Dancing for Equality

Freestyle rainbow street dancing

by Nadia Erlam regarding her ICS fundraising

After being encouraged to be creative from my International Service fundraising advice, I suddenly got the idea for my fundraising project. I thought back to my recent experience of festivals. I enjoy dancing so much, almost constantly, at festivals with eccentric costume so I thought it would be appropriate to raise money doing something I love. Also, dancing is an ancient human tradition. It has been used as a means of healing, of expression. We dance with such energy, with rage and love. I am not a professional dancer, but just listen to the beats and tunes and freestyle according to what my body and emotions feel. As one man that walked past me said, ‘you do it from the heart’.

I have a boombox from the late 70s which I managed, after a lot of effort and consultation with local experts on old school audio devices, to hook up to my Ipod. I got scrap cardboard and made various signs with them – something I was used to from being a grassroots activist for many years. Including ‘Come dance with me’ and ‘Freestyle’ to explain that it’s not choreographed and I’ll trip up. This is all part of the fun, making mistakes. I decorated my placards mainly with different coloured nail polish as I was running out of colourful pens.

I had been considering a few months beforehand about a good place to set up. I had eyed up a few places, but specifically I spied a perfect place under a bridge near Brighton Station which had lights running through it which changed colour under the bridge. It looked great at night. Then I thought about what I wanted to wear. I usually wear crazy colourful clothes at festivals with a rainbow wing on and body paint all over my arms, face and neck, so this was my attire. I like dressing eccentrically normally as I’ve found more people talk to you. If I want to raise money, attention was exactly what I wanted. It was incredibly fun to do this after my office work in London and get changed out of my smart dress into this outfit with my light green shiny boots on.

The first time I did it was when I was feeling furious from some brutal sexist remarks someone had made towards me earlier that day, and others which were damning about this project, which gave me the final push to attempt it for the first time. From my straw suitcase I took with me, I placed little candles, which I lit around me. On windy days they blew out pretty soon. I put some roses around me too. Sometimes I took out scarves from my suitcase, which I integrating into my dance. The music was very varied. Some of my favourites to dance to have to be Missy Elliot, Basement Jaxx, Sbtrkt, Caravan Palace, Erykah Badu, LCD Soundsystem, Katy B and Jamiroquai.

So I set up my boombox, did a little creative fun with a Venice mask and the remaining roses which I gave to donors, wore my sparkliest jacket and put up the signs I made around me and just danced. Usually for about 3 hours. This was all in the hope that I made others smile, laugh at and with me, grab their attention to read the signs and take one of the leaflets I made. I had a hat in front of me where I would get their change, sometimes notes. In the leaflets, I wrote in them facts mainly about gender inequality and violence against women, then specifics about gender inequality and disability issues in Burkina Faso. Then I attached International Service website and my fundraising page on the back.

I also made friends with someone called Nick who was homeless and begged in the same area I was in and we had loads of fun together. He was severely disabled from the waist down and faced a lot of ableism on the street. He said I brought him luck, as the more attention I brought the more donations he’d get whilst he was playing his harmonica just down the road. I got a few insights into the homeless community and the hardships of being homeless by spending time talking to him and his friends. When I left I’d give him my candles and roses as a farewell present.

In terms of the reactions they were mostly all positive. Smiles, hugs, other people dancing with me, some people said it had made their day, week, that they loved seeing something this creative, kids with their parents smiling and watching me, I got mainly really positive responses from women who I think enjoyed seeing a woman doing something creative for equality issues on their own. One woman read my leaflet and came back a few hours later giving me 3 more pounds. Another guy walked past and gave me a ten pound note and walked on by with his headphones in so he couldn’t hear me say thank you and he didn’t look back. I had a lot of curious questions which I enjoyed giving information and leaflets to spread knowledge about these issues. That is, after all, the whole point of our participation.

I had a few problems with various cars and taxis who would leer and beep at me repeatedly and drive past more than once…that was the only downside of my experience, which I just ignored whilst thinking how ironic it was as my dancing was against sexual harassment / related behaviours. I did feel that a pang of anger and slight fear each time though.

After I finished the preparations for this project, it reminded me of the ‘One Billion Rising’ project for V-Day which Eve Ensler started, where people are dancing against violence against women. In fact one of their opening scenes in their short film is of a young women about to undergo female genital mutilation against her will – which I covered in my handmade leaflet on Burkina Faso. I handwrote one leaflet filling up every inch with information and then photocopied it to hand out to make it look authentic and to show the work put into it compared to a typed up one.

As it got colder and rainier and I didn’t see Nick again after one point (hope he’s alright!) and really missed his company, I have decided to leave the project for the moment. It was a great experience! I have managed to raise £100 from it which I’m pretty pleased about. It was purely a random idea I came up with which others disapproved of or indicated I would not get round to it and despite this I actually put my imagination into practise and made money from doing what I love. Which was pretty sweet. So if you have any unconventional ideas about fundraising, I’d really recommend it. It can really brighten up peoples days!

Nadia Erlam
How to write in braille awareness raising workshop

© Nadia Erlam

Volunteer with us on the ICS scheme