THE MOMENT WAS FINALLY HERE.

I WAS ABOUT TO ENTER THE FAMOUS SAMBADROME IN RIO DE JANEIRO FOR THE VERY LAST TIME AS A MUSE.

My heart pounded loudly in my chest and my legs started to tremble. Even though I knew what to expect this time around, I still couldn’t calm my nerves.

They say that when a performer stops getting nervous before a show, it’s because they don’t care anymore. I guess I still cared a lot.

But what I cared most about at this very moment was the weather.

Lightning was still piercing the sky above, and deafening claps of thunder continued to rattle everyone’s already-frayed nerves.

Please Iansa, almighty goddess of the weather, just cut me a tiny break! I only need half an hour to get down the (open air) avenue without getting totally drenched. I’d REALLY appreciate not ruining my ridiculously expensive feathers, or slipping in my 8-inch boots and breaking a leg. Muito obrigada!

In a last minute stroke of good fortune, my desperate prayers were finally answered when, just as I was about to enter the avenue, the sky suddenly cleared and the rain eased off just enough to allow the most important night of Carnival, and of my career, to finally begin.

Lady Luck had finally arrived!

Imperio Serrano, one of Rio’s oldest and most traditional Samba schools, had the honour of opening the parade for the top division of Carnival that night, and I was the first International Muse on the avenue.

After waiting anxiously by the sidelines for the signal from my school to get into position, I was hastily placed between two ‘alas’ (aisles) and luckily for me, not in front of a float again (as I almost got run over the last time!)

As I heard the first chords of our school anthem over the loud speakers, all of my nervousness evaporated and I was overcome with happiness.

It was finally happening! The night I had been working so hard towards, and had imagined in my mind a thousand times over, was here!

My magnificent costume weighed a tonne, but I felt like a million dollars and was determined to perform for the pure joy of dance, and the incredible opportunity I had been blessed with to be able to be in this very unique position once again.

No one and nothing was going to affect me tonight. I have been through so much to get here, and apart from breaking a leg (please God no!), there was nothing that I was afraid of anymore.

Getting ready to enter the Sambadrome

Amongst the thrill and excitement that I now felt at reaching yet another epic goal, there was also a bittersweet feeling as I remembered my dear friend Sara who had recently passed away.

I had promised I would dedicate my performance to her this evening, and as I looked up to the sky to send her a silent message, I was overcome with emotion.

It’s interesting how the death of a loved one completely changes your perspective on life.

Things that used to be important, or used to upset or worry me, now slid away as I looked down the avenue towards the hundreds of thousands of onlookers, and prepared to make my entrance.

As the bright lights shone down on me and I took my first initial steps into the mighty Sambadrome, I suddenly had flashes of long-lost memories appear before my eyes:

* The very first time I flew over the ‘cidade maravilhosa’ (marvellous city) of Rio 16 years ago, mouth-agape in awe at her unrivalled beauty, and the feeling of immense excitement that I was about to discover a brand new country, culture and language, and begin my journey to conquer my dance dreams

* Followed by the immense loneliness I felt after months living alone in Rio, trying to learn Portuguese and find my way around the enormous city, and the mental frustration and physical pain of training my body to move in ways that it never had before

Flying over Rio for the first time was breathtaking

* The first time I locked eyes with my future husband, and spending blissful summer evenings dancing Samba de Gafieira to live music at beautiful, old dance halls around Rio

* Followed by my now ex-husband saying that I’d never amount to anything in life, let alone become a professional Brazilian dancer, and all of my previous boyfriends who had tried to stop me from following my dance dream

* The dance teachers over the years who had believed in my talent and nurtured my skills, as well as the Rio dancers who had introduced me to their beautiful culture, and taught me about the history, music and community behind Samba

* Followed by those who had kept me waiting for hours in the searing sun at the base of a slum, or never bothered to show up to classes I’d travelled hours to get to (or have the consideration to let me know they couldn’t make it), or refused to teach me because I wasn’t Brazilian, or charged me through the roof and not taught me anything I didn’t already know

Showing off my very first Samba costume back in 2005

* The time that I almost got deported from Brazil (and banned from returning for a decade) when I trusted an agent to renew my visa and was conned into paying AU$1000 for a fake document

* Followed by the feeling of utter relief and immense pride when I was able to use my Portuguese language skills to convince the Federal Police and Immigration that I was tricked by the above agent, and to let me stay in Rio for another year to continue my dance studies

* The many Brazilians over the years who thought that just because I was a gringa, it was ok to rip me off, lie to me, abuse my trust and use my innocence to elevate themselves

* Followed by the many Brazilians over the years who didn’t know me from a bar of soap, but went out of their way to assist me, take care of me and show me kindness, compassion and inclusion

* All of the people who said I couldn’t do it, or tried to sabotage me in the process, or pretend to be my friend so they could leverage off my hard work, and all of the friends I had to let go of along the way as they ended up being jealous of my success

* All of the times I’ve had to prove to clients, students and business partners the value of my experience and the prices I charge

* All of the difficult women I’ve had to deal with over the years at Rio Samba schools, on my tours, in my classes, in my show teams, in business dealings and online (bullying)

* Followed by all of incredible women I have met and had the pleasure of working with, teaching or introducing Brazil to over the past 16 years, and who have been my constant cheer squad and source of motivation and inspiration

I’ve met, taught and worked with so many amazing people on this journey

* All of the times I was so hard on myself and my body, even though I always found the courage to follow through with my goals, and my body was always there to support me in doing so

* All of the times I compared my beauty, body, dance technique, intelligence, financial status and business achievements to others, and subsequently fell into bouts of depression

* Followed by all of the beautiful, unexpected messages I received from fellow dancers and even business competitors from around the world when I started sharing my experiences via this blog, and how I was able to pull myself out of the dumps due to their support

One of the many beautiful messages I have received from around the world

* All of the times I’ve had to choose between spending time with family, friends and my partner, going on holidays and buying a house, in order to reinvest my money, time and energy back into my business to achieve my goals, and to always keep Sambaliscious up to date with the changing trends of the Samba world

* All of the times I’ve hit rock bottom, lost sight of my vision and almost given it all up, and the most harrowing time of my life when I was on the brink of suicide due to a domestically violent marriage

* Followed by all of the spectacular memories I have created, the incredible family and partner I have been blessed with, the true friends I have made and the deep pride I now have in myself for achieving everything I set out to do, despite all of the seemingly insurmountable obstacles

So, with my head held high knowing I truly had done my very best to get here tonight, I gathered all of my remaining strength (after being so ill in the lead up to Carnival), held these precious memories close to my heart and tuned into the hypnotic beats of a 500-strong drum squad as I made my way down the famous Samba avenue for my final time as Muse.

I am enough. I have always been enough and I will always be enough.

It no longer matters what anyone else thinks about me.

Now, I am finally able to dance for myself.

Prologue:

If my journey can teach you one thing, I hope it’s that if you truly desire something with all of your heart and soul, there really is NOTHING in this world that can stop you from achieving it, except for yourself.

So get out of your own way, focus on your vision, make a strategic plan, put in the daily work and surround yourself with only positive, uplifting and supportive people who will guide you along the way and celebrate your journey with you.

I can’t wait to see you live the life you were born to!

You can do it!