February 14, 2013

Dance to end violence against women


---- — PLATTSBURGH — Never in the 26 years Liesa Pedersen taught belly dance has the Masouda Dance Ensemble danced for “One Billion Rising.”

Pedersen was called to participate in the international action to rise and resist violence against women.

Eve Ensler, author of “The Vagina Monologues,” is inviting people around the globe to “Strike. Dance. Rise!” in the Valentine’s Day event.

“I like the concept of the 1 billion rising to counteract the numbers of violence against women,” Pedersen said. “It seemed a real positive way of bringing this to light with the community invitations. Let’s dance. Let’s be powerful, happy and strong, shedding light on the darkness. The awareness is such a positive thing.”

The ensemble performs from 4 to 7 p.m. today with other local dancers, including the Adirondack Liturgical Dance Troupe and Guibord’s North Country School of Dance, near Target at Champlain Centre. The event is sponsored by STOP Domestic Violence and Behavioral Health Services North.

“I’m really happy to be part of (this) and be able to share something,” Pedersen said. “This is focused specifically toward women. I’m about empowering people, in general. If you feel empowered, you’re not the one spreading negativity and violence.”

She was introduced to belly dance by her older sister, Patricia, in Greenwich Village’s Greek Town in the 1960s.

“I was a young teen. I had been taking folk dance and Turkish dance as a kid. This was a fad for this exotic type of fitness,” Pedersen said. “That’s, in a nutshell, how a lot of us in America experienced belly dance. People got interested and made trips to Egypt and to the culture from whence it sprang.”

Pedersen uses belly dance to help women accept themselves.

“By using a form of movement of dance and movement that is beautiful, it adds to your own perception of your self,” she said. “Belly dancing is very accepting of all sizes, shapes and ages. It’s inclusive.”

Americans first viewed the ancient art form at world fairs in the 1890s.

“It spread around in a vaudevillian kind of way. That merged with immigrants in New York and Los Angeles going to different clubs with music from all over,” Pedersen said.

It was a way to combat homesickness.

“People, no matter if they were Jews, Arabs, Christians, Greeks or Turks, listened to it. It felt like home to hear this music and dance. It spread to us Westerners. Belly dancing in America is 100 years old. It has a lot of different influences. It’s a mishmash. My mother is from Italy with Turkish roots. My father is Irish. I’m a super melting pot … American. I think it’s just cool,” she said.

The Masouda Dance Ensemble will perform in folkloric apparel. 

“I like that it’s on Valentine’s Day to uplift everyone’s heart, the dancing and community spirit in the group effort,” Pedersen said.

When she attended the dance clubs on Eighth and New York avenues, she recalls it was a family affair.

“Whole families, people with little kids. It was so cool. Warm music and dancing. It’s all about the community,” she said.

Years ago, as a result of a Plattsburgh State performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” STOP Domestic Violence received funding.

“We wanted to be part of the international rising against violence against women,” said Susan Kelley, director.

“It affects everyone in the world.”

Email Robin Caudell:

IF YOU GO WHAT: "One Billion Rising: Strike. Dance. Rise!" WHEN: 4 to 7 p.m. today. WHERE: Champlain Center, near Target, Plattsburgh. ADMISSION: Free. WEBSITE: