Are We Democracy?: Political Frustrations Get a Voice on the Stage

In the final weeks of one of the dirtiest presidential campaigns we've ever seen, it's hard not to ask yourself, "Why can't we all just get along?"

But in Miami, one group of women is proving that hard conversations don't have to be mud-slinging contests, and that talking politics and life and struggle doesn't have to be hard.

These women are involved in a weeklong residency called Are We Democracy? The project was organized by Urban Bush Women, an international dance ensemble based in Brooklyn, New York. Central to the ensemble's mission is the idea that dance and body movement are powerful forms of self-expression and that freedom to move leads to freedom of mind. UBW's goal was to help give voice to the voiceless, culminating in a performance of dance and spoken word this Saturday.

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Participants are students at Miami Dade College, local artists, and community members; everyone who expressed interest in participating was involved.

The dance ensemble, which was founded by Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, has several core values, which include validating an individual and the contribution she makes to the world and being the source of powerful social change.

For Alexis Caputo, an adjunct at New World School of the Arts who teaches performance art, playwriting, and dance, the residency was a chance to align her passions: music, art, dialogue, and self-expression.

"My role is as an artist, an activist, and an educator, who is contributing to the dialogue," Caputo said. Within the Are We Democracy? microcosm, Caputo says, the residency has become a "resource bank, safe space, safe house."

Since Monday, residents have talked about suffrage, making the choice to vote, and what is "lowercase D" democracy. When people think of the word "democracy," Caputo says, they think of the United States. "But for me, when I think of that word, I think of it in the universal context." By which she means, the principle of "democracy," not the political system.

For one week, the Are We Democracy? community engagement residency is a true democracy for all its participants. Each person's contribution matters, and when one person speaks, she will be heard. The residency is an exercise in empowerment in which the women practice better expressing themselves through both performed art and through words.

You can see those expressions for yourself Saturday, when the weeklong residency culminates in a dance and spoken word performance at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Art Center. The performance will begin at 8 p.m. Tickets are free, but you do need one.

--Anna Hiatt

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