Survivor Stories

Introduction (TW)

Many people are unaware of how frequent such things as sexual harassment, coercion, assault, and rape are in our social dancing scenes. Because they are fortunate enough to have never experienced situations that made them feel uncomfortable, endangered, or even violated, they doubt that it ever occurs. There is frequently a tendency to downplay people’s experiences or reframe them as misunderstandings or deliberate falsehoods. In order to combat the passivity that is the current norm, Kizomba Community is hosting this page of anonymous first-person accounts of such stories. We believe more people will be willing to make our social dance scenes safer if they are confronted with the reality of what some are suffering.

The stories below are true as remembered by the survivors. No stories have been included that were not shared by a person who experienced it firsthand. Stories will continue to be added as we receive them.

If these stories strike a chord, we invite you to share this page on your social media. If you would like to contribute, please share any story you’d be willing to, leaving out any details that you feel would identify you – you can choose whether to tell specific locations or cities or even what kind of dance you do. Send your stories to Rachel at racheldreamsindance@gmail.com.

We have also created a resource page with information about creating a more respectful dance culture as well as protecting survivors.

Stories from Women

Trigger Warning: Some of these stories contain frank accounts of sexual assault and rape.

I don’t want to feel that

This guy I was dancing batchata with turned me around and was so damn close I could feel his junk! I may catch flack for this but I have seen females that are totally OK dancing super close, but I am not one of them.

Rhythmic grinding

There is a gentleman that I’ve danced with a few times. It isn’t really dancing, just grinding himself against me, either from the front or back, in time to the song. During social dancing if I say no or keep walking he’ll grab my hand and keeping trying to pull me into him.

What does married mean to you?

I’ve had guys ask me out even after knowing Im married with kids. It’s not like I got close to them or dressed sexy so I dont know what they saw in me

Watch your language!

I’ve seen on Facebook guys in the salsa scene (Colorado guys, by the way) cursing out other women in the scene over different opinions. I don’t think having a different opinion on an issue justifies cursing a woman out. Some men simply do not value women, sadly.

Chased away

During the Houston Salsa Congress I had gone into the Kizomba room to teach a few of my friends the basics. We are all pretty young and from a conservative college, so they felt more comfortable learning the basic steps from me since we are the same age and all women. We had been dancing some and stopped to survey the room when a much older man asked me to dance. I’ve had some good dances with older dancers who are super respectful and I try to give everyone a chance so I accepted. This was one of the worst dances of my life. The man was obviously skilled but anytime I would try to create a little space or move his hands to a more… respectable… place? He would resist my efforts. He kept repeating turns that made my dress bunch in the front (he was much taller than me) and try to really forcibly pull me closer. I escaped the dance as soon as the songs started to change but spent any other time in the kizomba room running from that man. I would have to grab friends of mine to pretend to be dancing and generally ended up having to steer clear of kizomba because he could find me too easily there–and that’s my favorite style! I still get nervous that he will be at bachata socials or that he might be targeting other very young women in the dance community.

Absolutely not into it

It was my first dance festival, I had only been active in my dance community for about 7 months. There was a dancer I recocnized from back home that asked me to dance once or twice a night, and I had no problem with him…until Saturday evening. He asked me to dance bachata and I noticed that he smelled of alcohol, but he still seemed to have his bearings and was dancing fine. Towards the end of the song, he grabbed my hand as we were dancing close and rubbed it on his crotch. I quickly stopped dancing and yanked my hand away. The look I gave him could have burned through metal. He mumbled a half apology, saying he thought I was into him and wanted it then walked off. I never told anybody, I wasn’t sure how to feel. I made, and still make excuses for his behavior, but the truth is that he was inappropriate. He forced me into what was essentially a sexual act, in public, without bothering to ask me if I was interested in him sexually and what my boundaries were.

Just say no?

This didn’t happen at any of the night clubs, but a couple of salsa folks gathered at a friend’s house to dance and drink. I had just gotten into a fight with the man I was seeing, so I was a hot mess. Another guy on the scene decided that was the best time to try something. I told him no multiple times, but he kept pushing until I was too tired to keep fighting him. While we didn’t actually have sex, I was sexually assaulted that night. The only person I trusted enough to tell responded by saying that I was lying and he wouldn’t have done that. I’ve never told anyone else because I felt like it must have been my fault since I stopped telling him no and gave up on his badgering.

This happened many years ago (probably about 7 years now) and I’ve never been one to consider myself a victim or play the victim card. I was able to push it completely aside and not let it affect me, but I know that’s not a common reaction.

Without protection

I once went up to a hotel room with a dancer. It was a sexual environment, to be sure. But first we were just making out – and before I knew it his unprotected penis was inside of me. I said, “wait.. but… I’m not on the pill.. I can’t..” though he did not respond. I then weighed my options: I could exert physical force or let him finish. Rather than bring violence into the equation I let him finish.

I’m just not into you

I moved to a new city. I went to the local social and made an effort to introduce myself and get to know people. One guy offered to drive me home, even though it was out of his way. I accepted, though I texted my roommate his license plate number and told her when I should be home. But it was great. We hit it off, and agreed to meet for drinks before the following social.

I made it clear the next time we hung out, something like: I really enjoy your company, but I’m not attracted to you. I enjoy your wit, I like hanging out with you, we seem to have lots to talk about, but if you don’t have time for a friendship, no hard feelings. He assured me that he felt this was the beginning of a wonderful friendship.

And so it seemed to be. We met up maybe twice a month before social dances and chatted on Facebook. He was one of the only dancers from that scene I invited to a party my roommates and I were hosting. Everyone was drinking, including me – why not, I thought, I wouldn’t have to drive anywhere afterwards!

At some point I found myself in my room, on my bed, with that guy on top of me, trying to make out with me. I tried to giggle my way out of it, pushing him away. He persisted. I don’t remember what I said. Certainly nothing encouraging. I turned my head away and pushed at him again. He slid down and lifted up my dress, pulling my panties aside and sticking his tongue in me. I tried to scoot back, but he pulled my hips forward. I didn’t want this, but it seemed like such an effort to try to fight him off. And what would people think if I started yelling at him? And it didn’t hurt. I could just wait it out.

When he tried to get up in the bed with me, though, I finally summoned the strength close him out. I rolled myself up tightly in a blanket and faced the wall, pretending to pass out. He tried pawing at me a bit, but eventually gave it up. I heard a couple of my friends stick their heads in and laugh, but gradually the party faded out. In the morning he was still there. I spent some time collecting bottles and cans to take out, then woke him up. He helped me carry the bottles and then we got some takeout for breakfast. I told him, “Look, I’m not going to cry rape, but I didn’t want that. And you knew that. I told you I wasn’t attracted to you. This was a violation of our friendship.”

He pointed to our drunken state, but admitted he hadn’t meant to do something that would upset me. I left it at: “I won’t say I can’t be around you again, but I can’t trust you.”

I felt betrayed by him, but also by myself. Why hadn’t I said “NO NO NO” or hollered for my friends or screamed or hit him? Why had I decided in that moment that molestation was preferable to creating conflict or making a scene?

Innocence lost at a congress

I was too innocent, then. At my first ever dance congress, I met a guy. He had a charming smile and even more ensaring wit. He asked me if I wanted to go get a drink. I thought we were going to get a drink. That’s what he said. We walked right past the hotel bar, though, and up to his room. I was confused but still somewhat trusting. He turned around almost immediately and started kissing me, taking my clothes off. I kept thinking, “okay, this might turn out okay.” I was feeling confused and disoriented and since I couldn’t make up my mind I went with it. He pushed me back on the bed. I let him. He pulled my pants down, rolled on a condom, got on top of me, pumped into me saying “this pussy is mine tonight” for a few minutes, then collapsed on the bed next to me. I let him, I was too innocent going into it not to. Two minutes later we were pulling our clothes on and going back to the ballroom, where I watched him charm other women. 

So much for feelings

For a while after losing my initial innocence with dance events I still thought that I could have positive sexual experiences at congresses. In Spain I had a few arousing dances with a boy named Jesus. He said sweet things to me about his feelings and missing me and being excited to see me all weekend. We went up to his room together. We had sex. We said “can’t wait to see you later.” For the rest of the weekend he wouldn’t even look at me, pretending I did not exist. This also happened to me in Poland, and the States. I now know much, much better. But I still don’t understand why it’s my fault that I don’t intuit or see ahead of time that someone is going to treat me like a body and then never look at me again.

Trust abused

I was sexually assaulted by my salsa dance instructor and studio owner in the Triangle area of NC. We were alone at the studio, unlike previous private and group lessons I had taken there. The studio was in an isolated location behind a self-storage facility and I had gotten there by bus. I had no means of immediate escape. I was shocked by what happened, as this was someone I thought I knew and could trust. As it was happening I was so scared – There was nowhere I could run and no one to hear if I yelled. I knew he could do whatever he wanted.

It took a few months of sleepless nights, frequent crying, and seeking therapy before I was able to tell anyone what happened to me.

Several months after the assault, after learning that a friend was raped by the same instructor, but too scared to come forward, and knowing that he was still teaching with access to women, I reported my experience to the police. He got himself a lawyer before speaking to the police. The DA decided not to press charges.

I have since learned of several other women victimized by the same person, who continues to teach and attend events in my local salsa scene. Heartbreakingly too, I have learned of many in the community – men and women – were aware of what was going on, at least in some capacity, and did nothing, said nothing, and in doing so, helped him continue to hurt others.

Those who knew and protected his silence, who perhaps intended to be neutral or “stay out of it”, actively helped him, and continue to help him, to victimize others. Protecting his silence came, and continues to come, at the cost of victims’ lives that are forever changed. Protecting his silence silences victims – of him and others like him – even more than society already does.

Even among those not exposed to behavior like this, if more of the dance community had spoken up to say behavior like this would not be accepted or tolerated, it would not have taken me as long to come forward, and probably fewer women would have been hurt before now. I am encouraged by projects such as this one, and efforts among leading dance instructors to adopt codes of conduct and start to be receptive to stories like mine.

I am speaking up so I am not complicit in keeping his silence. I am speaking up for the others that are too scared to do so. I hope others will speak up too, even if just to say “I believe you.”

Rufied and shamed

I was teaching at a Latin Congress in an old European hotel. On the last night, after all my classes were finished, I finally decided to use one of my drink coupons at the bar. I went to look for some of the students I had to promise to dance with.

I woke up confused. I took stock. I was lying on a narrow bed. Oh right, I was in my hotel room. I sat up and the room spun. I felt ill. I stood up to go to the toilet. I felt pain in my organs and between my legs. I looked in the mirror. I was in my clothes from the night before, but they were in disarray, and my makeup was smeared. I felt horribly muddled. What had happened? There was just a big empty space where the night before should have been. It wasn’t like me to go to bed without changing clothes and removing my makeup, though, even if I had been drinking. And I hadn’t been flirting with anyone. Why did it feel like I had had intercourse?

I looked at the time. I was supposed to be downstairs ready to leave with my dance partner and two other dancers within 15 minutes. I cleaned up as quickly as I could and got my stuff downstairs. I kept feeling dizzy and losing my train of thought. Over and over I came back to the question – what had happened the night before?

In the lobby someone came up to talk to me, a fellow teacher. He said something jokingly to me I didn’t understand. I asked him for more details, and I was horrified to learn he had found me on the floor in a corridor of the hotel, an area far from my room. He had gone to get my dance partner and helped me to my room, and another girl passing by had helped put my underwear back on. He laughed it off as an incident of losing control, drinking too much and having a bit of sex in the hallway.

My dance partner did not see it as funny. He was tight-lipped with rage. He couldn’t believe I would embarrass him by behaving in such a fashion. He had apologized on my behalf to the organizer.

I was too sick and addled to try to refute this version of events. I concentrated on making it through the long drive back without vomiting. The soreness in my body worsened to real pain. Gradually I started to think more clearly. It wasn’t until that evening in the shower when I found the bruises and abrasions that I could admit to myself what had happened. I finally called my boyfriend sobbing and said: “I was rufied and raped and left in a hallway. And no one even considered that could be what happened.”

A woman at the sexual health clinic I went to the next day asked me, “Do you want to report it to the police?” The few friends I shared the story with wanted to know, “Why didn’t you tell the organizer what had happened?” But the organizer didn’t know me personally and had already been told a version of events that was far preferable for her. The hotel was old and didn’t have video cameras in the hallways. And I had been raped in a foreign country among a group of people from several countries. I felt that there could only be more pain and shame in trying to initiate an investigation. I just wanted to minimize the damage to my reputation and try to get on with my life.

Unfortunately that hasn’t been easy. My partnership fell apart. My boyfriend was as supportive as he could be, but I found it difficult to be close to anyone. When he hit hard times of his own, our relationship fell apart. I haven’t been in another in three years. I still dance, but I can never let my guard down, and that makes it hard for me to make friends in the scene.

I thought I was safe

This wasn’t at a social, but at a salsa team event at our director’s house. I was upset about something, I can’t remember what, and started feeling way too drunk. I wanted to get a cab home but someone from the team stopped me as I was leaving because it wasn’t a great neighborhood and I was clearly intoxicated. He brought me upstairs and found my best friend and she stayed by me as I threw up for who knows how long in the bathroom. The director who was hosting the party then came and checked in on me, and let me know that I could sleep in his room until I felt okay enough to go home. My friend went back downstairs to the party and I went into his room, thinking I was safe.

I woke up to him having sex with me. My memories are really spotty. I remember telling him that he needed to have a condom. I remember him trying to put it in my butt and I told him no, but I had to go to the doctor because of pain in my anus a week later and I had an infection. I remember my best friend came in to check on me again and he was pretending to be asleep on the floor and I still had my shirt on but kept telling her that I didn’t know what happened to my pants. She left and he had sex with me again. My friend came back again and I ended up sleeping in the basement with her and a guy she was hooking up with. We all ended up making out – I’m not a perfect victim at all.

The next morning, I had to send someone into his room to get my shoes, I just couldn’t do it – it was so humiliating. At salsa team practice, some guys from the team made comments about what a fun time I had. It was clear they knew what had happened, and hadn’t done anything. I ended up quitting the team a couple days later. It’s taken so long for me to call it rape; a dancer I later dated told me that it wasn’t rape if I told the guy to wear a condom, and my sister said it was my fault for drinking too much. But if it happened to any of my friends, I’d call it rape. I wish the same people who had stopped me from going home because I was too drunk, or who made jokes the next day, had stopped my team’s director from raping me. They wanted to protect me from a hypothetical stranger on the street, but then let their friend hurt me. Anyone who is passed out drunk cannot consent and needs your help. You have so much power as a bystander.

Stories from Men

Personal space and hygiene

Several times I have had girls that were all sweaty and gross and whom I was unattracted to do the following. They would rub their sweaty hands up and down my arms and if I would try to dance in open position, they would pull themselves in closer and I ended up with armpit sweat on my arm.

…But I just want to dance

One time I asked a girl to practice dancing at my house. I think she must have thought I wanted to do more than dance salsa, but I was never really attracted to her.
I was trying to be serious, but she kept leaning her face in and giggling like she was trying to get me to kiss her. It was really annoying because I wasn’t attracted to her and I was serious about practicing.

Dry Humping

Sometimes when certain women dance with me they hold me very close and move against my leg in a very sexual way. They really rub themselves on me. I know I should change the step to move them away but I feel like I can’t move. It’s too embarrassing. I don’t go to some socials when I think there will be too many women like that there. Sometimes I send my friend in to check so I won’t go in and they ask me to dance. I think they like me too much.

Slap that?

I have had a few girls slap me on the ass before and pretend it was another guy that did it while at a dance social. Two occasions, I had never met the girl. Several times just by friends.
Only on one occasion was it upsetting, because the context was that she was a friend of my main dance rival instructor and I didn’t know her. I had bent down to pick up my shoes which were next to where he was standing. She slapped my ass while I was picking them up and then they both giggled.

Just letting it go

A couple of times I had a gay dude come onto me at a dance event. It was unwanted, because I am not gay. But it wasn’t a big deal. All he did was rub my arm and the other dude my chest. It was only once though. If it had been repeated I may have put the smack down.