(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.”)
The more we trained, the better I danced, and yet the less patience he had with me. He would often say things like, “this is shit” or “any grandmother off the street could do this better than you” or curse or talk about how many great dancers out there would be happy to take my spot. He raised his voice often, frustrated because I couldn’t pick something up right away. He made me feel small, worthless. Like he was doing me a huge favor that I didn’t even deserve.
At the social dance evenings, after a full day of training he would dance about eight songs in a row with me—that’s about half an hour—but full out, as if we were performing. His lead was always intense, sometimes to the point of being brutal, especially if I wasn’t following his lead correctly. His philosophy seemed to be that if I wasn’t understanding the lead he could physically force me into the right position, which sometimes resulted in painful contortions of my body and neck. To dance with him at the socials my body had to brace itself, all my muscles engaged, trying to prevent him from doing damage. If I asked to take a break before he felt we were finished, he would either insist that I dance more or allow me to retreat while saying something about my lack of dedication.
One evening after one of these marathon sessions, Kamacho and I were sitting and talking at one of the tables. A man came over and asked me to dance. I looked over at Kamacho for his permission—after all, I didn’t want to ignite his anger and I knew he was particular in his opinions as to whom I should and should not be dancing with. He nodded. “Go.”
Dancing with someone who was not Kamacho at that time was both disappointing and liberating. Many of the dancers did not have the level and musicality he had, and as his budding student I became easily bored with dancers who fell short. At the same time dancing with others was liberating. They weren’t expecting me to be perfect, they weren’t yelling at me, they allowed me to be playful with my movements, and best of all I could ease the fear out of my body.
The guy I was dancing with was not a great leader and I was just waiting for the song to be over. Suddenly he pinched my leg between his and pulled it forward as he forced me back into a cambre then quickly brought me up again. With my weight off my leg and my body caught of guard, my neck suffered the consequences. I felt a sharp pain up my neck and down the right side of my back as my head whipped forward. Now I was angry. What the hell was THAT move? What an IDIOT, I thought. The song ended soon after, and I walked away without saying anything. I massaged my neck at the table. Kamacho got up and pulled me onto the dance floor. With the first head movement he lead, a jolt of pain went through my neck and back and made me wince. “The guy I just danced with did a move and now I think I pulled a muscle in my neck,” I told him, worried and upset.
“Ha! That’s not MY problem.” said Kamacho. “I’m not the one who did that to you.” He made me continue dancing but each time he led head movement the pain shocked my senses. I kept wincing involuntarily. Finally I made him stop, I just couldn’t anymore. “Fine,” he said. “We’ll leave then.”
I couldn’t sleep from the pain that night. That weekend I rested at Ana’s apartment. Kamacho told me I should apply Salompas, a medicated stick-on pad. He offered to buy it and give it to Ana at one of the parties to pass on to me. On Monday I announced to Kamacho that I had clearly pulled a muscle and that I would stop doing head movement for a week to let it heal. He said we could work on other Zouk techniques so we continued working that week. Our sessions were shorter since even other movements aggravated my neck. After a week and a half I was feeling better. We were both feeling pressure to finish the choreography for Prague.
The first day I said I would try doing head movement we went to the studio and spent two hours on continuous head movement. I felt like he was trying to compensate for the week and a half that we hadn’t trained. My neck was in pain but I kept going until I it got bad enough that I had to stop.
We eased up on head movement. We danced without it at the parties. I deluded myself into thinking I was getting better. We had just one more week until I had to go to Florida to teach at a Congress and do a freelance writing job, both of which had been planned before I had met Kamacho. The 10-day trip was going to take a big chunk of the six weeks we had until Prague and the debut of the new choreography, “Impossible” which everyday seemed closer to being just that.
He would tell me the same story over and over again. How a horse had smashed his foot into a million pieces. How he was left home alone with a broken foot. How on the day of his final exams in high school there was a public transportation strike so he resolved to walk to school on his broken foot. Fortunately for him, a passerby took pity and offered him a lift.
The story is a distillation of his essence as a hero, a fighter. He says his life has been a constant battle, but he has always done whatever it took to overcome life’s obstacles.
He chose the song “Impossible” because James Arthur’s story, his voice, and the music all deeply resonate with him. Although he hadn’t translated the lyrics, that one word held so much power. Kamacho was out to prove that nothing was impossible.
His mom left when he he was young. I don’t recall what age he said it was—maybe seven. He grew up with his Dad and two older brothers. He didn’t tell me the whole story, but she is back in their lives now, involved and supportive. She lives just a few blocks away and brings her youngest son food, arrives at a moment’s notice to comfort and counsel him, and prays for him all the time. Unlike his brothers, who work with their dad in the family business, Kamacho decided to forge his own path. He had dreamt of being a soccer player and at 14, according to him, was on the path to becoming a professional. Butthe horse shattered his foot and his dreams. He began dancing while he was with his ex-girlfriend, Brenda Carvalho, who was already a high-level dancer. He found his new goal, to become a professional dancer. From what I saw while I was living there, his family has been very supportive of his choice.
The first week we trained together he told me he sensed that I too had been through many challenges in my life and thus could find a connection to “Impossible.” At the time it felt as though he was peering into my soul, but more likely it was that I was so full of determination and fearlessness that it oozed out of everything I did.
If I can’t sleep, you can’t either
We were at a Samba and Zouk social. I spent most of the evening massaging my neck and upper back and chatting with one of the male dancers. I was physically exhausted as usual, and it felt good to have someone new to talk to. Since the congress (at the beginning of my trip), I hadn’t made any friends in Rio. Kamacho warned me that there were a lot of ill-meaning people in the community—that I should be wary. He constantly reminded me that one of Brigitte’s biggest faults was that she cared more about socializing than about dancing. He did, however, concede that she is a good person, and was great in classes because she spoke to and was friendly with everyone. But his point was that right now I couldn’t waste my time looking for friends.
Everything seemed fine between us at the social, but as soon as we stepped out Kamacho released his inner hulk. He was outraged that I had spent so much time chatting with this guy. It was such a waste of my time! And of his!!! He spent all day every day training ME, and this is how I repaid him: going to parties to flirt with guys rather than train what I was learning! SO UNACCEPTABLE!
I was mystified by how one night of “relaxation” seemed to efface all the hard work I had been putting in for over a month.
He was walking fast and in front of me and I was almost running to keep up with him. He yelled down the street at the top of his lungs but luckily(?) at that hour the streets were abandoned and no one but me was there to hear him. I tried to calm him down, to explain that I was exhausted and in pain and just wanted a break.
“If you want to flirt with guys, do that on your own time, do it after the social!” He wasn’t listening to what I was saying. Or rather, he wasn’t accepting what I was saying. Perhaps he feared that I was not serious about pursuing the dream, or that my neck injury was making me lazy, or that I would not be perfect in time for Prague. But most of all it was frustration that he so much wanted to create but his new instrument (me) was broken.
He continued yelling in the cab. I tried another strategy—expressing my own anger. That didn’t work. I began to get worried. How much longer would this continue? If he was comfortable yelling like this in public, would it escalate once we got back to his house? I began to say whatever it took to calm him down. He finally stopped yelling when we got home. I was exhausted. I went straight to bed. Ten minutes later he opened my door and said, “things are going to be different from now on! I’m going to be thinking about our partnership!” Annoyed by this intrusion. I said “OK, whatever,” and lay back down, pulling my eye mask back on. He banged the sliding door shut. Five minutes later he came back in—this time he left the door open and sat on the floor, his back to the wall and feet pressed up against the bed.
“What now?” I asked.
“I’m too upset to sleep. If I can’t sleep you can’t either.”
The logic of this was almost hilarious but he was serious. It became clear to me that he hadn’t yet achieved one of the hallmarks of emotional adulthood: the ability to be alone with our emotions, to soothe ourselves rather than seek others to help to contain us. At this point I just wanted to sleep. I don’t even remember what I said, but I was able to pacify him, to relieve him of his anger enough so that he finally left my room.
That day I understood that his emotions are too much for him to handle, that he has to unload them onto someone. And as his partner, and often the cause of his tempers, I would be that person.