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Ballet Helped Me Reconnect with My Body After Being Raped—Now I'm Helping Others Do the Same

Explaining what dance means to me is tough because I'm not sure it can be put into words. I've been a dancer for nearly 28 years. It started out as a creative outlet that gave me the chance to be my best self. Today, it's so much more than that. It's no longer just a hobby, a job, or a career. It's a necessity. It will be my biggest passion until the day I die—and to explain why, I need to go back to October 29, 2012.

What sticks out to me the most is how excited I was. I was about to move into a new apartment, had just been accepted to a school to complete my degree in pedagogy, and was about to go in for an incredible audition for a music video. All these amazing things were happening in my life. Then it all came to a screeching halt when a stranger attacked and raped me in the woods outside of my apartment complex in Baltimore.

The assault is hazy since I was hit across the head and was barely conscious while it happened. But I was coherent enough to know that I had been beaten, robbed, and urinated and spit on during the violation. When I came to, my pants were attached to me by one leg, my body was covered in scrapes and scratches, and there was mud in my hair. But after realizing what had happened, or rather what was done to me, the first feeling I had was that of embarrassment and shame—and that's something I carried with me for a very long time.

 

The most devastating thing about the Harvey Weinstein scandal is reading some of the comments made by women who support him. Women who have made it clear that victims seek out this attention and that we incite the violence to happen... Fuck 'em. Don't suffer in silence. Stand up. Speak up. There's no statute of limitations when it comes to victims finding their voices following violating attacks of any level. Whether it was 20 days ago or 20 years ago, sexual trauma can last a lifetime. Ladies, find your voice. And when you do, shout it out! Tell a friend. Tell someone you trust and if you have no one, then you tell me. This is what we're here for. We're Healing at Ballet After Dark... Where Every Girl Is A Ballerina!

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I reported the rape to the Baltimore police, completed a rape kit, and submitted everything I had on me into evidence. But the investigation itself was a gross mishandling of justice. I tried my best to be of sound mind throughout the whole process, but nothing could have prepared me for the insensitivity I received. Even after I recounted the ordeal over and over again, law enforcement could not decide whether they were going to move forward with the investigation as a rape or as a robbery—and eventually gave up on pursuing it entirely.

It's been five years since that day. And on top of still not knowing who violated me, I don't even know if my rape kit was even tested. At the time, I felt like I was treated like a joke. I felt like I was being laughed at and not taken seriously. The overall tone I received was "Why did you let this happen?"

Right when I thought my life couldn't fall apart anymore, I learned that my rape had resulted in a pregnancy. I knew I wanted to get an abortion, but the thought of doing it alone terrified me. Planned Parenthood requires that you bring someone with you to take care of you after the procedure, yet no one in my life—family or friends—made themselves available for me.

So I walked into PP alone, crying and begging them to let me go through with it. Knowing my situation, they reassured me that they were going to keep my appointment and were there for me every step of the way. They even got me a taxi and made sure I got home safe and sound. (Related: How a Planned Parenthood Collapse Could Impact Women's Health)

 

#WorldBalletDay

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As I lay in my bed that night, I realized that I had spent one of the most difficult days of my life relying on complete strangers to be my support. I was filled with disgust and felt like I was a burden to everyone else because of something that had been done to me. I would later come to understand that's what rape culture is.

In the days to follow, I let my embarrassment and shame consume me, falling into a depression that led to drinking, drug use, and promiscuity. Each survivor handles their trauma in different ways; in my case, I was letting myself be used up and was looking for situations that would put an end to my misery because I did not want to be in this world any longer.

That lasted about eight months until I finally came to a point where I knew I needed to make a change. I realized that I didn't have time to sit around with this pain in me. I didn't have time to tell my story over and over again until someone finally heard me. I knew I needed something to help me fall back in love with myself again—to move past these absent feelings I had toward my body. That's how dance came back into my life. I knew I had to turn to it to gain my confidence back and more importantly, learn to feel safe again.

So I went back to class. I didn't tell my instructor or classmates about the attack because I wanted to be in a place where I was no longer that girl. As a classical dancer, I also knew that if I was going to do this, I had to allow my teacher to put her hands on me to correct my form. In those moments I'd need to forget that I was a victim and allow that person into my space, which is exactly what I did.

Slowly, but surely, I began to feel a connection with my body again. Watching my body in the mirror most days, appreciating my form and allowing someone else to maneuver my body in such a personal way started to help me reclaim my identity. But more importantly, it began helping me cope and come to terms with my assault, which was a monumental part of my progress. (Related: How Swimming Helped Me Recover from Sexual Assault)

I found myself wanting to use movement as a way to help me heal, but I couldn't find anything out there that focused on that. As a sexual assault survivor, you either had the option to go to group or private therapy but there was no in-between. There was no activity-based program out there that would take you through steps to re-teach yourself self-care, self-love, or strategies on how to not feel like a stranger in your own skin.

That's how Ballet After Dark was born. It was created to change the face of shame and help those who've survived sexual trauma to work through the physicality of post-traumatic life. It's a safe space that's easily accessible to women of all ethnicities, shapes, sizes, and backgrounds, helping them process, rebuild, and reclaim their lives at any level of trauma.

Right now, I hold monthly workshops for survivors and offer an array of other classes, including private instruction, athletic conditioning, injury prevention, and muscle lengthening. Since launching the program, I've had women from London to Tanzania reach out to me, asking if I plan on visiting or if there are any similar programs out there that I could recommend. Unfortunately, there aren't any. That's why I'm working very hard to create a global network for survivors using ballet as a component to bring us all together.

Ballet After Dark goes beyond just another institution of dance or a place where you go to get fit and healthy. It's about spreading the message that you can come back out on top—that you can have a life where you are strong, empowered, confident, courageous, and sexy—and that while you can be all of these things, you've got to do the work. That's where we come in. To push you, but also to make that work a little easier. (Related: How the #MeToo Movement Is Spreading Awareness About Sexual Assault)

 

Have an effortless day...: @nolle_prosequi_

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Most importantly, I want women (and men) to know that even though I went through my recovery alone, you don't need to. If you don't have family and friends who support you, know that I do and you can reach out to me and share as much or as little as you need to. Survivors need to know that they have allies who will defend them against those who believe they are objects to be used—and that's what Ballet After Dark is here for.

Today, one in five women will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives, and only one in three of them will ever report it. It's time people understand that preventing and hopefully ending sexual violence will take all of us, working together in big and small ways, to create a culture of safety. 

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