Photo Courtesy of John Demato

Brutal Doesn’t Have to Mean Savage


I’m a filmmaker. I’m working on a documentary about the new Chaplin at Riker’s Island, Justin von Bujdoss, who’s also a Buddhist. Bujdoss was hired by a female warden and his Chief Officer is also a woman. In our first meeting, he shared with me that they have an unusual combination of deep compassion and almost brutal strength. I think what struck me was that this didn’t strike me as unusual.

I grew up studying dance, where most of the people I spent time with were women. I went to a woman’s college where I was surrounded by strong, smart and fiercely independent women. When I moved to New York City at the age of 20, to pursue a career in dance, I started my first company, Brouk Moves, an elite in-home personal training company, where I was the CEO. I chose to run my business from a place of compassion and strength, so that not only would I be making money while I was on tour dancing by demanding excellence, but I would also earn the respect and loyalty of my team, because I created a safe space for them to work in, grow in and become the women they are meant to be in the world. This combination of deep compassion and brutal strength describes not only me but the women I surround myself with. And I believe ultimate success and growth comes from creating, working and living in a space that’s safe, while also being deeply compassionate and brutally strong.

Brutal does not have to be defined as savage. It can also mean ferocious and direct, straightforward and blunt. Two words that describe me perfectly.

Photo Courtesy of John Demato

In addition to running Brouk Moves, I have written, directed, choreographed and produced, plays, musicals, web-series, documentaries and short films. Because I am straightforward and direct from the first moment I meet a collaborator, the space is deemed safe. I make it clear what I expect of them, what they can expect of me and that they can discuss anything with me, good or bad. Because I am brutally strong, an immediate bond is formed. And because I am deeply compassionate, we can solve problems together.

Photo Courtesy of John Demato

In my other company, The Big Talk, I apply my expertise to the art of public speaking. When a speaker comes to me with an idea, I sometimes steer them in a different direction because either the idea is over-done, or I can see that they have something more to share and it’s my job to get them to share it. I have to create an environment that’s safe so they will trust me and share with me their most intimate idea, which is what will have the most impact on the world. How I do this, is with an active listening session. I spend two hours asking questions and actively listening. They simply talk to me and I listen. There is nothing that feels safer than being heard. When you are heard, you’re validated, your self-worth improves and you begin to tap into everything you have to offer your family, your work and your impact on the world.

Creating a safe space also starts with being able to communicate clearly. This can mean simple emails about what time a rehearsal starts and ends to complicated conversations about intimate scenes that either requires nudity or delicate physicality. I choreographed several love scenes for Black Box on ABC. The incredible Kelly Reilly played a neuroscientist who suffered from bipolar disorder. When we first discussed the movement vocabulary, I wanted her to feel safe, so my communication had to be clear. The sex was going to be choreographed like a dance. Each movement would be created, rehearsed and repeatable. This was not a free for all. This was going to be highly technical and built with the intention of the scene as support. I was able to communicate this clearly to her so that she could let go of any fear and worry about the upcoming scene. Then I hired a dancer to work it out with me so that we could show Kelly on set before she had to step in. At that point the director, Simon Curtis would make adjustments on me. so that Kelly could watch, still feeling totally safe. Mind you I was fully clothed and this is totally non-sexual. There is nothing sexy about this kind of technical rehearsal, and that’s also part of making the space safe. Once everyone, including the DP, the wardrobe team, and the cast felt safe, the work could begin. The freedom for the actors to be in the moment had been created for them, by clearly communicating.

Because of the recent violence against women and men (Chaplin Bujdoss reminded me that it is violence) coming from Hollywood, Networks and the Whitehouse, the notion of a safe space has seemingly never existed. But I want to remind you that it does exist.

Photo Courtesy of Sylvia Hoke

I also want to point out that collaboration is also paramount in creating a safe space. When you align yourself beside your team, instead of above your team, the space is safe. I don’t mean you can’t be in charge and leading, but you can lead standing next to someone. You can lead by sitting in the middle of the table instead of the head. You can lead by lifting your team up, sometimes above you.

I believe we can create, live and work in a safe space. I believe you can create a safe space for your home, your children, your employees, your actors, your dancers, your spouses, your partners, your lovers. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about us. Communicate what you want and need clearly, while being totally direct. And Collaborate. Yes, even with your children. Listen to them, hear them and implement their ideas to create this safe space that together, you will share.

And finally, we must support the women and men who are not in safe spaces, by giving them a voice and offering up safe space to them. When a space is free from fear, ego, the possibility of sexual abuse or abuse of power, human potential increases exponentially. We can have lives filled with happiness, creativity, and fulfillment that brings about positive social change. I invite you to become more deeply compassionate and brutally strong.

How to Learn Much More From the Books You Read

It is one thing to read and another thing to understand what you are reading. Not only do you want to understand, but also remember what you've read. Otherwise, we can safely say that if we're not gaining anything from what we read, then it's a big waste of time.

Whatever you read, there are ways to do so in a more effective manner to help you understand better. Whether you are reading by choice, for an upcoming test, or work-related material, here are a few ways to help you improve your reading skills and retain that information.

Read with a Purpose

Never has there been a shortage of great books. So, someone recommended a great cookbook for you. You start going through it, but your mind is wandering. This doesn't mean the cookbook was an awful recommendation, but it does mean it doesn't suit nor fulfill your current needs or curiosity.

Maybe your purpose is more about launching a business. Maybe you're a busy mom and can't keep office hours, but there's something you can do from home to help bring in more money, so you want information about that. At that point, you won't benefit from a cookbook, but you could gain a lot of insight and find details here on how-to books about working from home. During this unprecedented year, millions have had to make the transition to work from home, and millions more are deciding to do that. Either way, it's not a transition that comes automatically or easily, but reading about it will inform you about what working from home entails.


When you pre-read it primes your brain when it's time to go over the full text. We pre-read by going over the subheadings, for instance, the table of contents, and skimming through some pages. This is especially useful when you have formal types of academic books. Pre-reading is a sort of warm-up exercise for your brain. It prepares your brain for the rest of the information that will come about and allows your brain to be better able to pick the most essential pieces of information you need from your chosen text.


Highlighting essential sentences or paragraphs is extremely helpful for retaining information. The problem, however, with highlighting is that we wind up highlighting way too much. This happens because we tend to highlight before we begin to understand. Before your pages become a neon of colored highlights, make sure that you only highlight what is essential to improve your understanding and not highlight the whole page.

Speed Read

You might think there have been no new ways to read, but even the ancient skill of reading comes up with innovative ways; enter speed reading. The standard slow process shouldn't affect your understanding, but it does kill your enthusiasm. The average adult goes through around 200 to 250 words per minute. A college student can read around 450 words, while a professor averages about 650 words per minute, to mention a few examples. The average speed reader can manage 1,500 words; quite a difference! Of course, the argument arises between quality and quantity. For avid readers, they want both quantity and quality, which leads us to the next point.

Quality Reading

Life is too short to expect to gain knowledge from just one type of genre. Some basic outcomes of reading are to expand your mind, perceive situations and events differently, expose yourself to other viewpoints, and more. If you only stick to one author and one type of material, you are missing out on a great opportunity to learn new things.

Having said that, if there's a book you are simply not enjoying, remember that life is also too short to continue reading it. Simply, close it, put it away and maybe give it another go later on, or give it away. There is no shame or guilt in not liking a book; even if it's from a favorite author. It's pretty much clear that you won't gain anything from a book that you don't even enjoy, let alone expect to learn something from it.


If you're able to summarize what you have read, then you have understood. When you summarize, you are bringing up all the major points that enhance your understanding. You can easily do so chapter by chapter.

Take a good look at your life and what's going on in it. Accordingly, you'll choose the material that is much more suitable for your situation and circumstances. When you read a piece of information that you find beneficial, look for a way to apply it to your life. Knowledge for the sake of knowledge isn't all that beneficial. But the application of knowledge from a helpful book is what will help you and make your life more interesting and more meaningful.