PATNA : Ansley “Jukebox” Jones, 28, a dancer, choreographer, teacher and staunch feminist from Florida, USA, is no stranger to violence. A rape survivor, who was violated in her own home, she lived with the pain, trauma and shame of the incident throughout her teenage years. “For years, I was unable to overcome the grief of not having been able to save myself. I would cry, disconnect from myself, not go to my mother’s place and never sit on a couch because that was where it had happened. It was just like being in a state of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder). I used to feel terribly worthless and intimidated,” she recalls.

Dance saved Jones from turning into a complete emotional and psychological wreck. “When I started break dancing, I battled through many strong emotions. I understood that I needed to save myself.” For Jones, dance became the perfect medium of self expression and it had a healing effect. She went on to getting a Bachelor’s degree in Visual and Performing Arts, a Master’s in Dance Studies and today she is busy researching ‘patriarchal gestural languages in various dance forms’ under which she is taking a closer look at male dominated dance moves that have intimidated women artistes across the globe. Says the talented performer, “During the course of conducting interviews for my research I talked to many well-known dancers and they admitted that certain male-dominated gestures in dance have resulted in women holding back. In general, too, it’s not easy for women to express themselves freely and this makes them vulnerable to violence.”

Ever since Jones took to dancing she has learnt to deal with her insecurities. And it’s these healing moves that she is passing on to young women in need of lessons in self love and confidence-building. Recently, Jones was in Patna, India, to train school children to use hip-hop and other street dance forms to raise awareness on sexual violence and safety for women in their city. What started off as a two-week summer camp got stretched to an entire month.

“Statistics show that one-in-five girls across the world have been sexually assaulted by someone they know by the time they reach high school. It happened to me and I know there must be many girls out there who are living with the false guilt that what happened to them was somehow their fault. My dark past has made me more sensitive towards social issues and problems women have to encounter. This is my way of reaching out to them,” elaborates Jones.

At the camp in St Karen’s School she worked with a mixed group of girls and boys and taught them freestyle moves. “I decided on freestyle dancing because there are no restrictions although there is discipline in the form. It enables the artiste to think independently,” she explains. Jones began the session by demonstrating sprints, rolls, cartwheels and a few tough Pilates-style exercises for an hour. This was followed by letting the children participate in full contact grappling to enable them to loosen up. Of course, she expertly managed the group never allowing any of them to handle each other roughly – no striking, kicking, hair-pulling or poking in the eye. “The idea was to provide training that would not just increase their level of gender sensitivity but also give them an opportunity to express themselves. If a student was intimidated or felt that his/her partner would injure them, all they had to do was simply tap on the other’s shoulder to convey the message to ease off,” she says.

Her stay in the city was going just fine, till one day Jones got to experience first-hand what it was to be a woman in a conservative, patriarchal society. She narrates, “In the hotel I was staying at, one night a security guard followed me to my room and tried to get in by force. I am strong so I was able to fight back. He had thought that simply being a man was enough for him to misbehave with me. That’s when I understood what it must be like for local women who may not have the confidence to retaliate.”

Another aspect that took Jones by surprise was that the girls in Bihar were not quite ready to speak up against violence unlike the boys. “Initially, I found it quite strange that the boys in the school were willing to freely discuss about women’s issues whereas the girls were hesitant to demand equal rights. But then that gave me something to work on. I realised that girls here needed to learn how to assert themselves and develop a greater sense of self worth. I designed the workshop activities accordingly,” she shares.

While Jones had a great time during her short stint in Patna, the children have also learnt some valuable lessons. Says Priya Singh, a Class Eight student of St Karen’s School, “The training has had very big influence on my life. It was not just about learning dance but about exploring myself and understanding my strengths. I am a trained Kathak dancer as well so I am going to try and integrate the two forms.”
Adds Sandip Ray of the Rabindra Parishad that took the initiative to host the artist, “Her sessions were an eye-opener for many students. She exuded remarkable power and the energy and that drew in many participants. Even in India, dance forms are considered to have healing powers but Ansley’s lessons on freedom of expression broke through all the barriers. All the girls felt extraordinary energy and confidence in them.”

Going by the positive response she has received, Jones has decided to come back to Patna in a few months time to take her work forward and train the girls in Jiu Jitsu, the Brazilian martial arts form. “This will be an extension of the hip-hop madness that they experienced during the summer workshop. But Jiu Jitsu will be a little more vigorous and power-packed because it will help them to safeguard against dangers like the one I encountered.”

Jones firmly believes that women need to shed the feeling of being victims. “They have to stop allowing themselves to feel intimidated and take change of their own safety and well being. The dance forms that I am trying to promote can play their part in boosting their confidence,” she concludes.

( Women's Feature Service)