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 intuitive 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, 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.
Astrological sign: Virgo
Favorite time of day: Morning
Natural habitat: any warm sunny place!
Most easily elicited emotion: Surprise
Favorite potion: Cacao
Sara Silva is a Portuguese dance artist, choreographer and educator living in Porto, Portugal.
What is your connection to your ancestry or a woman in your life whom you gained a lot of wisdom from? How do you continue that lineage?
I feel very connected to my mom and her family. It’s matriarchal. Women rule. Men have a very special role; for example, my grandfather provided a good living, but we all know that the boss was my grandma. It was the same with her mother. I have a family of strong Portuguese women – very rational and solid. I also grew up very close to my sister; she is my adventures partner. My parents both worked. I feel very lucky that I have an older sister who in many ways participated in raising me. Until the age of 10 we were inseparable and after adolescence became best friends.
The women in my family instilled in me how important honesty is. Even if you are not accepted or loved for your honesty, it is always better to be honest. This is something my mom always told me.
When I was a young teenager I would smoke the occasional cigarette once a year and hide it from my parents. One time my mom found me. She told me it is better to tell a bad truth than a beautiful lie. That was heartbreaking for me, and I started to question where I am honest and where I am not. She had asked me about smoking before and I had always been dishonest because I did not want to disappoint her, but in that moment I realized it was even worse to lie.
There is a pressure to be liked. There is a pressure to be someone that everyone loves, and whom is accepted and follows the rules. However, this person can also find herself in a box contained like a Barbie. I was never a Barbie.
What is your relationship with time? How does it relate to your female identity?
In the past two years I started to value my time. Me time. What is important to me. I reserve my mornings to do something for myself. Time to do yoga, meditate, be with my dog, or my sister or friends. This is something that I value and protect. It is sacred. It is no one else’s. I do not have to prepare a lesson, or study, or run an errand. This has really changed me.
Here in Porto, it feels like culturally it is very difficult to be punctual. Fashionably late is normal, but that often means around 45 minutes tardy. Even in the school I teach at we will still not have schedules the week before class begins, or I will be told the administration decided yesterday that I will have a show in two weeks. In the moment it is easy to panic, but I feel it results in a culture that functions and stays in the present. I think in Porto the value of time is how you grab the opportunities that come and accept the challenge they bring while carrying on with your life. It requires a very generous form of flexibility and presence, which are female values – though sometimes it gets pushed to an unhealthy extreme here.
Can you recollect a time you felt pressured to perform a role that did not feel authentic to yourself? How did you handle it? What did you learn from it?
I feel everyone has to pass through that moment in life. It is part of growing. My teenage years were brilliant for performing roles I didn’t really know if I wanted to be performing and feeling a pressure to be someone I was not certain I was. At that age you have not figured yourself out yet. Those teen years were very challenging for me. I always felt like I had to be unique, and at the same time I had to be myself, and often felt a pressure to be someone different.
For example, I really liked to be with boys because I have a lot of energy. I always wanted to play ball or be running. For me, it was super exciting to play with boys. My girl friends would judge though and call me heartbreaker. I was just playing athletic games, but this was a challenge to my social context and sense of acceptance. It was very difficult to overcome. One gets labeled so fast when you are young. Later as an adult you reflect on your fears and realize many come from that time when you were branded.
I work with this age now. I teach dance and choreographic composition to high school students. There is a fascinating shift when a teenage girl first menstruates. Her attitude toward everyone else transforms. Before, girls have very childish exchanges, and then when they go through this change they look at the world around them differently. There is a communion and a sense of protection between them. It strongly changes their dancing.
Something I find curious in my teaching is that girls usually quit dance around that time – or they need a break. Life is too overwhelming. They often stop looking at things from the playful side. They need to be more serious and need space. There is not enough time, not enough privacy. They start thinking more like adults.
So right as they become more mature in movement, they want to stop.
They usually come back. Two or three years later very determined that they love to dance. Which is very curious because they liked to dance before. I always inquire what has changed for them.
Often it seems they do not want to look at themselves – because when they do it is from a place of criticism. They mistake this inner judgement for the value of dance.
Dance is good for them. I try and remind them of what they loved because it is very easy to let that go. There is pressure to go to university. It is valued as more serious than dance. If a student has always wanted to dance and is a dancer I feel it is important to remind them how they felt when they were dancing so they have options. It is important to keep them connected to their creativity.
I knew I wanted to be a dancer since I was three. During my teens I quit in March and came back in September, but even breaking for those few months was a big deal for me.
Stopping is hard on the body – especially when your body is changing. For me, the most important thing in teaching is communication. So the more I make myself accessible for them to come talk to me about anything they want, the more they feel they can return safely. If I give too much positive reinforcement it backfires. They are not children. They are adults. The key is changing the language to challenge them. Reminding them why they liked something – and challenging them to see how much further they can go.
Something I always felt I needed when I was their age was to maintain interaction between the student and teacher outside the studio. So I provide this for my students. We can talk about anything. Boyfriend, pet bird, whatever they want or need.
What do you do for self care? What are your strategies for being able to support these young people?
I find that to give you also have to get back something from somewhere.
Teaching is giving. When I teach too much without doing my own practice, fitness, or yoga I get pretty anxious and somewhat depressive. I drain myself every day teaching. So now I have a program for my body. I do functional training that makes me feel really strong. I have a lot of energy, and so I need to feel the strength of it. Then I do the opposite on the other days of the week. Yoga and breathing, plus self care rituals.
I also started practicing taking a weekend out of my usual context. I discovered if I relax in my own city I just work through the weekend. I prepare classes, or productions. So once a month we take the weekend and go somewhere. It doesn’t matter where. Just for a day to get out of our phones, and computers, and research. We take a book – not a dance book. A normal book. And the dog. It’s good.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative practice? How/where does that intersect with being a woman and your female identity?
I cannot disassociate the artist from the teacher from the work. It is all connected. For me, it is very important to care. I like to take care of people. This is often a very feminine quality, a very yin characteristic. When I choreograph I try to do that with the students or dancers.
Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to be in the world.”
This is my mantra. When I’m working with students I invite them to invoke a theme. It is not me imposing something on them, unless I have been requested to work on something specific. Even teaching class or starting a new work I like to work from the dancers as source.
My last project addressed bullying and began because I wanted to speak about violence in relationships. It came from a personal experience from a long time ago. Then one of my students, who is in university, confessed to me he was suffering from bullying because he was a boy and a dancer. This was really shocking. We started to analyze the behaviors in class and realized there was a lot of violence. So we started to address that. How do we behave toward each other? How do we care? This all came from them. How can we transform a space? How can we become better human beings through dance? Its a controlled environment. We are ten. It is easier than changing an entire city, yet, it is a small gesture that can ripple far.
For me, it’s not about the success of the work externally – how beautiful the piece is or how good it was. Its about the process. What happened between these people when we were working together? Yes, we did create a beautiful product. But what changed in them? How did we interact with each other? This is the most important part of any project for me.
I tend to dive into months of research, taking every opportunity to speak, hear and study about the theme, until I have embodied it. It’s always on my mind, no matter what I am doing, as if by being present with it I will find solutions for the dance studio.
There is a lot of pressure to make work and work that is good.
I don’t care. I want people who pass by me in life to be touched in a way they can take into their lives. They have an impact on me. I want to have the same impact. I try my best to focus on the human exchange.
It brings me to a different place as an artist. I am always experimenting. Always in a place of discovery.
For example, yesterday I took in photos for my recent creation to use as choreographic tool with my students. It didn’t work at all. Nothing I brought in worked yesterday. So I had to pull three new ideas out of the air. We hit a point where I realized for them to understand the theme – refugees at sea – they have to understand what it feels like to try to reach something and not be able to.
So we tried a new task and finally they were feeling the photo. We went far away to circle back and find the truth. This also made me realize how impossible it is to dissociate an artist from the theme, somehow, they have to live it too.