How does a group of more than thirty participants go from strangers without much experience with ATS to synchronized ritual in just a few short weeks? "Through a lot of e-mail communication and efficient use of rehearsal time," says Kaeshi Chai of Bellyqueen (New York City, NY, USA), co-facilitator with Darshan of Gypsy Caravan (Portland, OR, USA).
Diagrams of formations and detailed descriptions of step sequences gave participants of PURE a level of organization that could be referred to at home for individual practice. Most importantly, according to Kaeshi, "...we worked on using our peripheral vision and sending our energy out to each other so it helped develop our group chemistry."
The high cost of living in New York demanded that costumes be inexpensive and utilize what dancers already had in their closets. As black is the basic color of just about every New Yorker's wardrobe, it became the foundation. Instead of buying new choli tops, participants took an innovative route: black pantyhose were converted into tops by cutting out the crotch, turning them upside down, and putting arms through where legs would normally go.
Dancers rummaged through their jewelry drawers to find ethnic and Afghani style jewelry or ordered items off ebay. Next, brightly colored flowers were added to the hair, dramatic eyeliner applied to the eyes, gorgeous indigo dyed silk veils draped at the hips. Black boots or Chinese slippers were worn to protect the dancer's feet.
All Dressed Up and...
The next question: where was PURE going to go?
New York has been a city in the midst of change and current events not only in 2001 with the terrorist attack of 9-11-2001 (9-11), but for all its history. Sites needed to be chosen that were relatively close to one another and that conveyed the PURE goals of local as well as global solidarity, harmony and peace.
Astor Place and Cooper Union were selected as the first site. Cooper Union is the only private, full-scholarship art, architecture and engineer college in the United States. It is the brainchild and legacy of Peter Cooper, who believed education should be free to those who desired it regardless of economic background.
The PURE route then continued to other meaningful sites thoughout Lower Manhattan. Each site highlighted a specific message, such as the World Trade Center (Remembrance), the National Museum of the American Indian (Working in Harmony with Native Culture) and the East Coast Memorial and Statue of Liberty (Freedom and Sacrifice).
The Red Tape
In order for PURE to perform at each of these locations, clearance had to be obtained from various city officials. There were concerns about getting the project sanctioned because of the heightened security the city was under after 9-11. The Community Affairs officers from the 1st and 13th police precinct, as well as authorities in charge of Union Square, Battery Park and Port Authority were contacted. It took persistence and repeated phone calls to make sure that PURE was given the green light.
Who, Exactly, Pulled This Off?
As an unpaid event, volunteers became an indispensable part of the project. All the dancers donated their time and paid for their own costumes; the Bridge for Dance Studios contributed rehearsal space; Tagine Dining Gallery sponsored printing the postcards and donated food and space for the performers to prepare for their journey. Assistants worked crowd control, carried water and distributed postcards to the public; videographers and photographers generously donated their time and skill to document the event. Over the course of 3 hours and 4 miles of dancing and meditation thousands of New Yorkers and tourists, bore witness to PURE's messages of peace and hope.
In the city that never sleeps, one dancer was told by an observer following the event that "for one day, New York finally was silent." The response to PURE was extraordinary and we could hardly imagine the impact that would be made not only on the public but within ourselves. When describing the influence July 17th had on her, Mimi Fontana, a PURE dancer, remarked, "Seeing a never-ending line of women, all kinds, communicating with each other through movement - it almost brought tears to my eyes."
Kittarina, another PURE dancer, adds "I was deeply moved when we walked through the World Trade Center site. Being in the city on the day that it happened (9-11) always made me feel empty, sad and depressed. What happened that day and the losses that occured were enormous and it is humbling and a major reality check to be at the site in person. Dancing by the site has helped me to put some of those feeling to bed and now when I see that site I can think of something else besides our huge loss."