Anouk de Fontaine ’14 received a Watson Fellowship to explore dance in various locales around the world. Through her project, Dance as Medicine: Looking at Dance as a Tool for Community Healing, Anouk is seeking to shape a dance form that can assist personal and communal recovery. Born and raised in Belgium, Anouk came to COA after attending the Lester B. Pearson College of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. English was her fourth language; Portuguese is her sixth.

November 10, 2014

Trust: Trust is not an easy thing to receive, to be awarded. Confiança they call it here.

I have been living in Rio de Janeiro now for several months. On the day I arrived, I was already dancing in a local feira, Feira de São Cristóvão. On the second day, I was joining a ballroom dancing class in the favela near my house. The class has been meeting three times a week since then, the third of August, for three hours each session. We have become a community, sharing meals, beers, and meeting each other outside of class to go to parties. However, genuine trust, confiança, has only been awarded to me by very few—if any—of the sixty people who form that group.

Surprising? Not really. Being obviously gringa, female, and doing a project that sometimes seems to lack structure and sounds fictive, would lead many to be dubious of the real reason for my presence here.

But frustrating, yes.

Communication: Already complicated in one’s own language. Between what I am trying to say and what you are understanding, much can be misinterpreted. When cultures—Belgium and Brazil—talk as well, communication takes on this invisible dimension. Confusion is frequent.

Connection: How do you enter a culture? I have been staying with a mother, her husband, and her daughter from a previous union, in a bairro called Estácio, near the center of the city. I am the first person they have rented a room to.

I have learned so much from a minha mãe brasileirai, my Brazilian mum. She makes her home a place full of her energy. The home is humble; she comes from a working-class family. She is not well, but she is so courageous, good, and has a love for life and for connection with people that is contagious.

Cooking food: “Only when you are inspired,” my Brazilian mother says. “Food has to be cooked with love. When the woman of the house is not inspired, when she is not feeling good about the household, she cannot cook. And so she should not.”

From what to wear to how loud I should speak, this Cuiabana (woman from the north of Brazil) has taken my hand to guide me through my experience in Rio.

November 28, 2014

Dance: Both my dance activities and the work I help out with at a center for individuals with special needs have made me full and happy. I have been studying capoeira, a sixteenth-century martial art combining dance, acrobatics, and music that was created in Brazil by African slaves, dancing with a new company from the favela, and volunteering at a physiotherapy center. Physiotherapy gives me a new perspective on movement, muscles, the brain and the body—how dance as a therapy for patients with cerebral palsy is so different from dance as therapy for children with autism, for example.

Things Brazilians, particularly Cariocas (Brazilians from Rio) offer: How to enjoy life, celebrate life, connect with people, feast, never feel alone, always smile, go out, enjoy the little things—a beer with a friend in the street, a Saturday afternoon at the beach, a Sunday morning running kites in the park. And the noise, always the loud noise, just in case someone would think of feeling lonely among the permanent vibration of life around them. How can I really learn this alegria, this joy of life? And then carry it with me everywhere I go?

December 3, 2014

The moment you get your first discount at the local fruit market because merchants recognize you, you have become their amiga. You get extra fruits, specialties made just for you, and you are sent home with good wishes for the others living in your household.

The moment you start getting ready at the time you said you were going to meet someone at the other end of the city.

The moment you realize you don’t really remember all the things that you found so different, strange and peculiar about the place when you first arrived. You try hard to remember, but you only recall the vague feeling of finding things different.

The moment you perceive co-living with cockroaches as normal.

The moment you realize the shootings you hear on a regular basis in the favela near your house have become routine. Scary, but you hope your local family can tell when really you should worry.

The moment you start looking at visiting Europeans in the metro as a mainstream Brazilian woman would: skeletal, no butt, white-transparent, arrogant, ignorant, too serious, wrong fashion style, money confidence, but hey … nice hair.

The moment you cannot remember how you could end a meal without coffee or spend a day without eating feijão.

The moment your coffee-making gets approved by locals.

The moment you manage to samba like a passista alone in your room. Nobody saw, but you know you just got it. It is in you. You will be able to do it again.

The moment you can hold a whole smart conversation in the local language and people think you are from the south of Brazil. Not from outside of Brazil.

The moment you sing an entire samba song at a samba school without looking at the lyrics on the page they give you!

These moments are precious. They are my testimonies; the steps of a choreography called meu Brasil, “my Brazil.”

By tuning in to the melody of a people, of a place,
We learn.
By dancing, we practice.