Tyde-Courtney Edwards has been studying classical dance for 27 years — the majority of her young life. When most of us dreamed of becoming ballerinas, and then eventually found interest in less focus-intensive ventures, Tyde-Courtney persisted. Persistence is a trait that has served her well, and possibly even saved her life. The only time she’s broken from her routine of discipline and practice was after she was raped by a stranger in her apartment complex at the age of 25. She was left emotionally broken, scared and virtually alone.
After her assault, Edwards did everything she was supposed to do. She reported her rape to the Baltimore police, completed a rape kit and was examined for evidence collection. She sat down with police officers and went over the details of her ordeal, their faces stone and unbothered. “It was clear that this was an inconvenience for the police to deal with,” Tyde-Courtney explained, admitting to feeling an immediate sense of regret for coming forward. In her most vulnerable state and at a time of emotional and physical emergency she was treated passively and unkindly. Police officers and their often hardened culture of aggression and policy are the very last thing a victim of sexual assault should have to endure after experiencing such a traumatic and life-altering situation.
“Every survivor of assault should be treated with respect,” said Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “As Black women experience sexual assault at higher rates than other women, it's imperative that resources are available in every community.” McDonald-Mosley insists communities must be equipped to properly handle cases of sexual assault and that facilities such as Planned Parenthood are vital to this process as they are more equipped to refer women to additional resources and handle their needs with what is needed most — care. In the meantime, victims of rape and sexual assault are left flailing in the wind
Five years after Tyde-Courtney reported her rape, nothing has happened. She’s still not even sure if her rape kit has been tested or followed up with. “Because of the gross mishandling of my case, I knew that would be enough for another woman not to come forward.” According to End The Backlog, a program founded by actress Mariska Hargitay, there are over 175,000 untested rape kits in the United States to date. It is staggering statistics like this that overwhelm assault survivors, convincing them that their story does not matter, that their voice is much too quiet to break through the noise and that they would do better to sit down and endure their pain with a closed mouth.
Tyde-Courtney’s rape resulted in pregnancy, for which she underwent an abortion, further deepening the mental and physical impact of her assault. Over the next two years she withdrew from her familiar world, remaining in her home and cutting off her connection to the world of dance that once fed her. Everyday activities felt impossible and something as seemingly simple as a touch on the shoulder sent her into bouts of anxiety and panic. “Being around my brothers, letting people touch me...I couldn't shake hands. I couldn't give hugs.”
Maybe it’s because of how flippantly we use the term “rape.” Maybe because it’s portrayed and tossed around in movie scripts and TV shows. Maybe because of the blatant under-processing of sexual assault crimes, the victim-blaming, the hushing of details no one wants to imagine. Rape in the United States (and around the world) is pacified and too often ignored. The levels of healing that have to happen afterward, which can take a lifetime to accomplish, tends to get lost in the conversation. But women who have been assaulted have lost touch with their body and their sense of safety. Doubt and fear is cast over every man they encounter — be they strange or familiar. Tyde-Courtney explained that the mere idea of dating or being intimate with a man became abhorrent to her. “I was always cognizant that I still wanted to be intimate and have a future and a family. I was not going to be able to have those things if the thought of someone standing in my personal space was triggering anxiety attacks.”
The next step Tyde-Courtney took was a tough one. She decided to get up and go back to her beloved dance. She didn’t tell her instructor or classmates about her attack, and in that anonymity she found a relieving grace. “It allowed me to escape from reality, people were not looking at me with eyes of pity.”
Not only did it give her a sense of emotional relief from feeling like a victim, it also forced her to work past her newly-developed fear of intimacy. Dance instruction can sometimes be aggressively intrusive and that was something Tyde-Courtney would have to accept if she was going to return to her love of dance. “My teacher is going to put her hands on me to correct my form and if I want those corrections, I have to allow her to touch me.”
Gradually, Tyde-Courtney found herself finding comfort with her own body and with other people being near her. She credits this as being one of the most important steps in her post-assault recovery. Being able to watch her body in a mirror and appreciate its form once again was something desperately needed to reclaim her identity. “I needed to fall back in love with myself. Survivors of sexual trauma have to figure out ways to love ourselves because after trauma you start to pick apart everything you see in the mirror.”
Once Tyde-Courtney had reclaimed herself through ballet, she realized the very same process could help other women in her community. She set out to start a program called Ballet After Dark that was tailored specifically for women who had survived sexual trauma and needed to work through the physicality of post-traumatic life. Tyde-Courtney made it her mission to “change the face of shame” and bring light to those who had retreated into a world of shadow and denial.
She launched a Kickstarter fund to help spread the word about her initiative, but found that all she really needed was word-of-mouth promotion. Tyde-Courtney happily self-funded her project, believing that the healing benefits to others would be more than worth the investment. As she builds, she admits that things are growing gradually but she would one day like to see her program franchise around the world.
For now, she holds monthly workshops for survivors and offers an array of other classes, including private instruction, athletic conditioning, injury prevention and muscle lengthening. In September, she launched Soca Ballet. What is “Soca Ballet”?
“It’s designed and formatted to begin with traditional ballet and then transition to butt shakin,” Tyde-Courtney says, gleefully laughing.
While she has dance to thank for her own recovery, Tyde-Courtney doesn’t recommend using it blindly as a tool for sexual trauma recovery. Ballet After Dark is specifically designed for women who have sensitivities to social interactions. “Dance is very tough,” she explains. Instead, she advises women or men experiencing physical disconnection after sexual trauma should embrace other, less aggressive methods of development such as meditation, yoga or breathing exercises — anything that realigns one’s self with their physical form, and promotes acceptance.
Beyond physical recovery, of course, is the emotional journey that must also take place. Tyde-Courtney went through her’s alone, something she wouldn’t recommend anyone attempt to do. “Reach out to someone you're comfortable [with] and share. It doesn't have to be the full story. Make sure you have a friend, someone you can rely on. And if you don't have that friend, then you reach out to me.”
For more information about Ballet After Dark or to reach out to Tyde-Courtney, contact email@example.com
Additional resources for survivors of sexual trauma:
Rape, Abuse and Incest National Hotline
(Photo: Tyde-Courtney Edwards)
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