Updated: Sep 2, 2020
*TW: sexual harassment & assault.
It is my hope that this letter will provide some motivation for further self-exploration and healing, on your part. I believe you can do better, but ultimately that depends on if you’re able to understand my perspective. That choice is in your hands.
Written January 28th 2019, Published June 5th 2020
An open letter, to you.
I’m writing this under the assumption that you remain oblivious as to why the way you behaved is considered inappropriate. I am choosing to believe that perhaps you have been too busy to read any articles about the #metoo movement, notably its impact and resonance within our own Toronto dance community - its commercial, urban, and indie spheres, all of which you are closely tied to. I am choosing to keep you anonymous, as the purpose of this letter is educational, as opposed to blameful. I want you to understand why I believe your actions were wrong. My intention is not to dismantle or tarnish your career, but rather to give you the opportunity to learn about my perspective of the events that occurred and to provide you with the option of responding in a way that speaks to personal accountability and how you plan to make positive changes moving forward. It is my hope that this letter will provide some motivation for further self-exploration and healing, on your part. I believe you can do better, but ultimately that depends on if you’re able to understand my perspective. That choice is in your hands.
I have admired and respected your talent and work for years. I auditioned for you, and though I was never hired, your support and encouragement of my own creative pursuits meant the world to me. When you invited me to work on some "contact improvisation", to "session", I was thrilled to have the opportunity to learn from you. I saw ahead the possibility of a mentorship, to get to know you – train in your urban skills and styles, learn more about your choreographic process and fusion of dance genres. I wonder what you remember from that first day we danced together. I remember it being exhilarating. I had an amazing time. It was everything I’d hoped it would be. You were a great partner, really intuitive, and I felt we’d found some exciting movement and started to develop a dialogue. It had been awhile since I’d danced so full out with a partner – I was excited to be moving with someone I looked up to so much. I also remember building up a sweat, and taking my t-shirt off, so I was in my sports bra. I remember this because it crossed my mind in that moment that you were a straight male dancer whom I didn’t know that well, but I felt safe because we were both professionals. We were crafting. We were sweating. It’s just layers, who cares? There was a moment after that where some move – I can’t remember what – caused my sports bra to slip upwards. The result was a quick “nip slip”. I remember moving swiftly, on instinct, to shift my sports bra back down, while still moving, trying to figure out if you’d noticed or cared. You didn’t seem to have noticed, or cared, so. Neither did I. Casual wardrobe malfunction forgotten, on we went. Little incident aside, I had a great time that day. I felt so humbled that you’d asked me to practice with you. I felt like I’d learned a lot and hoped we’d be able to dance together again soon.
The next time you messaged me to dance, I was fighting a cold. I hesitated because I wasn’t feeling great, but you encouraged me by saying something along the lines of “dancing heals everything” and I eventually gave in, on condition of a curfew. The fact that it was evening and dark out, the fact that you’d invited me to your apartment complex, because we could “use the gym there”, didn’t spark any red flags in my mind. You often post rehearsal footage from the same building and lots of dancers in the urban community rehearse late at night. When I arrived, you said the gym was no longer available, but we could use the shared common room instead. Again, no red flag. You were in charge of music this time, and when your playlist turned out to be primarily R&B slow jams, that was my first red flag. Slow jams? For contact improvisation? I brushed it off, reminding myself that the playlist I provided the first day we jammed was a J. Cole album. If we could session to hip hop, I guess R&B was fine too... While it occurred to me again that I didn’t know you that well, that I would never meet up with any other man, alone, at night, with his slow jam playlist, other men weren’t you – I’d never heard anything “bad” about you. And I was 28. That’s old enough to stand my ground and assert my boundaries and keep things professional.
We started dancing, simple advance and respond movement…. You advancing, me responding. Somehow, the movement patterns continued to go to the floor with you positioned over me. Somehow, the movement continued to be you on top of me, and me trying to move away, trying to shift the dynamic that was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. I remember thinking to myself that I needed to grow-up and stop being so afraid of sexual undertones in movement. Everyone else dances like this all the time. This is normal, right? But then your hands started sliding up under my shirt and exploring under the waistband of my leggings, and I could feel my body trying to shrink inwards to avoid your touch. I remember things starting to feel fuzzy. I don’t remember many more specifics, except for when I felt you get hard. I remember this because I spent what felt like forever trying to figure out why you were wearing some weird belt buckle with your sweatpants. Until, oh. That’s not a belt buckle. This is slow dancing at prom all over again, only this is supposed to be a mentor of mine, and he’s grinding on top of me while I’m stuck on the floor beneath him.
Yes. This is where you get to ask that question. Why. THE FUCK. Did I not just get up and leave?! Any #metoo article will answer that for you – I’m happy to share some links. But I can honestly say, it was every reason. I didn’t want you to feel embarrassed about something you maybe couldn’t control. I didn’t want to risk making you upset or angry. I was scared. I was in shock. I could feel my chest tightening. I could feel myself distancing out of my body, the same way I do when I get in trouble and feel like there’s no escape. I was actively trying to convince myself that I’d misinterpreted the whole thing. I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. I didn’t want to make you an enemy. I wanted to be wrong about what was happening. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal. I made light of it. I told myself it was nothing. I was being a baby. I should have just said something, called you out on it.
I told myself after I left that night that I’d let myself meet up with you once more, but I’d start the next session with a clear conversation about what I felt was appropriate and what wasn’t, and if you disagreed, we’d simply stop dancing. I thought it would be so simple. I thought I could just say, “Oh! I don’t like it when you touch me like that.” But somehow, I was never able to say what I needed to say in the way that I needed to say it. I remember trying. My memory gets disjointed here – I can’t remember if we met up once, or twice, or three times even? I only recall bits and pieces. Trying to talk to you, but having my words flipped around. Feeling like I was making a big deal out of nothing. Feeling like I was wrong… or stupid, like something was wrong with me. I remember you taking my shirt off. I remember you undoing my ponytail and I couldn’t see or dance well because I couldn’t see through my damn hair. I remember you kissing my neck. I remember the feeling of my stomach dropping, feeling sick, and confused, and so very angry at myself for not being able to just LEAVE. Or say STOP. NO. What was wrong with me? How could I let my guard down? I wasn’t a kid. I wasn’t new to this game. You are far from the first person to touch me in ways I didn’t want to be touched. I felt so responsible for the whole thing. I shouldn’t have taken my shirt off on the first day. I shouldn’t have ever agreed to meet up with you – I should have known better.
One more thing.
There was a night that you called me after you’d wrapped rehearsal. It was close to midnight. I remember that because I was in my pajamas and getting ready to crawl into bed. You asked where I was and said you were coming to pick me up. I thought this was weird because you don’t own a car. I said no. You said you wanted to come over. I said no – because I might be stupid enough to dance with you one on one, but I’m sure as hell not stupid enough to ever spend time alone with a straight man, after dark, in my house – ever. I said, “No - that’s creepy”. And you were angry. I immediately regretted using that word – not because it wasn’t true – but because I could feel your anger through the phone. But I also knew – beyond a doubt – that saying no was the right thing to do. I invite you to do some reflection on just why that word – creepy – was so triggering to you. Do you still have such a visceral reaction to it?
In light of all the above, it is important to me that I recognize my own role in this whole situation. I will not be pursuing any legal action, at this point, I’m actually not pursuing any action at all – other than this lengthy note that I hope will reach you, so that you can better understand what happened through my lens.
I never told you - point blank – that what was happening was not okay. I failed to assert my boundaries in clear, spoken terms. Regardless of how I can recognize that my own behaviours were learned and that I am currently working to overcome them, it doesn’t matter. I needed to have told you to stop. And then I needed to have left. If you read through our past messages, as I have multiple times – on Instagram, on Facebook, via text – until your phone “stopped working”, and with the exception of when you requested we switch to Snapchat where the messages disappear… you will find absolutely zero inkling of my discomfort. Nothing. I’m really good at pretending things are fine. I even suggest meeting up. I encouraged, as opposed to discouraged. My written communication is in direct contradiction to my internal state. It is probably the element of all of this that brings me the most shame. How hard I worked to keep everything “fine”, to not burn any bridges, to try and grasp a sense of control, to flip the narrative… although I knew I would never go to an audition you were hosting again. I also knew the sick feeling I got in the pit of my stomach, seeing you at events or shows, was a sign of something being wrong.
Again, every #metoo article will explain these behaviours – these efforts to try and regain a sense of agency, to appease, to create my own narrative, but it doesn’t change the fact that I never told you directly: this behaviour is not okay. I am uncomfortable. You need to stop.
Which leads me to this letter. This is me now, telling you that you need to stop. Because I know I’m not alone. I know there are multiple women in this community who have been invited to work on their “contact improvisation”, to "session", to "jam", in your apartment or at the studio. Women who have experienced you running your hands over their bodies without their consent, trying to take their clothes off, or getting too close for comfort. I know if I do choose to speak your name, more of us will come forward.
I am writing this now because you need to know that what you did was unacceptable. Your behaviour needs to change. Using one’s craft, their training, their dedication to improvement, their eagerness to succeed within this tightly knit industry and work with someone who is in your position, as a means to feel someone’s body is cowardly, wrong, and yes – it’s creepy.
I am not pursuing legal action. There’s no case here – it’s he said/she said. I have no evidence, no footage, no proof. Simply my word. So, all of this? It’s just to try and teach you. This behaviour will no longer be tolerated in our community.
These moments happened three years ago [late January/early February 2016]. It feels like a lifetime, but I know it wasn’t so because I haven’t been able to dance comfortably with others until a week ago. Up until then, I would freeze, my brain would shut down, I would blank out on choreography. I still have dreams about wanting to leave but not being able to. I think often about how different this would have been, were I 18 instead of 28. If I had been younger, hungry to work in this industry, willing to do anything to please someone who could get me work. The next generation of dancers deserves better. They deserve to be safe.
This is your opportunity to help make that possible. To make positive changes in your own life that will ultimately help you to live a fuller, healthier, kinder life.
It is my hope that you can breathe through whatever emotions this letter brings up and allow yourself to listen to your heart, to know where this is coming from, and what’s really going on. I hope you can see how much better you can be.
I’m sorry it took me so long to share this with you.
I thank you for reading my side of this story.
I wish you all the best as you move forward on your journey.
A few notes:
My two biggest fears with making this public are that a. people will say, nothing even happened, & b. how could you have been stupid enough to go back?! I tell & ask myself the same things all the time. To address the first point, I direct you to this quote by Tarana J. Burke, founder of the #metoo movement, regarding the concept of comparative suffering. "The thing that it left you with is what matters... the details don't matter". This came up in her podcast episode with Brené Brown, Unlocking Us: on Being Heard and Seen, at 76:55. To address the second, I direct you to this article in The New Yorker which includes the following:
And so you might conclude that you need to redeem the encounter within a narrative that you may not like but in which you can at least actively participate. This might mean... staying friendly with the man in the hopes that you’ll find out that he actually did value you, and he wasn’t just hoping for access to your body. Or even trying to get something out of the transaction, whatever you can. This looks like weakness, but it’s an attempt to gain control.
Since writing this letter in 2019, I have learned of two other individuals who have experienced similar instances of behaviour with the person this letter is addressed to. Since publishing it, I have learned of two more. This brings the known number to six. I am certain there are more than that. To the unnamed Toronto choreographer this letter is meant to address, I would like to direct you to my previous blog post: #metoo: A Starting Point.
Thank you for reading & to all who have expressed their support. Let's make this community safe.