Jo-Anne* had been raped when she was four, then again when she was nine. The first time by an uncle, the second whilst walking home, this time by a group of men.
I don’t know the details of Jo-Anne’s life; her profile indicated that she was in the institution for manslaughter. Jo-Anne entered into my life for ten brief days during our first Youth at Risk course for female adolescent offenders. This is about her celebration.
Jo-Anne, we were told by staff, was highly anxious in the proximity of men. “Don’t go too close to her,” they warned, adding “do not attempt any physical contact.”
In the first two days of the programme, Jo-Anne was slightly withdrawn from the group. She was close to Amanda, one of the youth workers, but for the rest she seemed to keep pretty much to herself.
Shakes, an Educo instructor, quietly entered Jo-Anne’s world as “Brother”, and with great gentleness and wisdom threaded his way through her terror of men. His trustworthiness allowed Jo-Anne to somehow see and connect with an image of woman in her being, perhaps for the first time ever.
The fire burned; the group now in their second to last night sat grouped around the flames. Conversation, games and some laughter, eyes focused on the dance of the fire. I sat to one side, aware of the group, but happy not to engage. I reached for my guitar and settled into a rhythmic chord sequence, allowing my mind to wander over the day that had just passed.
Jo-Anne moved from the kitchen area and stood quietly in the centre of the room, still apart from the rest of the group. She stood there a while, listening to the sound of the guitar, then placing the dish cloth on the counter, she slowly started to move, her body pulling into the music. Dancing with her back to the group, she was before us in all her beauty, not dancing to entertain us, but dancing in celebration and recognition of that which was woman, that which was her essential self. There was no sense of time. She moved and flowed, graceful and sensual, a being of great mystery. The group’s concentration shifted from the fire to the dance. No one spoke, yet all were part of this ceremony and honoured its depths. The dance continued. Spontaneously, someone would stand and join Jo-Anne, in another moment several would be dancing with her, in yet another she would be alone. Young women joined, danced, and returned to the fire.
In celebration of her womanhood.
The course is over now, the follow-up meeting at the institution completed, reports and assessments written and filed; life moves on.
And for this young woman, Jo-Anne, may the dance continue….
*Jo-Anne is not her real name