A professional dancer who survived a horrific rape and robbery used ballet to reconnect with her body and learn to trust others again, and is now teaching others how to utilize the same coping mechanism after experiencing assault.
Tyde-Courtney Edwards, 30, was just about to start an exciting artist’s residency in her hometown of Baltimore in October 2012 when a man came up behind her, hit her on the head and dragged her into the woods.
There, Tyde-Courtney’s attacker urinated on her, raped her, and robbed her. She passed out and woke up missing one shoe, her I.D., and with her pants around her ankles.
Five years after the assault, the dancer, who has practiced ballet since she was three, is now the founding director of Ballet After Dark, a program for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault looking to heal from trauma and feel at home in their bodies again.
The program, Tyde-Courtney said, was born ‘purely out of necessity’, and stems directly from her own journey of recovery. After she was raped in 2012, the dancer struggled with agoraphobia, depression, and self-destructive behavior.
She and three other artists had just put in the security deposit for their upcoming residency when a man, still unidentified to this day, attacked her.
‘I was in my trunk and someone came up behind me, hit me in the head and dragged me into the woods,’ Tyde-Courtney told the DailyMail.com.
‘When I was in the woods, he urinated on me, raped me and then he robbed me. I passed out, I guess, from shock. But when I woke up, he was gone. My pants were down at my ankles, one of my shoes was missing, and the police were never able to locate my I.D.’
What followed, according to Tyde-Courtney, was a harrowing attempt to get the police to investigate her case, only to be made to feel like an inconvenience. To this day, she said, she hasn’t found out the content of her rape kit.
‘I remember sitting in the back of an ambulance hearing officers talk about how they didn’t want to do the paperwork,’ she said. ‘”OK, here’s another one. Well, I wonder what she was out here doing.” The amount of insensitivity that’s directed towards assault victims is just disgusting.
‘And I just lost all hope.’
A few weeks after the rape, Tyde-Courtney found out she was pregnant. She went to Planned Parenthood to get an abortion, and remains grateful to the organization for providing the services and getting her home safely at a time when she felt completely isolated.
At that time, the dancer recalled, she had no job, no form of identification with her, and her family failed to support her. That is when she started going down a spiral of drastic self-destructive behavior, which she said including ‘anything from drug usage to promiscuity’.
The behaviors, Tyde-Courtney recounted, seemed like a necessary way to feel relief after the trauma.
‘I was going through this time where it was very apparent to me that you can be violated in the worst ways and people will just expect for you to roll over and get out of bed and just continue on with your life,’ she said.
‘And I was finding that I wanted to be that person too. I wanted to act like it didn’t happen. That’s why I was acting this way.’
For a few months, Tyde-Courtney said, she told herself the attack hadn’t happened.
‘These were all self-defense mechanisms that I created for myself, and it all backfired,’ she added. ‘It all backfired and I wound back up in the hospital.’
After her additional hospital stay, Tyde-Courtney began coping with depression and agoraphobia.
‘I was staying with my mother at the time and just the idea of leaving the house—I was filled with so much shame and embarrassment, and just heartache from being abandoned, that the idea of leaving the house would send me into this frenzy,’ she recounted.
‘And I would get physically sick and my anxiety would shoot through the roof and I would throw up. That happened to me for four or five months. I didn’t want to see anyone about it, I didn’t want to talk to anyone about it.’
The dancer’s turning point occurred, unexpectedly, while she was watching an episode of Sex And The City. Tyde-Courtney, who said that part of her story always makes her ‘laugh a little bit’, recounted being inspired by Charlotte York’s fortitude when, during season six, the character played by Kristin Davis recovers from a miscarriage.
Interestingly, Charlotte herself is lifted out of her depression while watching a TV documentary about Elizabeth Taylor—much like Tyde-Courtney found the strength to carry on while witnessing Charlotte facing adversity.
‘She’s basically listening to how Elizabeth Taylor’s life had fallen apart over and over and over and over again, but she’s always this beautiful glamorous woman who would just pick her s**t up, and she would just get herself together and she just stepped back out there,’ Tyde-Courtney recounted of the Elizabeth Taylor special Charlotte watched.
‘And although Charlotte was a fictional character, you could see her transformation start to occur just from that bit of inspiration there. I watched her get up from the couch she had settled on for weeks following her miscarriage. She went into her bathroom. She showered. She did her hair. She put on make-up. She did things she needed to do to feel good. And that put me on a path to discover what I needed to do to feel good.’
Around the same time, Tyde-Courtney started relying on daily mantras to make peace with her body. Each day, she would pick a part of herself and tell herself what she loved about it.
‘I went through this journey of having to fall in love with myself all over again,’ she said. ‘And once I was comfortable enough in the house, looking at myself in the mirror, it was very slow steps. I would check the mail. I would take the trash out. Then it got to the point where I could get in the car. Then, it got to the point where I actually drove to the store. And then it got to the point where I actually drove to the dance studio.’
On the day she finally made it back to the dance studio, Tyde-Courtney recalled, her mother was so shocked to see her daughter going out again she simply asked, ‘How was ballet?’
From that moment on, dance became one of the coping mechanisms Tyde-Courtney needed to heal from her trauma and allow other people to get physically close to her again.
‘Dance is a very close contact discipline, even when it comes down to the teaching of dance,’ she said. ‘You have to be able to allow your instructor to get close to you. What dance did is, it forced me to challenge myself when it came to allowing people back into my personal space.
‘If I wanted correction at the ballet barre, if I wanted correction in the center, I was going to have to let my instructor touch me. I was going to have to let them manipulate my body. I was going to have to let them put me into the position to enforce the correction.’
Along with helping her becoming more comfortable with physical contact, being a dance student again also gave Tyde-Courtney a much needed sense of normalcy.
‘I wanted these corrections. I wanted to feel like I was just like everybody else,’ she said. ‘I wanted to be a student like everybody else.’
The dance studio also proved to be a suitable environment for Tyde-Courtney to go through this part of her recovery, since she was already at ease within that space and comfortable around instructors.
At the same time, the performer deepened her knowledge of self-care, turning it into a lifestyle rather than occasional indulgences.
‘That can be anywhere from changing your diet to creating a calendar, to getting your finances in order, to discovering a hobby that’s completely just for yourself, saying no to people more, asking why a lot more,’ she said.
Tyde-Courtney relied on her own healing journey to design the Ballet After Dark program, which debuted in 2015. Physical fitness, for her, is a critical factor when it comes to feeling confident and empowered. Thus, the first part of the program for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors is a ballet-based fitness session.
‘We would infuse cardio fundamentals, exercise, fitness fundamentals and ballet fundamentals into the first portion of the workout,’ she said.
‘So we actually teach survivors how to get fit. We teach them, fundamentally, how to do crunches, how to do push-ups, how to bench press.’
Then, the participants move into a second part of the program, which is dedicated to mental health. It includes a sharing circle and a workshop dedicated to teaching self-care strategies, during which participants, a vast majority of whom are women, learn various types of exercises, either alone or as a group, to help them connect with themselves and with others.
Finally, Tyde-Courtney’s program closes with a spiritual component, which includes a 20-minute meditation segment with an introduction into energy balancing and chakras.
‘It’s been a joy to watch women’s reaction when it comes to that part of the program, especially because meditation is, for a lot of women of color, still quite taboo,’ Tyde-Courtney said. ‘And for them to actually experience it, participate in it and to wake up and say, “Oh my Gosh I actually felt the red chakra, I thought this was all a joke,” I feel something. I’m like, “See? I told you!”‘
Creating the program and taking charge of her recovery was also part of the healing process for Tyde-Courtney, who felt like she could redefine what being a survivor meant for her.
‘There’s a lot of pressure as a survivor for you to survive a particular way, for you to heal a particular way,’ she said. ‘The overall notion is that we’re supposed to be very very meek, quiet individuals, who are riddled with so much shame that the idea of us being sexual or sensual beings should be non-existent.
‘And we are often portrayed as being unlovable, broken, bruised, battered, and although healing and recovery can be a lifelong process for most people, there are others who want it a lot faster and better than others. I was one of those people.’
When she was struggling with depression, Tyde-Courtney found comfort in keeping her mind busy and her body active, which added to her pushing back against the idea that survivors can’t, or don’t, achieve things.
‘I needed to find myself in a situation where my mind wouldn’t have that time to think about what happened,’ she said. ‘I wouldn’t have that time to think about feeling sorry for myself. I had to constantly be in that state of mind where I have to work, I have to push, I have to fight for this, all of the time. There are things that I want, and I want them now, I don’t want them later.’
During her own recovery, the performer found it difficult to find places where she would receive alternative forms of therapy, and usually didn’t connect with the therapists she was paired with.
‘What I was realizing going through my particular journey is that I needed to find something to care about, something to fall in love with, that would pull me away from the trauma that I experience and that I was trying to get through,’ she said.
By reigniting her love of dance and spreading it to others, Tyde-Courtney found the outlet that enabled her to test her boundaries and channel her energy into a project. Two years after creating her program, she says it was created out of need—first and foremost hers.
‘Once I started realizing that dance was going to be that thing that I was going to let myself get lost in, so that I could start to reconnect with myself, it just all made sense. It just clicked,’ she said.
‘I thought if it can work for me it can work for someone else too. And I was just inspired to start the program based on that. I needed it. I needed it before anybody else did.’
Body positivity is an important component of Tyde-Courtney’s program as well as of her online identity. The ballerina often shares photos of herself dancing and proudly showcasing her body, which is part of her efforts to make the world of ballet more inclusive.
‘Growing up as a curvy woman in a classical world, I was often excluded or bullied in some form as it related to ballet. I was too big for most roles or sometimes too black for roles,’ she said.
‘I would be heckled at auditions for being considered fat even though I was technically sound. The overall culture of classical ballet was made so that ballerinas would look a specific way and I didn’t look that way. I also had natural hair so I was often referred to as the “nappy” ballerina at auditions.
‘I often met women who would express their interest in ballet but would always follow the statement up with “I didn’t think I was thin enough.” Essentially, every girl’s first dream is to be a ballerina. I just wanted to create a space where every girl could be a ballerina.’
Currently, the Ballet After Dark program is open to survivors, without any gender specification, but participants remain mostly women. This could change in the future, though, since more and more men have reached out to the company looking for a safe space as well.
While the program currently highlights womanhood and femininity, Tyde-Courtney doesn’t want to restrict the scope of her services to a certain category of people.
‘I don’t want to make it exclusive to women because there are men out here who have been equally victimized and equally traumatized,’ she said.
At the end of each year, Ballet After Dark usually goes through a restructuring to enable the program to reach new people, include more communities, and partner with other organizations. The end goal, Tyde-Courtney said, is to offer services to as many people as possible.
‘The idea is to grow this as big as possible because we are in a state, presently, where rape culture is just at its highest,’ she said.
‘The idea of laughing at someone’s trauma is just f*****g disgusting and I want there needs to be more safe spaces, period, because there aren’t enough.
‘ I am prepared to make the sacrifices to make it happen because had I not been strong enough, had I not been the type of woman who wanted these things, I may never have resurrected this to begin with.’
SOURCE: Daily Mail, Clemence Michallon