They're cute, friendly and very pink. They know how to make a scene, swivel their hips and then disappear quickly.
For the 15 members of Pink Bloque, a group of twentysomethings based in Chicago who protest by dancing in the streets, pink is the color of feminism and political activism. And dance is the ultimate weapon.
On Tuesday night, the group brought its punchy outfits and big smiles to a four-hour workshop at the Patterson, a restored movie theater in Highlandtown, with the Creative Alliance serving as host. Twelve women, many also in their 20s, and one man participated.
"I thought it was a different approach to activism and I wanted to see what issues were inspiring people to do this," said participant Lara Shaffer of St. Louis, Mo., who's doing anthropology research this summer at Johns Hopkins University.
According to Dara Greenwald, the founder, the main goal of Pink Bloque's workshops is to "give activists some ideas and a different way to invigorate protests."
The four hours include a video about the group's history and lessons on how to "cute it up," or make issues more understandable to others. Participants also learn tactical flirting techniques (a k a how not to get arrested) and some dance moves.
Greenwald started Pink Bloque a little more than a year ago because she "wanted to give public protest an extreme makeover." Many in the group work in domestic-violence prevention, sexual assault and at rape crisis hot lines. Greenwald began talking about a group after Sept. 11, 2001, which she felt put a chill on protest culture.
In the United Sates, dance as a form of protest emerged in the 1930s, when workers and professional dancers joined forces in the streets to protest class warfare, racial inequality and unemployment. "Dance is always potentially political because it is always shaping people's identity," says Mark Franko, author of The Work of Dance: Labor, Movement, and Identity in the 1930s, "Dance is profoundly political because it has to do with human movement."
"We're very interested in context and relating issues to the context we're in," said Greenwald. The group has protested wage inequity by dancing to Donna Summer's "She Works Hard for the Money" during lunchtime in Chicago. It has protested the U.S. Patriot Act by dancing to Nelly's "Hot in Herre" at the Taste of Chicago Festival. Most recently, Pink Bloque danced to Mary J. Blige's "Family Affair" and passed out hearts with "Drop Beatz, Not Bombz" printed on them as a part of International Day Against the War.
The Fells Point workshop also culminated in a street protest. The group had planned to perform in the plaza area by Broadway Market, but emergency vehicles responding to reports of a body in the water off Broadway Pier led them to reconsider.
Pink Bloque was forced to move to the corner of South Broadway and Fleet Street, an area with less foot traffic.
Undaunted, and dressed in hot pink pants and pink tank tops, the group led the dance, encouraging workshop participants to join in. Protesters danced and clapped their hands to Justin Timberlake's "Rock Your Body." (Pink Bloque's Kate Dougherty said the song was chosen because of its first line: "Don't be so quick to walk away. Dance with me.")
The group learns dances from videos and then reworks them to fit the message it wants to convey. According to Dougherty, this particular dance is meant to imply, "Let's not be so quick to walk away from politics and this ... administration."
Although the dance routine is simplistic, the cute outfits and friendliness make up for any lack of inventive choreography.
Shaffer said the fact that the dance moves weren't too challenging made her feel more comfortable participating in the street part of the workshop.
"We want to entertain people. We want to bring the level of scariness down," said Rachel Caidor, another Pink Bloque member.
Several passers-by stopped to watch and cars honked as they drove by. Participants handed out fliers to spectators and cars stopped at the lights.
Participants held up a sign that read "Repression at Home and Occupation Abroad Are Unjustified."
This is the theme of Pink Bloque's first tour, a weeklong stint throughout the East Coast. The group traveled to Philadelphia yesterday and will be in New York today and tomorrow.
After performing on the corner for a while, the group decided to move onto the Broadway median to attract more attention. However, a close call with a passing ambulance convinced the protesters to beat feet back to the corner, where they soon decided it was best to call it a night.
And though Pink Bloque would leave Baltimore without making the big scene it hoped for, the group certainly spread the word to think pink.
"It's such an awkward time and place to do this, but that's OK. Even if there aren't tons of people, it's cool for people to come out and see it," said member Roxy Trudeau.