More

As a little girl, abuse made her ashamed of her body. Then she decided to dance.

The ballet world can be hard for dancers' relationships with their bodies. But for her, it saved her sense of herself.

As a little girl, abuse made her ashamed of her body. Then she decided to dance.

Ophélia is a 16-year-old ballerina — and a survivor of sexual abuse.

She started ballet several years after her abuse ended and was amazed at how deeply dance healed her.


Through ballet, she rejected her abuser's shaming and reclaimed her body as her own sacred space. She even was able to feel comfortable doing partnered dance with a young man.

Now she travels around the world studying dance and advocates for victims of sexual violence in her home community.

Her story, in her own words, is below. It's long, but trust me. It's worth the read.

If you know of anyone who has struggled with body image or recovery from abuse of any kind — or who could just appreciate the healing power of dance — scroll to the bottom to share Ophélia's story.

It may be just the inspiration someone needs today.


Sexual Abuse, Body Image, and The Healing Power of Dance

by Ophélia Martin-Weber

Ballet requires dedication, strength, confidence, bravery, endurance, grace, hope, joy, passion, concentration, memory, self-esteem, flexibility, knowing who you are, critical analysis, adaptability, ability to learn quickly, pain tolerance, and eventually, really ugly feet. Sometimes, when I take a step back, I wonder why anyone would put themselves through this, especially girls today. You put on a leotard and tights that reveal your body shape and form completely, move around in front of others, and constantly have people tell how you are doing it wrong. Judgment, judgment, judgment. Rejection. Why would anyone put up with that?

But I know why. When I dance, I feel free.

I started dancing when I was 11 years old. It was all I wanted for my 11th birthday, and I promised my parents I would never ask for an MP3 player or iPhone or even a car ever again if I could start ballet classes. If they wouldn't put me in classes, because ballet is very expensive and I knew we didn't have the funds for real classes, I asked for ballet in a box, a video and books to follow, so I could teach myself. My parents decided that maybe they should make real ballet classes happen. Starting ballet at 11 is pretty late, so I was the tallest kid in my level 1 class. Most of the other students were 7 & 8 years old. I stuck out like an awkward sore thumb. Except, I loved it. Nine months later I went en pointe and a year after that I was invited to join my studio's Company Two. I really started to get serious about ballet. A secret hope began to bloom that maybe I could do ballet professionally. My instructors and my parents kept encouraging me, telling me that I had talent. Tall for my age, at the time, and all gangly arms and legs, ballet just felt right in my body. In a leotard and tights, when dancing, I was so oblivious of my technique, I just felt free. Being able to move in such a different way was liberating. The music, the movements, and the lack of fear were and still are my favorite things in the world.

I didn't use the mirror to watch myself. I didn't like to look in the mirror.

I still don't, honestly. Seeing myself made me uncomfortable. I thought I wasn't pretty, and I didn't look as graceful as I felt, but the studio mirror is one of the main tools a dancer has to work on their art. Eventually I had to face myself. It wasn't easy.

When I was 5, long before I was dancing, I went through a very traumatic experience that changed my family, changed me, and trapped me in a secret bondage. I became more aware of bad things in the world and terrified of just about everything in life as a result of the sexual assault I experienced at the hands of a family friend. A teenage boy whose family had been very close with my family repeatedly abused me before my parents found out and put a stop to it.

There's a lot I don't remember, but I do remember different scenes. Mostly I remember fear and shame. Shame was the primary tool the boy used to control me, telling me my parents wouldn't love me if they found out, that they would spank me, and that I deserved what he did to me. He threatened to hurt my family if I ever told. To this day, even with lots and lots of counseling, I still struggle with that fear and shame.

But, when I dance, I feel free.

This is me at my first pointe shoe fitting, 9 months after I started taking weekly ballet classes.

My 11-year-old self just wanted to dance because it was fun. What I didn't know was that ballet would also be healing. If I'm having a bad day, even if I don't want to go in the studio and dance, I almost always feel better when I do. On the dance floor, I'm distracted from whatever stress I'm dealing with at the time. It is just a one on one conversation with me, my teacher and my body. Even if I'm struggling with a specific technique or choreography, when I'm at the barre or in center, I don't have to focus on anything else but that moment with the music and my body. Frustration, fear, anger, I can squash them on the dance floor, sweat them out of my system, leap over them to music. I never imagined that it could so healing, sometimes dance feels as important to my vitality as breathing. Dance is my favorite therapy. I feel so alive and free when I dance, even with other people's steps.

You may not think that a sexual abuse survivor would find healing in putting on a leotard and displaying her body for others to judge but that's exactly what my journey has been.

Learning to trust my partners and feel comfortable dancing with young men, teen boys, has helped me develop a confidence in communicating what I am comfortable with. This past Christmas season as I danced the Dewdrop Fairy in The Nutcracker, my first full partnering role onstage, I had to deal with my insecurities regarding my body and trusting someone else to touch me. Communication is key in a ballet pas de deux. My partner patiently supported me until I was fully comfortable with our performance. Ballet has given me so many opportunities to address my insecurities and know who I really am. I'm not done growing, and I have a long way to go still, but any time I put on my slippers or pointe shoes I feel like I'm getting closer.

Because when I dance, I feel free.

Ballet is notorious for criticizing the bodies of dancers. There is a lot of pressure to be a certain body type. When my boobs began to really grow, I got scared that they would be too big for dance. As my hips widened a little bit and I was no longer just skinny arms and legs, I was nervous about being the wrong body type. This is still a fear for me, and I'm pretty sure I didn't get into a couple of the programs I auditioned for recently because of my body. Still, I am learning more and more to appreciate the strengths of my body, even as I discipline myself in training it, even as I am careful about how I fuel it. This body of mine can do amazing things. I have strong jumps that are powered by my thighs. While I didn't get into some programs, I did get into others and have new opportunities I never imagined. I have my teachers, training, and yes, even my body to thank for that.

Life isn't all rainbows and butterflies in ballet, there are politics, drama, blisters, muscle pain, injury, and sometimes fear and shame. I've moved studios four times in just five years of dance, recently losing my mentor due to politics, a loss that sent me into a month-long depression during a crucial audition season. Those are gifts, too, and I've learned how to fight through the hard stuff because the beauty and freedom I find within the art form is so fulfilling. I have moments where I consider walking away but I'm more me with ballet and I'm grateful my parents and others helped me get to the barre to remember that. There are hard times in life, times when we will bleed, times when we will be left, times when we will be injured and feel like we can't go on. I've learned how to go on thanks to ballet.

It has been five years since I started ballet in that weekly class where I stood a good head or two taller than everyone else. It has been ten and a half years since my sexual abuse when I became a very scared and timid little girl filled with shame, silenced into hiding my pain. Now, I speak out, I challenge myself and those around me to consider how our culture enables abuse. I am learning how not to live in fear and shame. Hopefully, I will reach my goal of becoming a professional ballerina, but either way, I will never stop dancing.

For when I dance, I am free.
True

Anne Hebert, a marketing writer living in Austin, TX, jokes that her closest friends think that her hobby is "low-key harassment for social good". She authors a website devoted entirely to People Doing Good Things. She's hosted a yearly canned food drive with up to 150 people stopping by to donate, resulting in hundreds of pounds of donations to take to the food bank for the past decade.

"I try to share info in a positive way that gives people hope and makes them aware of solutions or things they can do to try to make the world a little better," she said.

For now, she's encouraging people through a barrage of persistent, informative, and entertaining emails with one goal in mind: getting people to VOTE. The thing about emailing people and talking about politics, according to Hebert, is to catch their attention—which is how lice got involved.

"When my kids were in elementary school, I was class parent for a year, which meant I had to send the emails to the other parents. As I've learned over the years, a good intro will trick your audience into reading the rest of the email. In fact, another parent told me that my emails always stood out, especially the one that started: 'We need volunteers for the Valentine's Party...oh, and LICE.'"

Hebert isn't working with a specific organization. She is simply trying to motivate others to find ways to plug in to help get out the vote.

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Keep Reading Show less
via KrustyKhajiit / YouTube

Thomas F. Wilson played one of the most recognizable villains in film history, Biff Tannen, in the "Back to the Future" series. So, understandably, he gets recognized wherever he goes for the iconic role.

The attention must be nice, but it has to get exhausting answering the same questions day in and day out about the films. So Wilson created a card that he carries with him to hand out to people that answers all the questions he gets asked on a daily basis.

Keep Reading Show less
Courtesy of FIELDTRIP
True

The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected diverse communities due largely in part to social factors such as inadequate access to housing, income, dietary options, education and employment — all of which have been shown to affect people's physical health.

Recognizing that inequity, Harlem-based chef JJ Johnson sought out to help his community maximize its health during the pandemic — one grain at a time.

Johnson manages FIELDTRIP, a health-focused restaurant that strives to bring people together through the celebration of rice, a grain found in cuisines of countless cultures.

"It was very important for me to show the world that places like Harlem want access to more health-conscious foods," Johnson said. "The people who live in Harlem should have the option to eat fresh, locally farmed and delicious food that other communities have access to."

Lack of education and access to those healthy food options is a primary driver of why 31% of adults in Harlem are struggling with obesity — the highest rate of any neighborhood in New York City and 7% higher than the average adult obesity rate across the five boroughs.

Obesity increases risk for heart disease or diabetes, which in turn leaves Harlem's residents — who are 76% Black or LatinX — at heightened risk for complications with COVID-19.

Keep Reading Show less

Sometimes a politician says or does something so brazenly gross that you have to do a double take to make sure it really happened. Take, for instance, this tweet from Lauren Witzke, a GOP candidate for the U.S. Senate from Delaware. Witzke defeated the party's endorsed candidate to win the primary, has been photographed in a QAnon t-shirt, supports the conspiracy theory that 9/11 was a U.S. government inside operation, and has called herself a flat earther.

So that's neat.

Witzke has also proposed a 10-year total halt on immigration to the U.S., which is absurd on its face, but makes sense when you see what she believes about immigrants. In a tweet this week, Witzke wrote, "Most third-world migrants can not assimilate into civil societies. Prove me wrong."

First, let's talk about how "civil societies" and developing nations are not different things, and to imply that they are is racist, xenophobic, and wrong. Not to mention, it has never been a thing to refer people using terms like "third-world." That's a somewhat outdated term for developing nations, and it was never an adjective to describe people from those nations even when it was in use.

Next, let's see how Twitter thwapped Lauren Witzke straight into the 21st century by proving her wrong in the most delicious way. Not only did people share how they or their relatives and friends have successfully "assimilated," but many showed that they went way, way beyond that.

Keep Reading Show less
via WatchMojo / YouTube

There are two conflicting viewpoints when it comes to addressing culture from that past that contains offensive elements that would never be acceptable today.

Some believe that old films, TV shows, music or books with out-of-date, offensive elements should be hidden from public view. While others think they should be used as valuable tools that help us learn from the past.

Keep Reading Show less