Jan Muirhead never doubted that she could keep up with others. Yes, they were younger, even she admitted that. But the 78-year-old said nothing would stop her – after all, she added, this was for an important cause.
At noon on Thursday, Ms. Muirhead danced for an hour in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in the cold drizzle, joining 150 other people in a powerful visual statement to end violence against women.
"This is an opportunity to say how we feel," Ms. Muirhead said amid the group of mostly women who danced to music by the likes of Michael Jackson and Adele. "I think what's happening to women is absolutely horrible, all over the world."
The dancing in Vancouver was part of the One Billion Rising campaign – similar events took place in more than 200 countries – organized by the global V-Day movement.
V-Day – the V stands for victory, valentine and vagina – was started by Eve Ensler, the Tony-award winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues. The group, which promotes awareness of violence against women and raises money for anti-violence organizations, has held events on Feb. 14 for the past 15 years.
"Not everybody is interested in being active on this issue, so sometimes if it's a lighter, more fun event, it's more inclusive," said Theresa Tree Walsh, who organized the Vancouver dance session.
Some who danced in Vancouver on Thursday spoke of the brutal gang rape and murder of a young Indian woman in December, an incident that sparked massive protests across that country. Others spoke of the high incidence of female genital mutilation in many African nations.
And some were quick to point out that violence against women is very much alive here at home.
"We just had the report on the inquiry of missing women in Vancouver, so how could you not think that it isn't here in our backyard, too," said Vancouver city Councillor Adriane Carr, who joined the dancers on her lunch break.
"And it's here in homes all across the city – something I don't think people want to talk about."
According to the B.C. Ministry of Justice, 3,449 sexual assaults were reported in British Columbia in 2011. Many more go unreported. Most are against women and children.
The Fraser Health Authority says the number of sexual and physical assaults in British Columbia – both reported and unreported – is likely about 60,000 per year.
Sheila Alwell, who danced for the entire hour on Thursday, said other issues, such as human trafficking, are not on the radar of most Canadians.
"What's happening here in Canada is unbelievable," said Ms. Alwell, the founder of Dancing 4 a Change, an organization that raises awareness about sex trafficking. "I thought it was just Asia, Eastern Europe until I started doing research here in Vancouver. It's all across Canada."
There were 56 cases of human trafficking in Canadian courts, involving 136 victims, when Statistics Canada released a report on the issue last April. The report said that most of the victims were women and children.
Suzanne Kingston, who came to Thursday's event decked out in spandex and a red hoodie, teared up when asked why she came.
"My experiences are not horrific, and I'm blessed that my reality is as joyful and positive as it is, so when you have all that, you give it," she said.
Ms. Kingston said she experienced violence as a child and an adult. But she added that she wasn't on the street dancing for herself.
"You have to stand for people because sometimes people can't stand for themselves. … Sometimes all you can do is something really, really small."