In her book, Goldman says that at a dance she argued with a comrade and said she strongly opposed the idea that the cause of anarchism “should demand the denial of life and joy.”

Swaying with others with whom you share the same beliefs can create fellowship.

Dancing as a joyful and radical political act extends well beyond political campaigns. Even when driven primarily by anger, this year we saw protesters use dance as a tool in spaces like the protests against Governor Ricardo Rosselló in Puerto Rico, which were filled with people gyrating to the sound of bomba and plena, and climate justice activists shutting down the streets of Washington, D.C. with their twerking. The Chilean protest songUn Violador en Tu Camino” (“A Rapist in Your Path”) and its accompanying choreography has become a global phenomenon, taking hold in rallies from Mexico and Colombia to India and Turkey. Despite dealing with the grim reality of gender violence, these groups of women and nonbinary folks have found power in expressing their fury through music and the same bodies that have been oppressed by a patriarchal system.

Swaying with others with whom you share the same beliefs can create fellowship. Whether you love or hate Buttigieg, his supporters do find joy by doing hand rolls while Brendon Urie sings about “shooting for the stars.” A campaign spokesperson told GEN the dance, which has been around since the summer, was choreographed by Charlie Rollason, an intern in Iowa and University of Chicago student. (Rollason did not respond to multiple requests for comment.) Though the dance has since become a viral meme and has been widely mocked on the internet, Buttigieg supporters are still very into it — shaking their bodies from San Diego to Iowa City, looking silly be damned. And for all the Twitter mockery, it hasn’t hurt the man it’s in support of, who currently leads the pack in Iowa polling.

Dance has also been used as a tool for presidential candidates to connect with voters and their staff. Andrew Yang did the Cupid Shuffle at a campaign stop in South Carolina, while Bernie Sanders swayed to ABBA and The Temptations with his supporters at a labor event in New Hampshire. Shortly after Kamala Harris ended her presidential campaign, she danced to Beyoncé’s “Before I Let Go” with her Baltimore staff as a way to lift their spirits up.

This strategy precedes the 2020 election. If you rewind time, you could also see the Clintons and hundreds of voters doing “La Macarenaat the 1996 Democratic National Convention. Then-candidate Barack Obama also shook it to “Crazy in Love” at The Ellen Degeneres Show in 2008. Even in saner times, dance has found a way into politics.

Whether it is moving to the bubblegum feel of “High Hopes” or the urgency of “Un Violador en Tu Camino,” dance has been empowering to those involved in these causes. We all could use more of that fellowship in this political era.

Journalist covering politics, elections, immigration, feminism, and more. Puertorriqueña.

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