Arts Desk

If I Can’t Dance in Your Revolution…

It’s awesome to see that so many people are passionate fans of dancing in public spaces, so devoted they’re willing to go to jail for it.

Kidding. From the looks of it, half the people who were arrested for dancing at the Jefferson Memorial on Saturday—documented in videos online—were planning on creating a disturbance, and they made sure one occurred.

But no matter. Someone had to challenge that ridiculous May 17 ruling against dancing in national memorials. As the Fox clip above shows, this is an issue Democrats and Republicans—at least those with even the slightest Libertarian leanings—can apparently agree on.

I’m no lawyer, but the jurisprudence of that ruling seems a bit tricky. In the case in question, a woman was arrested in 2008 for dancing in the Jefferson Memorial. The appeals court subsequently ruled that dancing is essentially a demonstration, and was therefore banned under an existing law against demonstrating within memorials.

One issue worthy of debate is whether protesting should be allowed within a public space that’s devoted to a specific purpose. But I’m more intrigued by the fact that the judge immediately conflated dancing with demonstrating.

Sure, the folks swaying and boogying this past Saturday were most definitely protesting. But it doesn’t sound like the 2008 event—in which a group of people were silently, individually grooving to their iPods at midnight as a way of celebrating Thomas Jefferson’s birthday—was a protest at all. How would the police and the judges have responded if the group had been reading poetry, or Jefferson’s speeches, to each other? It’s the same general concept: not a protest at all, but an act of commemoration occurring en masse. Pretty much what a memorial’s for, right?

And let’s not pretend the memorials themselves are hallowed, solemn places of reflection. Every D.C. resident is familiar with the clamoring school groups—complete with loud, clowning goofballs—that pass through them on an hourly basis.

What a huge drag it would be if the memorials became places where visitors had to conform to a certain type of behavior to enter. The coolest thing about these spaces is that they’re utterly public: You can go in and hang out for hours, taking in the sculptures or words or architecture or whatever, without being told to move on.

I can’t help but think of a day last November when a friend and I started our morning by engaging in a “contemplative movement practice” inside the Lincoln Memorial. For 45 minutes, we individually meditated, stretched, and then danced with each other: Not as performance or protest, but simply a way of being present in that moment. What a tragedy if that kind of experience were no longer an option.

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  • Simon

    Um... it's the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Unless the Supreme court takes the case (highly unlikely), that's the final word on the matter. So your expert legal opinion that the jurisprudence is tricky is worthless because, agree or disagree, this is now settled law.

  • Jon

    why be so resigned and constrain yourself with a judicial ruling? people will be dancing in the jefferson memorial at noon saturday, join them. which takes priority people or institutions?