In these past months I have been starting over. I did not write for this blog, I did not read the new comments. I needed to clear a mental space for my new life.
Last month, one of my assignments at the Concordia University’s Contemporary Dance School was to create a solo dance that expressed who I am—my inside self. I kept thinking of Zouk and the joy and sadness it stirs up inside me. I wanted to create a piece about my experience in Brazil because it took up such a big place inside of me. Because Zouk made me reach for the stars but it also made me walk through fire. I started choreographing movements that would tell my story, but something did not feel right. The movements felt alien to my body. They were not “me.” I went to my professor to talk about the choreography and started crying.
I cried because I realized that my passion had been usurped by sadness. That trauma had wrapped me in a mourning shroud and my spirit had taken a vow of silence. I was not creating but replaying. It was a reenactment of my loss. And with each new movement I put in place I was creating a monument to my loss, something solid and heavy, something permanent. But I did not want to keep bearing this weight.
I wanted to stop this process and I didn’t know how. “Just stop,” my professor said. “Let it go. Find what brought you joy in dancing before the trauma. Show us that joy.”
That day I cleared my head of those movements. I let it go. I thought about Tango—my first partner dance—and how I pursued it as a lover: with passion, dedication, devotion. I went home and put on Tango music which sings of love, loss, suffering and pain, punctuated by the strength of the bandoneón (accordion). I used it to light myself back up and burn my mourning shroud. Who am I when I strip off what has happened? When I return to the self? Strong, sensual, explosive, passionate, delicate. This is me.
Improvising in the studio.Improvising in the studio.
At the contemporary dance school I dance and create every day, and each day I am learning more and more about my self, my body and the infinite world of movement possibility. What I do is for the pleasure of movement, for the beauty of movement, for movement as an art form.
I feel at peace. I feel my passion and energy slowly welling up in my body again. And from this new perspective I can return to what I left unfinished: the ending of my story.
Holding up a Mirror
With my story I drew a portrait of Kamacho’s inner world, a side few people have seen and experienced. But the reactions to my story also held up a mirror to a community:
It uncovered other cases of abuse
- Four other women—Brigitte Wittmer, Brenda Carvalho, Grace Wanke and Bárbara Meneses—have come forward to reveal that they too suffered the same abuse when partnering with Kamacho.
- I’ve received messages from other women who have pointed out other cases of abuse from other instructors in the Zouk community. Some were taken advantage of sexually, others were verbally abused when working with their partners. They are all afraid to come forward publicly because they are embarrassed, because already women in the community are seen as inferior, because in a culture where men dominate, taking advantage of women is normalized, and women are blamed for “provoking” such behaviour.
A recent government poll in Brazil showed that 65% of those polled believed that women who wear clothes that show off their bodies deserve to be raped and 26% think that “A woman that gets beaten and continues with her partner likes to get beaten.”
It revealed political games:
- Some very well known and well respected members of the community have chosen not to comment on what has happened—even though so many of their students/admirers have. What are their motivations for being silent on something that has deeply affected a community?
It pointed out a culture clash:
- Now that North America and Europe are so readily absorbing Zouk and its culture, how do we navigate through the very different beliefs each culture has on women? Do North Americans and Europeans submit to the existing macho culture in Zouk or should they demand and create a new Zouk culture that better fits their values? Perhaps we do not have an answer because, enamoured with the intensity and sensuality of Zouk, we not taken the time to analyze our beliefs and behaviours.
In exposing the truth, I also exposed myself to the public. I did so without knowing whether I would receive praise or punishment. As with all controversial and powerful events, I received both; touching messages that praised me for my courage and strength, that asserted that I was doing the community a favour by bringing a dark issue to light, but also searing messages accusing me of writing only to ruin Kamacho’s career, or of being a liar.
I was not surprised. After all I was a “nobody” and he was a Zouk superstar with fans across the globe. As with all cases of abuse behind closed doors, finally sharing what happened can turn into a “he said, she said” situation, where people are not sure who to believe.
But then Brigitte shared her story of abuse… and then Grace… and then Bárbara….and then Brenda. When these brave women decided to follow me and break the silence, I was sure that everyone would realize that this was not just an isolated event, that this was a consistent problem. But even then some people accused us of ALL being liars and some suggested that we were all “asking for it” somehow.
If “asking for it” means that we are all passionate about dance, hard workers, that we were willing to trust the person who was going to be our dance partner, hoping that whatever was unsettling about him would change, and afraid of speaking out about what we were experiencing, then yes, perhaps we were “asking for it.”
Blaming the victim is “a social and psychological phenomenon wherein the fault in a crime (rape, robbery, assault) is attributed to the victim. The victim is regarded as partly or completely responsible (to blame) for the accident or trauma. These are but forms of rationalization and coping mechanisms in an attempt to distance one’s self from the victim and the problem.(from: http://psychologydictionary.org)
I was especially surprised when the victim blaming came from other women. I received a message from one woman telling me that I must clean out or realign my spiritual energy because that is what is bringing me into this kind of situation. A message from another woman said that it was immature of me to “air out my dirty laundry” and bring this out into the public—that if I Kamacho and I got into a fight then I should find a way to settle it behind closed doors or take it to the police. Another woman said that all of Rio de Janeiro knows Kamacho is crazy, so any woman who choses to work with him automatically takes full responsibility for whatever happens to her when partnering with him. After reading these comments I thought “they don’t get it!” But then again, I did not understand the full extent of the psychological chains of abuse until I experienced it first hand. I hoped writing my story would shed some light, but perhaps abuse is unfathomable until you experience it.
Although this happened in the Zouk community, violence against women is a global issue. According to Jackson Katz, an anti-sexism educator, it is a men’s issue—although it is rarely framed as such. The “dominant group is rarely challenged to think about its dominance,” says Katz, “because that is one of the key characteristics of power and privilege, the ability to go unexamined, lacking introspection…. being rendered invisible in the discourse that is primarily about [men].”
I received a touching message from one young man whose female friend was in an abusive relationship and he expressed regret in that he did not intervene. Men are put in an awkward position because their gender perpetrates the violence but at the same time they are the brothers, fathers, sons and friends of women who get abused. Standing up to fellow men and questioning their actions can be a challenge in some cultures where it is frowned upon to question how another man treats his woman, that is, his property.
Sometimes the past can haunt us and weigh us down, preventing us from continuing with our lives. So we avoid it, we run away from it, we curse it. We don’t want to remember it. But with this story that is not the case. I embrace this past because it has created so much transformation, because it has put me on my true path.
“Step into the fire of self-discovery. This fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not”
- Mooji Solo
I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to read what I’ve written, who has relived my story with me, who has sent me messages of love and support. You have been such a wonderful part of my healing journey!
I want to thank the men who cast off their machismo and sent me such heartfelt, sincere, and wonderful messages of hope and caring.
I want to thank the women who messaged me with their personal stories and struggles. I admire every single one of you whether you continue in silence or whether you have shared your story with the world…. know that whenever you speak up, you have me and so many others supporting you.
Thanks to Brigitte, Grace, Brenda, and Barbara—four amazing women who went through so much and were able to emerge shinning and successful on the other side. Brigitte is studying contemporary dance at Angel Vianna’s school in Rio de Janeiro and has been traveling, teaching and choreographing with her partner, Cayo Louran. Grace is working at a gym teaching dynamic acrobatics and I see how strong and talented she is when I watch her videos on Facebook. Brenda has been performing in Brazouka! the first Zouk dance-drama that has been a huge success in the United Kingdom and now Australia.
You are all an inspiration!
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