The name “If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part of Your Revolution” comes from a quote by Emma Goldman, a renowned feminist and anarchist activist, who was born in Lithuania and moved to the United States in 1885. There she became one of the most outspoken and well-known of American radicals, lecturing and writing on anarchism, women’s rights and other political topics. She served prison terms for such activities as advising the unemployed to take bread if their pleas for food were not answered, for giving information in a lecture on birth control, and for opposing military conscription. In 1908 she was deprived of her U.S. citizenship. She emigrated to Russia and then to Europe, where she travelled and lectured in many countries.
Emma Goldman’s famous quote “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution” is a source of inspiration for If I Can’t Dance to explore critical and celebratory dimensions in contemporary performative art practice and in curatorial and theoretical practice. We like to embrace Emma Goldman’s statement, as it suggests that the search for agency and the potential for empowerment lies in all elements of life and cannot be regulated to a firmly cordoned-off arena named the political. It is embedded and reflected in art too.
It has been claimed that Emma Goldman never literally spoke those famous words. In her autobiography Living My Life (1931) she describes how she was once admonished for dancing at a party in New York and was told “that it did not behoove an agitator to dance. Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway.” Goldman responded furiously: “I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom from conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy. I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become a nun and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister. If it meant that, I did not want it.” This episode was later paraphrased and transformed into the famous quote.
Goldman’s biographer and feminist writer Alix Shulman explains that the quote, as we know it today, is the embodiment of the renewed and fruitful interest in historical feminist practice since the 1970s. In 1973, a befriended printer asked Shulman for a quotation by Goldman for use on a t-shirt. Shulman sent him the passage from Goldman’s autobiography, but the printer rephrased the passage into “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution”. As Shulman recounts, the citation subsequently found its way onto millions of buttons, posters, T-shirts, bumper stickers, books and articles: “History exploded so quickly in those hungrily feminist days that the slogan on the original shirt-run was soon dispersed and copied and broadcast nationwide and abroad, underground and above, sometimes, absent a text to be checked against, changing along the way like a child’s game of Telephone, until (…) [the] initial lighthearted liberties had taken wing as quotable lore and soared up into the realms of myth.”
In line with this ongoing exploration of the potential of feminist legacy, If I Can’t Dance would like to continue to celebrate the myth of Emma Goldman’s dance, by critically presenting and exploring performative works of art.
If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution produces art works and thematic programmes. Departing from a spirit of open questioning and long term enquiry with artists, If I Can’t Dance is dedicated to exploring the evolution and typology of performance and performativity in contemporary art.