Five minute interview and you’re hired!
(Have you read part 1 of this story? If you haven’t, you can find it here: “How My Dance Partner Turned my Dream into a Nightmare.”)
January 9th, 2014:It was my first time in Rio de Janeiro. I landed, rushed to my friend Ana’s house to shower and change and made it to the opening party of the Zouk congress hosted by Ranata Peçanha, known as the Queen of Zouk. I felt so lucky to just be in the same space as all these amazing social dancers and world-renowned teachers. It was the beginning of 4 days of nonstop classes and parties. I was in Zouk heaven.
I met Kamacho at the end of the third night. In the middle of our conversation he began staring at my feet and asked me if I did ballet. Apparently I was standing in first position with a lovely turn out without even realizing it.
He continued asking me questions: why was I here in Brazil and what were my goals? (Perfect my Zouk and become a professional dancer). Could I travel in Europe? (Yes.) Did I have a job or other commitments such as children or a husband that would prevent me from pursuing this full time? (No.) Could I do a split? (Yes, with my right leg.) After this “interview” he said, “Great. I’m looking for a partner. Would you like to train with me?”
I was in disbelief. Kamacho, the Brazilian dancer who had traveled all over Europe and whose Youtube videos I had been watching and using to practice, wanted to train with ME? At the time it didn’t seem strange to me that we hadn’t even danced yet. I was starstruck. My dreams were about to come true, and it was only my 3rd day in Brazil. The universe seemed to be plotting in my favor.
Two days after the congress ended we were already training in the living room of his family’s apartment. The year before he had installed mirrors on two of the walls to make it like a dance studio. When I got there he had already made space to rehearse by stacking the couches one on top of the other and pushing them off in a corner. On that first day he said we were going to start working on a choreography and he showed me the music and some of the movements he wanted to incorporate. His goal was to perform it at the Prague Zouk congress which was in two and a half months. I had only been learning zouk for one year at that point and was flattered that he thought I would be able to improve enough in that short time to perform and teach with him at the biggest zouk congress in Europe.
He also told me he was going to teach at a congress in the state of Sao Paulo that weekend and wanted me to go with him. I was very hesitant. How could a “gringa” like me go and teach Brazilians how to dance Brazilian Zouk after just a week of training?
I finally agreed to go. When we arrived I was nervous and asked him to show me what he was going to teach in his workshops so that I could feel prepared. For both workshops he found an excuse not to go over the movements with me. Perhaps he didn’t actually have a plan and made up the move he was going to teach on the spot, but either way he didn’t explain anything to me. One move involved multiple turns on one foot, but the vinyl covered floor made my foot stick and what should have been breezy spins felt like turning in molasses. I felt the twisting and pressure in my knee, and knew from what I learned in physiotherapy that when the knee goes one way and the foot refuses to follow—as was happening now—I risked injury. I asked him to move to another spot where the floor was bare, explaining the problem to him and thinking he would oblige knowing we had to perform that night and knowing that I already had a sensitive knee from a past injury and needed to be careful. But Kamacho held tight to the philosophy that life is struggle and that we need to constantly prove that we can overcome any and all external forces that are against you. If the floor was sticky, then I had to place my body differently, or hold my foot stronger or…. something!!!! Moving to another spot was a “weak” person’s response. He didn’t like weak people.
The day of the performance we were running on only three hours of sleep. We had gone to the congress party the night before and gotten up at 7am to have an 8am lifts class with Marcelo Grangeiro, considered one of the best in Brazil for lifts and tricks. Kamacho said it was the fastest way to learn, to train with the best. At 10am we gave a class and after he started teaching me the movements he wanted to use in that night’s performance. Both of us hot and tired, he began to lose patience with me. When I kept doing the movement wrong, I asked him a question about my body placement and how it didn’t feel natural. “Why do you ask stupid questions? Stop talking and just do it,” he retorted. I realized he was offended because he thought I was questioning his technique, so I explained that I just wanted to understand. This made him angrier. He sat down and refused to keep teaching me. I had to beg him—the way you do with a petulant child—to keep working with me. It was going to be my first demo and I didn’t want to look bad. I decided to keep silent about his behavior so that we could just move on.
That night we shared the stage with some of Brazil’s best dancers. I was lucky that I was so ignorant of who these people were back then, otherwise I would have been ten times more nervous. We were the only ones who hadn’t prepared a choreography, who were doing an improvised performance. As Kamacho saw the others and the fact that their dance numbers included tricks and lifts, he decided he wanted to do one of our own. About five minutes before we went onstage, he taught me the trick that was going to become the highlight of our demo (see video below at minute 2:47). I was so hesitant to do it—it was something I had just learned! What if something went wrong? He was not impressed with my lack of courage. “I’m going to lead it—just do it.”
I did it. He was very pleased.
Back in Rio de Janeiro, we went back to training.
I went to his house everyday which was an 80 minute bus ride from where I was staying. We would train all day there and in the evening when his family got home we would go to a nearby dance studio to continue training. Then it was another 80 minutes to get home. On some nights we went to the Zouk socials and practiced had taught me there. Those days were exhausting but I felt that it made sense to endure this pace if I wanted to improve quickly.
He was strict in that he wanted me to work on something over and over until it was perfect, rather than slowly building my level up day by day. He would often lose patience with me and say things like: “how can I choreograph and be creative if I have to be stopping every five minutes to show you technique?” That was true and I understood why it frustrated him but he also knew that I was only an intermediate Zouk dancer and had come to Brazil knowing that I had a lot to learn. But I didn’t confront him because I felt that I was learning so much from him and was so motivated to get better quickly. I thought that as I got better, I would be able to win his patience.
This is from an email I sent a good friend on January 20th:
“Right now I’m feeling a bit stressed because like many talented artists, Kamacho is a bit crazy- goes from complete lack of focus to total immersion, is very disorganized, etc. Also he has a philosophy that clashes with mine: for example he gets upset when I want to have a good night’s sleep (rather than dance at a party all night) and get up early to train. He can go for long bouts of not eating (clearly completely opposite from how I choose to treat my body). It is worrisome that he has gone through many other dance partners who he did not consider to be appropriate, and seems to be looking for perfection. I know that I should just experiment and see what can come out of this and that I can choose a different path if this is not for me, it is just more difficult to see clearly when you seem to be on the path to your dream: with him I will have the opportunity to teach and perform internationally which is a rare feat even for some of the most talented dancers here….”
One night he was choreographing in the studio. I kept glancing at the clock over the mirrors. 11pm. 11:30pm. 11:50pm. A long bus ride lay ahead and where I got off was residential, no stores and next to a highway. As a foreigner in Rio de Janeiro, I knew that it was not safe to be walking the streets alone at this time. I didn’t even have a phone to call Ana and let her know that I would be getting back late. I explained these things to Kamacho and said I had to go. He insisted I stay since he was in his moment of inspiration and wanted to keep choreographing. “I really can’t stay,” I said, “but would be happy to keep working tomorrow.” He turned his back to me and didn’t say anything. I quietly gathered my things and started going down the stairs that led to the street. As I was heading down I realized we had not agreed on a time to meet the next day, so I went back up to ask. I was met with indignant yelling. How dare I interrupt him in his creative process when I had made the choice to stop in the middle of it and leave!?! “I’m not talking to you!!” he screamed. I retreated, shaken and confused.
I made it back to Ana’s apartment in one piece and the next morning messaged him to see what time we would meet, thinking it would be best to ignore the previous day’s outburst. He insisted we talk over skype. He expressed his disappointment in me. He said he was looking for a partner that had the same “head” as him, a.k.a., that thought the same and had the same approach to achieving goals. He said this was the most important thing, and he wanted to know if I had it. If I did, I would be willing to stay up and rehearse for as long as it took (in retrospect I realize that ment as long as he wanted to). He said I needed to understand that these were the qualities of a professional and a great dancer.
He found it. My weak spot. I have always been an overachiever and no one has ever had to tell me to push myself harder because I’ve always been my toughest critic. I had left my job, learned Portuguese, gone to Brazil, was using my savings to train in Zouk full time, and had committed to training with him every day until the Prague congress—but apparently that wasn’t enough. I felt I had to defend myself. “But even if I want to stay, I have a 80 minute bus ride back!” Well you can sleep at my house if that makes it easier for you, he said. That made sense to me, it meant less travel time and more training time. I assured him that I did have big dreams and was willing to put in the sweat required to reach my goals.
The tiny room I slept in, he eventually told me, he had set up for his ex-partner, Brigitte. It had been painted a soothing purple, and there was an air conditioner for the hot Rio nights. Kamacho treated it as a sanctuary from the rest of the house which was often filled with the wood flooring his Dad’s business sold, and which his dad and brothers would move in and out of the house as orders were filled and materials bought. At first that room felt like a place of peace. But over time, the things that happened in that room made it feel like the walls were closing in. Perhaps they were trying to tell me of the torments that Brigitte had suffered in there. Of the time she actually locked the door (gasp!) in order to talk with her friend on Skype about all the things she was going through only to have Kamacho bang on it and threaten to unplug the internet so she wouldn’t be able to talk with her friend anymore.
She too had trained every day in his living room and they had toured Europe together. “I taught her from zero,” he would boast. “She didn’t even know how to do the boomerang step!” According to him, he ended their partnership because he realized she didn’t have what it took to perform, and he was looking for a partner who could dazzle on stage with him.
He sacrificed himself so that I could sleep over. Unlike the room he shared with his brothers, that small room was free of the all the dust from the flooring that moved in and out of the house. Kamacho’s allergies flared up and so he slept in the living room, sometimes not even bothering to replace the couch and sleeping directly on the floor.
After two weeks it became clear that sleeping over meant we were training or out to a social every night of the week, and I only returned to Ana’s apartment on the weekend to do laundry and repack. Kamacho pressured me into staying the weekend as well so we could get more work done. I finally insisted on moving in so that I wouldn’t have to fight with him over my time anymore, so that every waking moment could be dedicated to training.
Kamacho wanted me to learn Samba de Gafieira and Samba Funkeado as well. Wanting to train with the best, he got a great Samba Funkeado teacher to come in every morning and train us in exchange for Kamacho’s teaching him Zouk. I rarely knew the week’s schedule, he would just wake me up and say “the teacher is here.” I had no say, I just had to follow his lead. We had no set meal times and often I had to ask him if we could please stop to eat something. We lived mostly off of snacks.
One night I was at a Zouk social he had organized. There weren’t many people, so even though he was DJing, he took the opportunity to dance with me and practice. He was correcting and explaining things but with the loud music it was hard to hear. When I didn’t understand or wasn’t doing something right, he’d get frustrated. He started cursing. His frustration led to anger and to very forcefully pushing my body around. Some things I understood and began to get those right, but he never acknowledged what I had corrected, choosing to focus on what I was doing wrong. At one point I felt like I had 20 different things I needed to keep track of while dancing in order not to get him upset. We stopped dancing and I felt devastated. I truly admired him and thought he wanted to help lift me up—but here he was, constantly pushing me down.
An acquaintance was there and asked me why I looked so upset. I started complaining to him about how I had been treated on the dance floor. He told me that there was another Zouk party going on at Renata Peçanha’s school. Did I want to go there instead? I had wanted to go to Renata’s school since I had arrived in Rio de Janeiro but Kamacho had dissuaded me, saying that he had learned at that school, and whatever I wanted to learn there I could learn from him. I took the invitation, said goodbye to Kamacho, and left.
The following day he voiced his indignation. I had betrayed him. How could I leave my own partner’s party like that to go off with some guy? It was unacceptable.
WIth my rudimentary Portuguese it was hard to explain my feelings so I wrote him a long email in English, trying to keep the sentences simple so he could understand. I tried to talk about both the good and the bad, to make him see that I had not intended to offend him.
My email to Kamacho sent on January 26th:
“You are so kind and generous with everyone around you- you give a lot, you share your dance knowledge with them. You are very kind to me, you take care of me and are always making sure I am OK. What I don’t understand is why you are so different when you are training me. You get angry and talk to me in a bad way.
Why do you get so angry and aggressive when I do something wrong? Is this how you want to treat someone that will be your partner? Is this the energy you want to work with? Or are you just frustrated that I am slow to learn things? Like you say, you are free to choose, and if you want a partner that already has the Zouk base so that you don’t have to teach them, that is your choice….
I want to practice a lot and I want to learn from you because I think you are a beautiful dancer. I really like your technique and I think you have incredible knowledge of dance. I want to be your partner because you are so creative and have such an inspiring vision of where you want to take this dance. Because you inspire me. I would love to be part of your creative process. I know that I can become very good if you are willing to put the time and have patience with me. But, I cannot work everyday with someone who only will be angry with me….
Yesterday you did this at the party and it was draining for me. I felt like I could not be in that space anymore. You told me when I left that I do not respect you, but I think it is you who does not treat me with respect when you speak to me the way you do when you are training me.”
His response to my email was: “how I am is just my personality.” He said I needed to make sacrifices to get results. Again he reiterated that he needed someone who was on the same wavelength as him. So again I swore my allegiance. I thought that we had both learned something that night—for me it was that if you have a partner you need to be loyal even if the situation gets shitty, even if you feel shitty.
From an email I sent a friend the following day:
“This week will be the final test run- if I continue to feel that I am uncomfortable with his approach, that it is too psychologically draining for me, I will stop working with him and seek other opportunities. I just feel that I need to prove to myself that there is no way this could work, otherwise I may be left with regret for not having taken this opportunity.”
Deciding to live without regrets was what brought me to Brazil. Every class, every dance show, every congress left me with a bitter “what if?” But this time my need to prove something to myself beyond all doubt would lead to my neck injury.
Read my next post: “The Injury.“