If you’re someone who gets a monthly visit from the red fairy, then you’re sure to have suffered some degree of shame because of it. But it is unlikely that you have shared your period story or experience with your friends or family. Most of us would even go as far as talking about politics before we talk periods. It can be insurmountably difficult to find the courage to talk openly about menstruation, and even more difficult to do so with a sense of confidence untarnished by embarrassment.
But the inability to speak openly about menstruation is just the tip of the iceberg. Around the globe and close to home, countless individuals suffer from period poverty—cultural shame regarding menstruation and the lack of accessibility to hygiene products. According to a survey conducted by the hygiene product brand Always, one in five American school children have left school early or missed school because they did not have access to hygiene products. That statistic climbs higher in different countries around the world, especially in those where high percentages of the population live in poverty.
So, what can we do about it? If you’re an artist, chances are you’ll harness the power of your medium to create thought-provoking, discussion-inciting work, and that’s exactly what LOUD BODIES co-founders Yariana Baralt Torres and Maria Blanco are doing in their upcoming production of Legalize Menstruation. Presented in partnership with Chicago Period Project, this latest LOUD BODIES work uses personal experience, comedy, and more to inform their choreography, raise awareness of period poverty, and end the taboo surrounding periods.
DancerMusic Editor Kristi Licera recently caught up with Yariana and Maria to learn more about Legalize Menstruation and their partnership with Chicago Period Project. Here’s what they told us:
This project was simply ignited by a want to learn more about how we can help people understand the beauty, trials, and tribulations of menstruation.
Kristi Licera: Art has long been a used as a vehicle for social activism—a means of inspiring the masses to take notice and have open discussion of sensitive or taboo subjects. Whether it be in the form of a song, visual art, or dance, works inspired by social issues can spark conversations that open avenues for healing and resolution. LOUD BODIES upcoming performance of Legalize Menstruation brings period poverty to the forefront of the conversation, and a partnership with Chicago Period Project gives opportunity for audiences to learn more about this issue that plagues communities worldwide. Can you tell us more about what sparked the inspiration for Legalize Menstruation? How did you come up with and develop the concept for the work, and how did that lead to your partnership with Chicago Period Project?
Maria Blanco: The idea for Legalize Menstruation came about after I watched a documentary on Netflix titled Period. End of Sentence. This documentary follows women in India and their relationships with their periods. It shows how they go about finding menstrual products in a country where menstruation is looked at with shame and embarrassment. Many young girls drop out of school after they start menstruating due to lack of accessibility to products, as well as the shame that accompanies menstruation. Fortunately, there are incredibly strong women who make pads via a machine and disperse them throughout India by going door to door. They make sure women have access to menstrual products.
I was absolutely floored by this story. Anytime I’m inspired by something or feel the will to change something that simply isn’t right, I automatically brainstorm as to how I can connect what I’m feeling to dance and movement. After sharing this with Yariana, she immediately was on board to create a dance piece about the taboo that surrounds our periods. We wanted to create an honest and open space that initiated a dialogue about this issue and pushed people to listen and want to make a change.
We want our audience to understand that dance can be used as a vehicle for conversation and activism, honesty and vulnerability.
Our next thought was, “How can we connect this to our space and our home in Chicago?” After some research, we discovered the nonprofit, Chicago Period Project. Chicago Period Project is an incredible organization that collects and donates thousands of menstrual hygiene products to shelters and CPS schools around the city. Their mission is to allow people to experience their period with dignity and pride, educate our community on the lack of accessible menstrual hygiene products, as well as the fact that not every person that menstruates identifies as a woman.
We reached out to Chicago Period Project’s bad ass director, Ashley Novoa, met with her, explained our want (and need!) for collaboration, and voila! Legalize Menstruation was born. This project was simply ignited by a want to learn more about how we can help people understand the beauty, trials, and tribulations of menstruation. We want our audience to understand that dance can be used as a vehicle for conversation and activism, honesty and vulnerability.
Our creative process always begins with research, dialogue, and improvisation. In the studio, we ask our dancers to play with ideas and to share their experiences with us.
Kristi: The art of dance involves many other arts, including the art of collaboration, and that second art certainly applies to your partnership at LOUD BODIES and the way your works are developed. Can you tell us more about what the creative process was like in the studio? How did you begin to create the movement and motifs for Legalize Menstruation, and how did the contributions of the dancers help bring you vision to life?
Yariana Baralt Torres: Everything about LOUD BODIES involves collaboration. As co-founders and co-choreographers we are constantly collaborating with each other. We both choreograph the company’s works, and it has been a beautiful experience to do so. It takes a lot of trust, respect, and vulnerability to share a creative process with someone else. It requires being open to different ideas and views and sometimes letting go of things.
As choreographers, we also insist on collaboration with the dancers, which is why we are very particular about the dancers we cast. We look to cast people that are not only talented dancers, but are creative, unique, and have experiences to share with us and the audience. Because it is our mission to explore social issues through our work, we also make sure our cast is diverse so that more than one voice is being listened to and heard.
Even though we truly believe the arts are a powerful way to bring awareness to different social issues, we felt the need to have a direct physical impact on the problem we’re addressing.
Our creative process always begins with research, dialogue, and improvisation. In the studio, we ask our dancers to play with ideas and to share their experiences with us. This always takes on an important role when creating and developing movement. We also secure a mentor for every process, as we like to have someone come in throughout our creative period and give us feedback on the work, inform us of what might be missing, or could be improved. In this case, Amy Wilkinson (Loyola University) has played the role of mentor for Legalize Menstruation.
Additionally, this project is the first time we have collaborated and partnered with an organization unrelated to the arts. Even though we truly believe the arts are a powerful way to bring awareness to different social issues, we felt the need to have a direct physical impact on the problem we’re addressing. This is what caused us to reach out to Chicago Period Project to see if they would be interested in hosting an event in collaboration with LOUD BODIES. This partnership has been an incredible experience. It has shown us the power of collaborators as well as the capabilities of the arts if we continue to use it as a platform for reaching out to people and organizations outside of our comfort zone.
We know this is only the beginning and cannot wait to see who we will collaborate with in the future. Maria and I hope that Legalize Menstruation will lead us to continue to speak up, be loud, and have a direct impact on different social issues that need to be addressed.
LOUD BODIES presents Legalize Menstruation Saturday, February 29, 2020 at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 1, 2020 at 5pm. Performances take place at Preston Bradley Center in Mason Hall (941 W. Lawrence Avenue, Chicago). Patrons are invited to donate menstrual hygiene products, which will be collected at the time of each performance.
For tickets and more information, visit www.loudbodiesdance.com/legalize-menstruation.
To learn more about Chicago Period Project, visit www.chicagoperiodproject.org.