It’s a searing hot January day in Rio (the city is affectionately known by locals as ‘Rio 40C’ for its epic summer heat waves) and I have finally arrived safe and sound after 30 hours of travel across numerous time zones and vast open oceans. Despite being exhausted and delirious from jet lag, I head straight to Ipanema and am blissfully greeted by the salty ocean air and spectacular landscape of one of the world’s most picturesque beaches.

O Rio de Janeiro continua lindo…

Oh Rio – my soul city and one true love. Despite all of your issues – crime, corruption, pollution and heartbreaking social inequalities – you continue to enchant me with your magical energy and take my breath away with your beauty, even after 16 years of gracing your shores.

I take a deep breath and dive deep into the chilly Atlantic sea. As I submerge, I close my eyes and ask Iemanja, the powerful Brazilian Goddess of the Sea, to protect me on this trip, and allow me to finally be able to truly express myself for the woman I have become once I step out onto the Samba avenue once again.

My previous blog ‘Journey to Samba Muse’ details the enormous physical and emotional journey I went on 2 years ago when I debuted as the very first Australian Muse in the history of Rio Carnival (if you haven’t read it, it will give you some context to this new blog series!)

As a foreigner entering a culture and community that is not my own, I suffered enormous prejudice, yet not just from the locals but surprisingly also from international dancers who wished to discredit my position and what it took to get where I did. Many comments flew around (and continue to do so) about how all you need to do to be a Muse is pay, (which is the case for both foreign and Brazilian Musas, unless you are from the ‘community’), and whilst I have always been very transparent with what it takes to be in this position, I also feel that no one really has any idea (or right to comment) about what it’s truly like until they undergo it themselves.

So why have I decided to do it all over again, when the last time was so stressful and riddled with so much external criticism and internal self doubt?

Let’s turn back the clock 2 years.

During my last trip to Rio in 2017, I simultaneously hosted the very first World Samba Congress + International Samba Queen Competition, my 7th annual Sambaliscious Rio Carnival Tour (with 35 participants from around the world) and debuted as Muse.

Despite the event being the first of its kind in the city of Samba, many of the locals were not impressed about it being run by a foreigner. My vision was to provide a safe environment for 100+ foreigners to experience workshops with Carnival Queens and Muses in a central location with facilities (such as clean toilets and air conditioning) and not have to make their way up into the slums alone in search of each of these teachers like I had had to do many times in the past.

To my complete surprise, I received so much backlash from people around the world (and in Brazil too) saying that my event wasn’t  ‘grassroots’ and criticising the International Samba Queen Competition as ‘inauthentic’, when in fact it was actually based on Rio’s Carnival Queen Competition and judged and supported by Rio’s Samba heavyweights including a Mae de Santo (Orisha Priestess – the highest position in Candomble), Rio’s Minister of Culture plus Queens of Rio’s top Samba schools including:

  • Evelyn Bastos – Mangueira
  • Raissa de Oliveira – Beija Flor
  • Milena Nogueira – Imperio Serrano
  • Tania de Oliveira – Ilha do Governador
  • Luana Bandeira – Estacio de Sa

As well as these incredible artists, I also invited the famous Porta Bandeira (Flag Bearer) for Beija Flor, Selma Sorriso, who has over 30 years history in Carnival, Carlinhos Salgueiro who prepared all of the competitors for the opening choreography (using exactly the same format as he does for the official Rio Competition) and finally the current (3 x champion) Queen of Rio Carnival, Clara Paixao.

How could people possibly say that my event wasn’t authentic? And how do we even begin to define authenticity in this world of art these days?

I had tirelessly worked on the concept, design and implementation of these events for over 2 years (whilst running my business full time in Australia), negotiating in both  English and Portuguese (across 2 completely opposite time zones), and also had to deal with the local artists and their managers, plus the Brazilian media and big wigs from the Carnival industry, Rio Tourism and the Prefecture of Rio in order to get the event off the ground once I arrived in Rio.

It was a mammoth task, but I was determined to make it work, despite the enormous stress and daily obstacles. In the end it was a huge success, with so many participants realising a life long dream to study with their idols, immerse themselves in the Samba culture first hand and to compete at a professional level in Rio.

I came back home to Australia and unexpectedly (although not unsurprisingly) found myself in a deep depression. As I’ve always been a positive and hardworking person, I brushed it off as just being exhausted and continued hustling like I’ve always done.

However one day I woke up and simply couldn’t get out of bed. The heaviness was suffocating. The tears wouldn’t stop. The anxiety attacks began.

What am I doing with my life? Why have I strived so hard and for so long, for people to continue to criticize me? All I’ve done is focus on my own path, and yet I have so many haters and people who have never met me talking rubbish about me.

I called my partner, who is such a levelheaded and pragmatic man, and through bouts of sobs I told him I wanted it all to end. I didn’t want to be a dancer, or a businesswoman, or a figurehead in my industry anymore. It was too painful and my heart was permanently broken from all of the nastiness of this competitive industry.

His response was this:

Babe, the more you appear in the public eye, the more perceived success you have on social media, and the more it appears that you are living the dream, so the more haters you are going to have. Imagine being Beyonce or Oprah! They are incredibly successful and yet have millions of haters, but has that stopped them from kicking ass? NO! So don’t you dare stop!

Bless him.

I’d like to say that those words were all it took for me to pick myself up, brush myself off and return to being my confident, motivated self.

Unfortunately the wounds were much deeper this time.

It would take 24 months of commitment to daily personal development, including brutally honest self-reflection, practicing forgiveness towards others (but mainly towards myself), performance mindset coaching (to let go of old patterns of thinking and start to function on higher vibrational levels), a stern promise to myself to practice self love and positive body image, plus a lot of deeply spiritual sessions taking me back to events in my life that had influenced the way I made choices and why I judged myself so harshly.

Despite all of my achievements and the vast obstacles I had overcome for the past 2 decades, I felt like a total failure. What truly is the meaning of success? And what does happiness really feel like?

It would take a serendipitous trip Europe to pull me out of my funk, reignite my self-belief and regain my confidence in my Samba journey…