The Limitless Being Who Felt Limited
(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.”)
Kamacho’s vision of partnership was enmeshment. I felt as if I were being folded into the Kamacho “brand,” renouncing individuality to make space for something more powerful.
That feeling of being part of something bigger than myself, of being a vessel for creativity, of sacrificing myself in order to create beauty, was intoxicating.
He bought me a shirt like his that had “I can’t, I have rehearsal” written in big block letters. It was a statement of renunciation: I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, I can’t make friends, I can’t think about what is not dance. I wanted to embrace this philosophy the way he did. Hurl myself at training.
Kamacho’s insignia was bleached blonde tips and so I dyed the bottom of my hair blonde. He made me go back to the hairdresser because it wasn’t blonde enough. He wanted platinum blonde, he wanted blonde for the stage. As we walked down the street, our black and platinum plumage turning heads, I felt powerful. The hair was confidence, creation, and potentiality transmuted into the physical. It joined us in defying the world.
To Kamacho having a partner meant that he could push limits, create movements that no one would be able to imitate, and choreographies that would be seared into the souls of spectators. But to push the limits, you must first achieve technical perfection. I wasn’t perfect. And so I was holding him back.
Kamacho was full of ideas. But unfortunately for him, he had picked partner dancing and depended on another person to express them. If his partner did not share his vision, he felt his creativity stonewalled. His was a deep frustration, of an artist prevented from creating. He raged at me but in reality he was raging against this feeling of being oppressed, of having to sit still when he wanted to run and leap and jump.
I believed that his rage was something that possessed him, something that obscured the good he had inside. I thought that with patience, I would be able to bring that good to the surface and extinguish the rage.
Kamacho has done a lot of work on movement theory and on how Zouk should be danced. Once, after battling with him over his aggressive teaching methods, he humored the intellectual side of me by drawing images and graphs of the dynamics of head movement. Although I understood and embraced everything he told me intellectually, the problem was always that the information didn’t get into my body at the pace he wanted.
My warmest memory of him is of a night we stayed up late writing his “book.” He wanted to eventually publish his ideas on dance and music in English. I offered to help. He’d dictate a sentence in Portuguese and then I would read back my English version. Often he would veto it when he didn’t understand the words or the structure, so I would translate my version back into Portuguese to convince him that my version still contained the essence of what he was saying.
For some parts he insisted on plodding through his idea in English. We laughed ourselves to tears so many times as I tried to explain to him what the words he was using actually meant (versus what he thought they meant). Everytime he made blunders his joke was to say to me, “Your English is very bad!”
It felt good that I could use my talents as a writer to help him—that we could interact outside of the dance context where he reigned supreme.I felt like I was finally offering him something of value.
“When you paint on a canvas, you have freedom to create whatever is inside your mind. It is like in dance, when you are connected to the music, both in mind and body, you have the freedom to create whatever you want—whether it be ugly or beautiful.” (Translation of Kamacho’s dictation.)
He came up with an exercise that helped me connect more deeply with the music, one that I still think is genius. With a paper and pen in hand, I had to listen to a song and move the pen in the way the music dictated. We both tried the exercise, filling pages with loops, squiggles, hard lines and soft lines, lines that ran furiously down the page. The music directed the speed of my hand, the pressure on the paper and the shapes that I drew. Each time I repeated the exercise to the same song, I became much more aware of the subtle parts of the song. A few days later when I danced to it I felt like I was able to express all of it’s richness through my body. I told him how much I loved the exercise and encouraged him to do it in one of his workshops, knowing it would be a huge success.
One morning he woke up to find me drawing “Impossible” over and over. He smiled—at that moment I was the perfect partner.
The wake-up call
I arrived in Miami excited that I would be reunited with my close friends from New York and Montreal. I had kept most of what I had been going through secret. My Facebook page had been filled with pictures from parties and announcements of the tour with Kamacho.
My friends believed my Zouk career had taken off spectacularly and were surprised that I had come all the way to Miami when I was so busy in Brazil.
I went to Miami because Marc Brewer, a very successful ballroom dancer who was building his reputation in the Zouk community had invited me (before my trip to Brazil) to teach with him in Miami. Our plan had been to continue teaching and working together when I returned from my trip. Even though that had changed, I felt it would have been unprofessional and coldhearted to cancel last minute on someone who had given me so many opportunities.
Here is the demo I did with Marc at the congress:
At the parties I danced a bit, knowing it would look bad to my students if I didn’t, but spent most of my time outside of the dance hall, just observing.
“You used to dance non-stop at congresses. What’s going on?” my friends commented. I was physically and emotionally worn out. I began sharing what had been going on with some friends. They were in shock. “How are you ALLOWING this to happen? What you are talking about is abuse. Plain and simple,” they said.
One of the teachers to whom I opened up to told me that he felt like I was trying to get to the top too fast, but the surest way to achieve a goal is to start from the bottom. He said I should become a teacher’s assistant in one of the schools in Brazil, find a partner who was at my level, and slowly start building my career. To him it looked like this shortcut was not getting me to where I wanted.
But I was already 29 years old! I NEEDED a short cut!
I skipped all of the after parties, missing the spectacular sunrises on a Zouk-filled beach, just to go home and sleep. Far from Brazil and from Kamacho I finally allowed my body to express itself. My neck was killing me. My brain felt cloudy. (It was only months later, when I returned to New York and saw a doctor that I found out I had developed Adrenal Fatigue from all the emotional and physical stress.)
But I didn’t totally detach. Whenever I could I practiced the choreography for Prague. Kamacho said that to really know it I had to be able to do it perfectly on my own. I knew he was right.
As the days went by, my subconscious processed what my friends had told me. They made me feel as if I had been asleep in a bubble of denial. They were trying to shake me awake. I realized that I had to be less pliant. I began to think more about my why my neck wasn’t healing. Could it be more than a pulled muscle? I still hadn’t seen a professional who could give me an assessment.
When I got back I asked Kamacho if he knew any physiotherapists from his wide network of dancer friends.
“Why didn’t you see a physiotherapist in Miami?” he asked, annoyed.
“A physiotherapist is someone you have to see once a week until you heal, it’s not a one time thing,” I replied.
He was not happy. He believed my neck had been doing just fine while I was in Brazil and that I had made it worse in Miami. It wasn’t the injury that changed on the return from the trip, it was my thinking that changed.
[From an email I sent a friend:]
The going continues to be rough although I believe I made some progress… Two days ago he got upset because there was a movement I was not understanding [I am in a plank position with my back parallel to the floor and my weight mostly on my feet but with one arm holding on to his arm]. When I did it wrong again, he let go of me and I almost fell backward to the floor. This type of thing has happened twice already and those times I kept mum. This time I said: “don’t do that! what are you trying to do, hurt me?” he responded: “you are already hurt” (WTF!!!!) and I replied: “so you want to hurt me even more? If you want to yell at me, you can yell, but you cannot do that again”. He kept silent and I just stared at him for a while and then I said, “OK lets continue.” I’m hoping that I drew a line that he will not cross again but we will see….
Very disappointing is the fact that I’m really on my own when it comes to getting help. Today I reminded him about helping me find a physiotherapist through his contacts and he responded: “why don’t you ask your friend Ana” (she is a massotherapist and recommended the acupuncturist but she doesn’t have many professional contacts here since she lives in Toronto). I explained this to him but only got silence as he continued to do what he was doing on his computer… I am just so angry that he won’t even write a few quick Facebook messages to his dancer friends who may recommend a good one. [NOTE: I eventually got him to write a message on his wall.]I keep thinking how the hell I’m supposed to work with someone who won’t even take the minimum steps to make sure the tool of our trade (my body) is in adequate shape to do the things we need to do.
I made an appointment to see the acupuncturist. Kamacho came with me.
“Her neck is not doing well. She really needs to stop doing head movement until the pain goes away.”
We left and Kamacho said: “That guy doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I asked him some questions about neck anatomy and he didn’t really give me a response. Anyway, we’ve got a job to do so you can’t stop training. I’ll take you to get a massage on Sunday.”
It was Friday. I was so upset. Fine, if he didn’t believe what the acupuncturist said, maybe he would believe a “real” doctor. I resolved to be seen and x-rayed the next day.
The next morning I was eating breakfast when Kamacho woke up. He began blasting “Impossible” on the loudspeakers and going over the choreography. “When you’re done eating, warm up so we can work on the choreo,” he said.
“I’m not working on the choreo today, I’m going to see a doctor and get an x-ray,” I said quietly but with resolve.
“You and your neck! You know a big part of it is in your mind? You need to stop making such a big deal out of it.”
I didn’t reply. He said he would come with me, that partnerships were about supporting each other.
We spent the morning at the hospital. I had x-rays done and was seen by an orthopedic doctor.
“Lucky for you, your bones look fine,” said the doctor. “But I think you have a serious pull in the neck muscles, and by training on that injury you haven’t been letting it heal and maybe caused a second tear. [NOTE: the doctor I saw later in NYC did an MRI scan and found out that I also had a bulging disk.] You need to stop dancing for a MINIMUM of three weeks otherwise you are going to make it a lot worse. You’ll also need to do physiotherapy. I glanced over at Kamacho standing in the corner. I wanted to make sure he had heard.
“But if her bones are alright, why can’t you just give her some medicine?” asked Kamacho.
“I am going to prescribe a painkiller and an anti-inflammatory, but unfortunately when it comes to muscle tears the only thing we can do is wait for the muscles to heal. She should not do head movement and should be limiting spine movement for at least three weeks, maybe more.”
I felt that I had won. Finally here was a doctor telling Kamacho what I had been trying to say all along. Finally, I was justified in recovering.
As soon as we were out on the street, the tirade began.
“You see, this is what happens when you dance with people I told you not to dance with! I guess now you will learn your lesson. You NEVER listen to me. And then you go to Miami and work for someone else and come back fucked!! You call that professional? You can rest now, but when we get to Prague, don’t even THINK I’m going to take it easy on you when it comes to head movement!”
We had exactly three weeks before we had to fly to Paris and four weeks before Prague.
We got back to his house. His father, brother and brother’s girlfriend were there. Their presence did nothing to stop him. He continued to yell.
“You are going to Prague and you are doing the jobs I booked! I don’t care if that means your neck will be fucked and you can’t dance Zouk for the next three months, the next year, or the rest of your life! You are doing this!”
It was the hulk, the monster. The being that didn’t care about the consequences, just about his work, his reputation. At that moment something in me snapped. The price for this shortcut, for the fame that he was promising, was too high. I was no longer willing to pay it.
With his family hearing every word, his father got involved.
“Thiago, stop being so ignorant!” said his father in a firm tone. “Didn’t you hear what the doctor said? She can’t train, can’t dance now and can’t go to Europe like this! As her partner, you should be taking care of her, not yelling at her!”
“She got into this mess and now she isn’t looking for a solution, she is just abandoning ship.” Kamacho retorted. “I’m creative! I’ve always faced obstacles head on and been able to overcome them. This isn’t any different. I can create a whole choreography without head movement if need be! I can teach a class with zero head movement. I can do anything I want!”
As his family attempted to calm him down, I was reeling. This was crazy—how could I go to Europe with someone who was threatening me with permanent injury? With no one to comfort me or to talk to, I reached out on Facebook and put up a post about my injury.
Then he saw it. He exploded again.
“You are so selfish! How could you write that? Now people are going to think that I did this to you!! How could you not think about how this will reflect on me?”
In my opinion, nothing I had written blamed him in any way. I was pointing a finger at an “inexperienced dancer with poor technique.”
But, again, wanting to appease him I edited the post. This is the final version:
His brother and his brother’s girlfriend assured him that no one would think badly of him based on the post.
Although I had felt the “snap” in my neck while dancing with another guy, I don’t know if it would had happened had I not been so weak and stressed. I’ve had men lead a violent movement before and was able to brace my body against it. I believe that Kamacho is responsible for putting my body and mind in a state of unnecessary stress and exhaustion. A state in which I should not have been dancing in.
There is a “proven connection between stress and injury. When you allow… fear of failure to overwhelm your mind, you lose the ability to cope, and you put yourself at risk for getting hurt.”(From: “Dance Anatomy” by Jacqui Greene Haas.)
With Kamacho I was always in fear of failure because failure meant I would have to feel his wrath.
The night of the injury, shortly before I got injured, he provoked this fear. He and another dancer, Rafael, were playfully trading me off between them. When I wasn’t understanding some of the things they were leading, he started treating me roughly (as usual) but also saying horrible things to me: that I would never learn what he was teaching me, that I was stupid, etc. When Kamacho sat down and I was dancing just with Rafael I was trembling all over and almost crying. I was so distracted that although we usually danced so well together, he had to start doing just basic steps until I calmed down. [NOTE: to be clear, Rafael DID NOT cause my injury.]
Back to the day of the Facebook post: Eventually everyone went to bed. He calmed down a bit. He announced he was going out dancing to a Samba party. He asked to review some Samba steps with me and I acquiesced. I had forgotten several of the things we had learned. He got frustrated. My heart started racing, my stomach started feeling queasy and my mind went into overdrive. I realized this had become my permanent state of being every time we practiced.
He told me he can’t focus and work with someone that speaks badly of him (referring to a fight we had a week earlier because he overheard me talking to my friend Ana about how he treated me). He wandered around the house aimlessly. His frustration and helplessness wouldn’t let him sit still. He came into my room.
“I can’t believe that I let someone who speaks badly of me stay in my house. I can’t believe that I waste my time with someone who gives me NOTHING in the dance!”
At that point I was disgusted with him. I had enough, I was exhausted.
“Please tell me now if you want me to leave and if you want to stop working with me so that I can find someplace to go,” I said.
That’s when he shut up. He was silent for a while.
In a quiet voice he began talking about his frustrations. He said hadn’t achieved what he hoped to in dance.
“Listen Kamacho,” I said gently. “My priority right now is my health, my neck. If that’s not OK with you and you want to end our partnership because of it, I’m not going to be upset. I think you need to do what is best for YOU right now. Maybe you need to find a partner who is younger and has better neck extension (he said this was one of my defects even before the injury). Maybe you THOUGHT I was your diamond, but clearly I’m not. Or maybe, to reach the level of perfection in the dance that you are looking for, you should do solo dancing.”
I wanted to give him an out. Part of me wanted him to end the partnership, to release me. I knew that if I ended it, it would arouse only anger and hate from him.
He was silent. After the hours of yelling, the silence was scarier. What was going on in his head? He was sitting in the bathroom right across from my room with the lights off. With the light that went in from my room I saw that his hands were covering his face and I heard some muffled sounds. Was he crying? I began to feel pity. Even the hulk has feelings when he’s calmed back down into his human form.
“I know you are stressed,” I said. But transferring that stress on to me is only making our training and dancing worse, not better. I can help you cope with the stress but not if you just take it out on me.”
“I’ve dedicated my life to Zouk,” he said. “If this fails maybe I’ll just quit and go to working with my father.”
Somehow that fighter in him had escaped. He was (or acted?) defeated.
“I would be sad if you dropped Zouk,” I said, completely meaning it. “You have so much talent and such great ideas. Perhaps you just haven’t been picking the right people to partner with. Perhaps your lack of patience and your anger issues make it so that you need someone who is ready to perform with little to no training: a professional dancer, someone you don’t need to train from zero.” I remembered him saying he worked well with Natasha Terekhina, a top Zouk dancer who has been dancing professionally for many years.
In retrospect I see that I was taking some of the blame for what was happening. It could have been that this was his strategy, that he wasn’t wounded but just switching tactics. But at the time these thoughts were far from my mind. He had disarmed me and I was in mothering mode.
He told me the story of the horse who crushed his foot. It was the third time he had told me the story. Maybe he was trying to resurrect the fighter in himself, or perhaps in me.
He got up and went to bed without saying anything else. I stayed up until 5am, anxious. Clearly this was over. I needed to be firm on the fact that I wasn’t going to Europe. I needed to move out. I went through the options in my head.
He woke me up at 9am. “It’s beach time. Lets go,” he said.
“I’m so exhausted, I stayed up till late last night thinking about what we talked about. I’m going to stay in and rest.”
“I try to do nice things for you and this is how you react!” He was agitated again. I was clearly not responding according to his plan. I gave up on trying to go back to sleep. This was so childish of him. My anger gave me the courage to confront him.
“Your anger is making it impossible for me to work with you!” I said. “You don’t respect me or my body. I refuse to work with someone like this. Do you realize you’ve been yelling at me almost non stop since yesterday?”
“Fine, if you don’t want to go to the beach, put on your shoes, we’ll go meet my brothers. They’re going carting.”
Once again, his logic completely escaped me.
“No, you and I need to be separate, ALONE, today! We need to chill out.”
“But we’re partners! You need to stop running away from our problems!” he said.
“I’m not going carting.” I grabbed my backpack and left.
I went to the gym to stretch out my body and relax my mind. As I counted to 60 in my no-yet-full split, I realized that he still thought I would go to Europe with him. He wasn’t getting the message no matter what I said. I needed to move out ASAP. I began to feel a wave of panic. How would he react to me choosing to leave? Best to do it today, the only day his family was home during the day. They wouldn’t let things get out of hand….. but I knew the safest thing would be to get out before Kamacho got back. Best not be face to face when breaking the news. I left the gym and went back to pack.
I had one suitcase, two large duffel bags, a large hiking backpack and a small book bag. They contained all the things I had packed for those summer months plus my winter clothes that I had asked a friend to bring to the Miami congress in preparation for the Europe tour with Kamacho. I gathered all of my things by the front door and felt like a gypsy. As I was about to open the door, Kamacho’s father, who had been taking a nap, came into the living room.
“Are you leaving?” he asked sleepily.
“I just can’t stay here anymore. Kamacho is scaring me. I can’t work with someone who is treating me the way he is. But I want to thank you for letting me stay in your house and for being so kind to me.”
“I had a talk with Kamacho this morning. I told him you would leave if he kept treating you this way.” said his father. “Where are you going? Let me take you.”
I was touched by his offer. He drove me to where I was staying when I first got to Brazil: Ana’s family agreed to have me stay with them for a while even though she was no longer in town.
When all five pieces of luggage along with the various plastic bags were on the living room floor and the door was shut behind me, I took a deep breath. Safe, I thought.