Several dozen people spread the message of love through dance this Valentine’s Day during a 1 Billion Rising for Justice event at the University of Montana.

With broad smiles on their faces, women danced to the words, “We are mothers, we are teachers, we are beautiful creatures,” over the noon hour in the University Center.

The event was part of an international effort spanning more than 200 countries to raise awareness about violence against women.

One in three women will be beaten or raped in their lifetime, said Tarn Ream, who helped organize the event.

That equates to 1 billion women, Ream said.

“If that was a disease … we would be doing something about it,” she said.

“It’s not just a campus issue. It’s communitywide,” said Jane Reynolds, who also helped organize the event.

Coming together to learn the dance was an opportunity for women to share stories and support, Reynolds said. “And also to inspire hope in themselves and others.”

Participants were diverse in age and background, but they walked away from the experience more confident, Reynolds said. “And knowing that they’re plugged into a community that supports them.”

Everyone is in it together, Missoula Mayor John Engen told the group, stressing that women need to be treated with dignity and respect.

“It is simply fundamental to our species,” he said.

Dancing is a way for women to express the need to end violence against them and to end other social injustices in a positive, transcendent and contagious way, said Robin Etingen-Ayers, who spoke during the event. “One billion people dancing is a revolution.”

For Linda Swanson, dancing was a way to raise awareness.

“So that when there’s awareness, healing can begin,” she said, adding the dance was joyful and spread that feeling.

Dancing also was a way to connect with and learn together with her 7-year-old daughter Ella, as well as teach her to be strong. “And to be confident as a woman,” Swanson said, tears welling up in her eyes.

Ella said she enjoyed the dance and learned “that you have to treat other people nice, like how you want to be treated.”

Young couple Jamie Gilligan and Dylan Ritter attended the event together.

“I think it’s important to see boyfriends out supporting women,” she said, even if he didn’t dance.

Ritter said he’s close to his mom and loves Gilligan, and so it made sense to attend and support her.

“There was that respect before, but this just solidified it even more,” he said.

Reporter Alice Miller can be reached at 523-5251 or at alice.miller@missoulian.com.

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