Rocked By Women Pays Tribute in Dance to Women’s Culture Heroes
Oakland-based Sarah Bush Dance Project explores issues of identity, gender, and sexuality within the broader themes of love, relationships, loss, power and empowerment. Several of us at the San Francisco Bay Times were recently wowed by their dreamy, heartfelt dancing that seemed to arise organically from the sold-out audiences at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage during recent concerts celebrating the 40th anniversary of Cris Williamson’s “The Changer and the Changed” album.
You can see their beauty and brilliance for yourselves soon, both at the National Center for Lesbian Rights Anniversary Celebration on May 2 (see special section on NCLR in this issue) and at Mother’s Day weekend performances of their full-length show, Rocked By Women.
Here, dancer and choreographer Sarah Bush is interviewed by Sara St. Martin Lynne, who is a filmmaker and story midwife at fishwithoutabicycle.com
Sarah Bush: I was raised on Women’s Music—Cris Williamson, Holly Near, Margie Adam, Meg Christian. As a young adult, I got involved with Olivia Travel and got to meet so many of these women that made the music I grew up singing. In 2001, I joined the feminist dance company Dance Brigade in San Francisco, and through them I’ve been a performer at the Michigan Women’s Music Festival, celebrating musicians I know and love and discovering new ones. In the late 90s, I was fortunate enough to be choreographing and dancing at Page Hodel’s fantastical Club Q.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: What is your earliest memory of an image that communicated female strength?
Sarah Bush: The album cover image from Cris Williamson’s “The Changer And The Changed.” I was 2 or 3 years old, lying on the brown shag carpet of my childhood living room, studying the image of Cris in nothing but overalls (a look I wore until the day I remember I was told that only the boys could go shirtless), alone, but smiling, sunny, free in the desert.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: Beautiful! How does that image impact this work?
Rocked By Women is my best attempt at saying “thank you” to the women whose music and leadership have shaped my life…
Sarah Bush: That image seems to be what I’ve shaped my life into…the desert is my spiritual home. The image said to me, “be happy in your own skin. You can be any kind of woman you want to be.” Rocked By Women is my best attempt of saying “thank you” to the women whose music and leadership have shaped my life and to hopefully keep bringing their work to new audiences.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: How did it feel the first time you walked into an environment that was created by and for women?
Sarah Bush: Let’s see…that would’ve been…Page Hodel’s Club Q in San Francisco. It was amazing. It felt like freedom. The go-go dancers, choreography, the crowd’s dance moves, even the lyrics to the songs; it was all for women. We got to claim all that. We were together, feeling free in our sexuality, in our bodies.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: How does Rocked By Women express that feeling?
Sarah Bush: Club Q brought together all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors of women, and showed us all as sexy, beautiful, powerful. Using music, video, and dance, Rocked By Women takes the audience into the environments of Club Q, Michfest, a Dance Brigade rehearsal and an Olivia Cruise. The Sunday show is followed by a panel discussion with community leaders that will bring their different experiences of Women’s Music and Communities. RBW is a story about women, told by women. It upholds women as complex, full, well-rounded, strong, vulnerable, human characters.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: What is your knowledge/experience of, or relationship to, Feminist or Lesbian history in Oakland?
Sarah Bush: I’ve heard about lesbian businesses and communities that thrived in Oakland before I moved here in 1997. I was majorly looped into the Lesbian Club scene in SF from 1997–2004. Olivia Travel had their offices in Oakland for many years, I have been to concerts and events at Montclair Women’s Cultural Arts Club (closing soon). I’m very interested in further supporting Lenn Keller’s Bay Area Lesbian History Archives Project. I want to know more about Oakland’s lesbian and feminist history. I’m looking forward to the post-show panel on Mother’s Day!
Sara St. Martin Lynne: What pieces of women’s community do you most want to embody and express in your work?
Sarah Bush: A gratitude for the women who came before me. A celebration of women’s work and stories. Create work and performance environments where women feel safe and celebrated. Physical labor, hard work, lifting, pushing, pulling, supporting, taking risks, leaps of faith, catching each other, catching ourselves.
Sara St. Martin Lynne: What is next for you and what is next for Rocked By Women?
Sarah Bush: We presented excerpts of Rocked By Women in a lecture demonstration as part of the University of San Francisco’s Global Women’s Rights Forum. I am excited for RBW to be a traveling package. I want to keep bringing the show and a week of events to different campuses and communities.
I also want to start traveling to other countries with a videographer and a translator to do workshops where women write or record bits of their own autobiography and turn them into dances.
Here at home, I’ll be working on a new evening-length work, This Land, to celebrate the work and words of American Women landscape writers to be performed in the Bay Area in 2015/16.
Oh, and at Hillary Clinton’s inauguration.
For more information about Sarah Bush Dance Project and “Rocked By Women,” please visit: http://sarahbushdance.com/.
Photos by Molly DeCoudreaux and Lisa Harding