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Voting rally to feature dancing feet

DOWNTOWN – At most rallies for a cause, rousing speeches and maybe one or two songs are enough to stir the faithful. But to this, organizers of one event on Thursday plan to add dancing feet, in the hope more can dance to the polls.

Mayor Tishaura Jones and St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Wesley Bell are among the speakers scheduled for the event at 6 p.m. in Kiener Plaza Park. The event is one of a number throughout the country supporting the For the People Act in Congress. 

But the warmup at the beginning will be a 20-minute dance class organized by Dance the Vote, a group that promotes greater voter advocacy with events that include dance.

“We are also going to dance as opposed to only listening to people speak,” said Joan Lipkin, founder and director of Dance the Vote.

Ashley Tate
Photo courtesy Ashleyliane Dance Company
Thomas Proctor
Photo courtesy Ashleyliane Dance Company

Everybody, from skilled ballroom dancers to those with three left feet, can try their feet at the Electric Slide, the Wobble, the Cupid Shuffle and other favorites. It’s all part of a class called “Dancing for Democracy” taught by Ashley L Tate and Thomas Proctor of Ashleyliane Dance Company.

“What’s important is to understand that in order for us to protect and further democracy, we need to have people in many lanes,” Lipkin said. “It’s great to have lawyers, but it’s also good to have artists and community organizers, because that is a whole different demographic involved.”

Lipkin said her group’s work helped to increase voter registration among people with disabilities and other groups.

A member of the Las Rumberas dance group that performed at 2018 Dance the Vote registering to vote at the Missouri History Museum. Photo by Anne Taussig

Lipkin, a Central West End resident, is the artistic director of a theatre company, a playwright, writer and educator.

“I use my theatre work as a platform for advancing democratic principles,” Lipkin said.

“We use the arts to promote voting, and that doesn’t just mean dancing,” she said. “It also means videos, and it also means graphics.” For example, her group made videos specifically for people with disabilities.

“The arts are a different way of speaking to people,” Lipkin said. “When people see dance, it gives them a kind of joy, and it gives them a sense of possibility.”

The sponsoring organizations are Dance the Vote; the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition; and Indivisible St Louis.

Speakers besides Jones and Bell will be scholar, writer and anthropologist Dr. Sarah Kendzior and lawyer Denise Lieberman of the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition. 

“It’s going to be fun. Democracy is fun,” Lieberman said. “We’re really hoping that people get excited and come out and join us.”

This is one of hundreds of similar events being held throughout the country while Congress is on break from Monday through July 10.

This year through May 14,  state legislators in 48 states had introduced 389 bills with restrictive provisions, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Twenty-two of those bills were already enacted.

Because of that, there is a need for protection at the national level, Lieberman said. 

The bill will provide some minimum standards for voter access and  protection against gerrymandering, Lieberman said. It also will provide standards for ethics and protect against dark money, she added.  

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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