As warmer weather has settled into most of the country, and we’re attempting to safely open up into the outdoors from our stay-at-home-shelters, it’s clear what we’ve been missing the most – community big body events. Turns out it’s in our DNA to want to gather with other bodies and to experience what Barbara Ehrenreich calls, “celebrations of collective joy.” In her book, Dancing in the Streets she traces evidence of communal revelry in human biology and culture. From drawings on the walls of cave dwellings depicting dancers, to the Greeks’ worship of Dionysus, to the medieval practice of Christianity as a “danced religion.” Once churches forbid dancing on their property these activities moved outside to become “carnival.” 

In our day this celebration of communal joy can happen for spectators at a sporting event, for participants at seasonal festivals, or at State Fairs–all events mostly on hold in this time of the pandemic.  Even demonstrations for social change and on behalf of justice like we are seeing currently, benefit from a demonstration of collective joy – a precursor of what the prize that people are marching for. 

A friend shared a story and video on Facebook of Martha Reeves and the Vandellas singing their hit song, Dancing in the Streets. This 60’s anthem energized the black power movement of that day.

One word of encouragement from history for our time, as we attempt to stay connected while maintaining safe distancing–mask wearing was a central part of carnival festivities. Such a disguise helped people lose their individuality and blend in with one another. As Ehrenreich points out, “Festivity generates inclusiveness… At the height of the festivities, we step out of our assigned roles and statuses–of gender, ethnicity, tribe and rank–and into a brief utopia defined by egalitarianism, creativity, and mutual love.” Even if you are not dancing, just witnessing those who are could provide for you, through the magic of your mirror neurons, a taste of collective joy. 

Saturday, July 11 at 5 PM: My husband Richard Citrin and I will be facilitating a program with masks and social distancing at Phillips Park in Carrick (in Pittsburgh) on “Reimagining Carrick.” We will meet with community members to explore the challenging issues of 2020; The Corona Virus, racial equity and justice and what people are wanting to have happen in the community going forward. Everyone is invited and you don’t need to even live in Carrick. Click here for more information