So by now you’re probably thinking, ‘How on earth could this Aussie girl imagine she had the slightest chance of one day becoming an International Muse (the next highest position after the Queen of the school) in the world’s most glamourous parade, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival?’
Well, reflecting back on my journey, I now truly believe some things are simply your destiny, and despite the enormous obstacles and challenges that lay ahead (some I was aware of but most not!), something within me would not give up on my monumental dream of one day parading in the Sambadrome representing Australia and showcasing my dance skills for the whole world to see.
I know it’s cliché, but like anything in life, if you want it badly enough, you have to work for it. Every day. Day in, day out. Even on days you don’t want to – when you feel tired, sick, depressed, talentless, unattractive, unmotivated. You just need to get up out of bed and focus on that dream with tunnel vision, and commit to doing something that will help you get closer towards achieving it – no matter how far away it may seem.
I’ve always been creative and hard working, but when I made the decision to leave the corporate world in order to run my own business in the hope of one day achieving my dance dreams, I didn’t realise how important these two elements would be.
How was I going to train as a professional Samba dancer and support myself financially without having to return to a 9-5 job?
I had never studied business and didn’t come from a family of artists or entrepreneurs, so I didn’t have any point of reference when it came to starting my own business. My family were all teachers and at the time opposed to the idea of me leaving my secure job as an English language teacher with a good salary and (perceived) stability.
But I was miserable. I would wake up each morning and get ready for work with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart. All I knew was that I wanted to dance, and somehow I had to find a way to earn a living whilst doing it.
I also knew that after being married to a Brazilian dancer and having had to rely on him to perform shows and teach dance classes together, I wanted to be totally independent and have the power to make my own decisions at all times.
With so many doubts about the future and insecurities about the failures of my past still at the forefront of my mind, I was paralysed by fear. But I knew I couldn’t stay where I was. My soul was dying.
Hence Sambaliscious was born.
My dream was to teach women to dance – but most importantly – to connect with their femininity, self-confidence and personal power.
These were all of the things I had lost whilst being in an abusive marriage for so many years. They do say that you end up teaching what you need to learn most!
To be completely honest, the first 5 years of my business were a big mess, however they were also sprinkled with some magical moments. I really had no idea how to control my finances and where to invest my money, time and energy, how to train staff, how to separate personal and professional relationships, how to respond to criticism and complaints – all I knew was that I was passionate about dance, I was a great teacher and I knew how to connect with people.
However I wasn’t a great dancer. Not yet. That part came many years later after A LOT of training, discipline and mountains of blood, sweat and tears.
So, knowing I was good at breaking down complex movements and had the personality to make students feel uplifted and inspired, I focused on that. I also knew that women wanted to dress up and feel sexy and glamourous, so I created opportunities for student teams to work towards realistic goals of performing on stage for family and friends.
I would be lying if I didn’t say that at times I felt like a fraud. I only ever knew a little more than my students each class, I pretended that my business was making money by driving a nice car, wearing nice clothes and posting glamourous photos on social media, but underneath it all I was in huge debt and wrought by fear on a daily basis that I was going to fail in front of the whole industry and have to go back to my corporate job.
When I launched Sambaliscious, the entertainment industry was at its lowest (the boom of corporate parties was over and there was no budget for most companies to spend on events), so I would offer my services for free and pay my professional performers out of my own pocket. Nowadays I would never do this, but it seemed necessary at the time to get my name out there and make connections.
Later on, I would pay my performers much more than other show groups – whilst also choreographing the shows, rehearsing the girls, paying for studio hire and authentic (i.e. very expensive) costumes from Brazil, driving everyone around, hand washing all the costumes after the shows, spending hours doing all the admin – and end up going home empty handed and exhausted, but with the vision of continuing to build my brand and create a strong and supportive company culture.
As a result, Sambaliscious finally began to grow, but only after many years of 100 hour work weeks, no social life or salary paid to myself, and at the expense of my own personal dance progress. I was working so much on the business side of things that I had little time to develop my dance skills, and as a result, I put on weight and would only perform if absolutely necessary, and then only for student performances to support them. Suddenly I started to hear whispers on the dance scene that my students were better dancers than me (nowadays I know this to be a huge compliment!), but at the time I knew that if I wanted to continue in this industry, I had to forge a name for myself as a dancer and not just a businesswoman.
For the next 5 years I returned to Rio annually (at a great financial expense) on my quest to improve my dance skills and gain an edge as not only a Samba dancer, but also as an artist who understood the culture, language and history of Brazilian dance.
It was during these trips that I also formed invaluable relationships with people in the Carnival industry, and could therefore begin my Rio Carnival Tours. To date, I have taken 6 consecutive tours and shown over 150 foreign women the magical city of Samba – Rio de Janeiro!
My Carnival history
2012 – Imperio da Tijuca – General aisle
2013 – Imperio da Tijuca – General aisle (Rio Carnival champions this year)
2014 – Caprichosos de Pilares – My first time as a Destaque (principle dancer) on top of a float
2015 – Estacio de Sa – Performed on a group float with my Sambaliscious girls (Rio Carnival champions this year)
2016 – Paraiso do Tuiuti – Performed as a Destaque (Rio Carnival champions this year)
2017 – Estacio de Sa – Muse of the opening float of the parade for Rio’s oldest Samba school
So, if you have a dream – no matter how crazy it may seem or how many people might tell you it’s not possible – IT IS if you want it badly enough.
I’d like to hope that by sharing some of my story I have shown you that with hard work, focus, discipline and passion, you CAN achieve it.
“If you were born without wings, do nothing to prevent them from growing”
– Coco Chanel
Continue reading about my debut as Australia’s first International Muse in my next series: Journey to Samba Muse