The CASSANDRA project: Jarina Carvalho

In ancient Greek mythology Cassandra was cursed by the god of reason and logic, Apollo, to always speak the truth and never be believed. She represents intuition, and her myth reflects western society’s devaluation of divine feminine knowledge.

The CASSANDRA Project is intended as a space for Cassandras in our community to speak their truth. It’s a space for female-identifying myth-busters to speak out and up for women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized peoples. While there are many columns and blogs that focus on women whose success is defined by the patriarchal values of wealth, power and prestige within the system, this column is dedicated to celebrating women for just being, a political act in and of itself in today’s world. It is a space to share the ways in which female-identifying people have maintained their relationship to the divine feminine forces of intuition and creativity outside the status quo, and in spite of male dominated industries and patriarchal systems. 

This column is about, for and dedicated to all of the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn. 

Jarina Carvalho, Artistic Director of Live Oak Dance
Ballet and Master at the Marigny Opera Ballet. (Photo: Bobby Bonsey)

CASSANDRA#3: Jarina Carvalho

A native of Brazil and American citizen since 2011, Jarina began training with Ballet Vera Bublitz. She moved to the US on full scholarship for the School of American Ballet in NYC, and began her professional career with Dance Theater of Harlem. She is the founder and owner of Live Oak Dance where she teaches professional ballet instruction in a flexible, friendly environment. 

Astrological Sign: Cancer

Favorite time of Day: I love napping at 2pm

Natural Habitat: My garden

Most easily elicited emotion: Anger

Favorite Potion: Oils 

What is your connection to your ancestry or a woman in your life whom you’ve gained a lot of wisdom from? How do you continue that lineage?

I was close to both of my grandmothers even though they lived in different cities. I feel we connected through food. And the many amazing meals we shared. I like to cook, I have their recipes and treasure their memory.

I also had a meditation teacher my entire dance career that was an important mentor. Her name is Colleen but her spiritual name is Valli.

I used to live in Harlem. There was a beautiful church with a massive tower, and she would rent a room inside for her open meditation classes. That’s how we met. I needed something to keep myself sane while dancing in a new country. When the seasons changed the light coming from outside changed too.  We would, sometimes, meditate right at sunset.  It was beautiful! Her wisdom combined with that moment of peacefulness and no judgement really helped me to be the person I am today.

When I was a dancer, I would meditate every morning and evening, and see Colleen twice a week. 

Since I moved to New Orleans and had a son, it became challenging to devote a space in my house for that kind of practice, and the feeling of needing to meditate left me. However, I try and do meditative movement that incorporates the breath, and there are many of her lessons that I pass on to my students. 

She taught us to make lists. A list is a materialization of goals and things you want. You should always have three lists. A list for the week with tasks like doing laundry that are easy to achieve and you can cross off. This list allows you to materialize your desires.

The second list is for the season and allows you to make something happen over a three-month period without the pressure of needing to realize it right away.

The final list is for a really massive goal ten years down the road. For the longest time having a school was on my long-term list, and now I have it!

I pass this on to students because it’s a chaotic world. 

Another bit of her wisdom is when you go on a trip clean your closet. This way the person that comes back from the trip is welcomed by the person that left. 

You are not going to be the same person after a journey. Leave something special for the new person.

Jarina with her students. (Photo: Jackson Hill)

Many women I have spoken to feel a pressure to wear many hats and juggle many identities; wife, mother, caretaker, career woman, volunteer, best friend etc. From movies, to literature, to our grammar, society instills that women exist in relation to others. How do you connect with the idea that you are allowed to just BE? That living and honoring your inner truth is enough?

That’s a really good question. I feel like I have lived many lives. My Brazilian life, my dance life, my New Orleans life – which is highly tied to marriage and having a child. 

Of all those lives I lived my Brazilian life the most for other people, for my parents. My mother lived vicariously through me a little.

When I had my son Gabriel for at least five years I was his. I did not have an identity any more. I did not work for a year, and when I started working again, I paid for the babysitter to take care of him. I literally made no money. 

It was a huge sacrifice. I only have one child and I would not have another.  I love him, but I think we have an erroneous idea that somebody has to make that sacrifice. 

A friend told me she hires a nanny to do all the “mommy” work because she wants to be a daddy. She has the nanny cook and clean, so she can focus on other things. That is an option.

I didn’t do that.  When I was not working after he was born, I was a full-time mom in the house cleaning and cooking. I didn’t like it. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make, but I do not want to do it again.

The tough part of this question is you are enough. My husband travels frequently, and he took my son last weekend to visit grandparents. I did not know what to do with myself! 

I’m boring. I sit at home and watch movies. I don’t know if this is intrinsic culturally with how women are brought up, but I don’t see myself as an individual dis-connected. 

I do feel really fortunate that my work is something that takes a huge chunk of my life, and I care deeply about. The studio has never been in the red; however, I am just now able to make a living out of it. I feel its’s a double-edged sword. Fun work is often not compensated well; yet, many people who get to make a good living hate their job. I’m in a place of privilege where I was able to survive with a very small profit for two years while building a base of students for the studio.

Jarina with her son. (Photo: Jarina)

How is your body in contact with the world?

I had a beautiful body when I was a ballerina. It was the thing that most people gravitated towards. Not my strength as a dancer, but the beauty of my body. So that has maybe been a crutch for a long time. I’d just point my feet and people would swoon.

As I grew older, I did not want to maintain a dancer’s body. I wanted to live a life that was full. I wanted to go out and eat. I am not ashamed of my new shape. I’m very comfortable in my own body.  I do not want to worry about fitting some idea of a ballet body.  This has always felt very liberating. 

However, when I transitioned from that ballerina lifestyle into living here in New Orleans my health deteriorated. The myth that would be easy to believe is that I lived my younger years too hard and now I’m paying a price for it. However, genetics is probably the real answer. I got genes for fabulous feet but also lactose intolerance.

I enjoy being healthy, so I have to be really disciplined…when one of the pieces of the Jenga is out of whack I try to make sure I can remedy [it]. It’s funny, but now any time I explore some options for trimming up or fitness, I get sick. That is my body speaking to me and telling me that phase in my life is over.

As a dancer you take so many chances. If it’s been a long day and you haven’t eaten, you choose sleep over food. You don’t pay attention to your hydration. I’ve done all of it. I pushed the limit. When I was a dancer, I didn’t have a weight problem. I didn’t have to do anything violent to stay in shape. I was healthy enough so even when I was not being totally kind to myself, I didn’t break. 

Now any little thing gets me. 

What is your favorite body part and why?

My feet. They gave me my career. 

I still have pictures circulating from 1998 because of my feet. 

How do you practice self love?

It changes. For a long time, gardening. Now all I have time to do is toss the seeds and hope. 

When I moved to New Orleans self-love was food. I’m a self-proclaimed foodie. When we go on trips, I want to try new cuisines. I enjoy eating. It brings me joy to sit at a table and have a glass of wine and eat with other people. 

This summer we did dramatic make up for a show at the studio. Some girls wore red eye shadow all the way to their head, others a white butterfly effect. I discovered I really enjoy make up!  My skin is sensitive, so for many years I did not wear any. We did research to figure out what was going to be good for everyone, and I found out the quality of makeup now a days is so much better than before. It is actually good to wear a foundation that has SPF and evens out my tones. 

I started wearing it and getting compliments. It feels a little bit like I’m looking for outside re-enforcement, but it makes me feel great.  When I put the foundation on, I don’t have dark circles under my eyes. There is an element of creativity to it, and I have been enjoying playing around with that. I had to check how much I was spending, because it quickly became an art project. I watched YouTube videos for pointers but ultimately had to figure out what fit me.

If you could go back and speak to a younger version of yourself what would you tell her?

Seek out more mentors. 

I think when a young person comes with a good honest question to somebody that is older, they will make the time to give a good answer. When I was a dancer there was so much I did not know. If I had aligned myself with more people that could point me in the right direction I would have, probably, done better. 

I’m not a frustrated dancer. I feel very happy with my career; however, I was a young person working in a very competitive environment, living very far away from any sense of cultural normalcy. So just to get where I did was amazing.  I realize now I needed guidance and someone that cared about dance to ask questions. I just never thought about that!

Now I’m on the other end trying to mentor people. If someone actually shows interest I have so much to share. 


You can learn more about Jarina Carvalho and her dance on her website:


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