Brazil dance studio has moves for every body type
SAN PAULO, Brazil – White or black, skinny or fat, frizzy-haired or straight: at the Marvelous Women dance academy in Brazil, the only thing that can be said of the average class is that there is no average.
"Here, nobody criticizes anybody," is the mantra students learn on their first day at the Sao Paulo studio, launched by theater actress Grazi Meyer in 2016 to give women of all backgrounds and body types a space to enjoy dance.
The academy – called "Maravilhosas" in Portuguese – offers pole dancing classes for all shapes and sizes, and also specially tailored classes for body types that are typically underrepresented in the dance world, not to mention magazines, billboards and screens.
There is "MarvelBlack," the dance "conceived by and for black bodies," and "MarvelPlus," the dance "conceived by and for big bodies."
Students dance barefoot, in short shorts and tight tops, unconcerned with cellulite, stretch marks or body shape.
The result is at once liberating and empowering, they say.
"Our bodies carry our stories and our histories," Meyer, 41, tells students.
"When we start to understand our bodies, where they come from and what they represent, we start to see them differently."
Fighting back through dance
Meyer says her goal is to help students not just understand and enjoy their bodies, but use that experience to free themselves from harmful ideas about beauty and a woman's place in the world.
Women should feel free to dress and be however they want, she insists.
It is still a radical message in a country with a deep-rooted culture of machismo and shocking levels of violence against women: a femicide is committed in Brazil every 7 hours, according to data compiled by news site G1 ahead of International Women's Day on Sunday.
Aggressive behavior toward women who stray from the norm permeates Brazilian society – whether it is the Uber driver who recently justified his sexual harassment of a teenage client by saying she was wearing revealing clothes, or far-right President Jair Bolsonaro's statement, before becoming president, that a female lawmaker who opposed him was "not worth raping."
Meyer's message to her students is: "We are subjects, not objects."
"If someone harasses you or stares at you in a way that makes you uncomfortable, don't think it's your fault. You have the right to dress how you want and go where you like," she says.
"Machismo isn't our problem. It's men's problem."
Big, black... and a model
Fernanda Ferrao, one of Meyer's first students, says enrolling at the academy was a life-changing moment.
A 30-year-old black woman, she has learned to be proud of her size and embrace her kinky hair, which she used to straighten.
A journalist by training, Ferrao says the classes inspired her to do something completely unexpected: become a model.
She is now the public face of one of Brazil's biggest fitness center chains.
"I'm fat, I weigh 100 kilos (220 pounds), and I learned that I didn't have to be skinny to live my life," she says.
"Ironically, I now have a job based on the thing I liked least about myself: my appearance.
Her friend and fellow student Cintia Ramos, 30, has undergone a similar transformation.
"Before, I didn't like my body or the things about my appearance that are 'black,'" she says, sporting newly frizzy hair.
The classes, Ferrao says, "changed the way I look at myself in the mirror." – Rappler.com