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.
With so many groundbreaking medical advances being revealed to the world every single day, you would imagine there would be some advancement on the plethora of many female-prevalent diseases (think female cancers, Alzheimer's, depression, heart conditions etc.) that women are fighting every single day.
For Anna Villarreal and her team, there frankly wasn't enough being done. In turn, she developed a method that diagnoses these diseases earlier than traditional methods, using a pretty untraditional method in itself: through your menstrual blood.
Getting from point A to point B wasn't so easy though. Villarreal was battling a disease herself and through that experience. “I wondered if there was a way to test menstrual blood for female specific diseases," she says. "Perhaps my situation could have been prevented or at least better managed. This led me to begin researching menstrual blood as a diagnostic source. For reasons the scientific and medical community do not fully understand, certain diseases impact women differently than men. The research shows that clinical trials have a disproportionate focus on male research subjects despite clear evidence that many diseases impact more women than men."
There's also no denying that gap in women's healthcare in clinical research involving female subjects - which is exactly what inspired Villarreal to launch her company, LifeStory Health. She says that, “with my personal experience everything was brought full circle."
“There is a challenge and a need in the medical community for more sex-specific research. I believe the omission of females as research subjects is putting women's health at risk and we need to fuel a conversation that will improve women's healthcare.,"
Her brand new biotech company is committed to changing the women's healthcare market through technology, innovation and vocalization and through extensive research and testing. She is working to develop the first ever, non-invasive, menstrual blood diagnostic and has partnered with a top Boston-area University on research and has won awards from The International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineering and Northeastern University's RISE.
How does it work exactly? Proteins are discovered in menstrual blood that can quickly and easily detect, manage and track diseases in women, resulting in diseases that can be earlier detected, treated and even prevented in the first place. The menstrual blood is easy to collect and since it's a relatively unexplored diagnostic it's honestly a really revolutionary concept, too.
So far, the reactions of this innovative research has been nothing but excitement. “The reactions have been incredibly positive." she shares with SWAAY. “Currently, menstrual blood is discarded as bio waste, but it could carry the potential for new breakthroughs in diagnosis. When I educate women on the lack of female subjects used in research and clinical trials, they are surprised and very excited at the prospect that LifeStory Health may provide a solution and the key to early detection."
To give a doctor's input, and a little bit more of an explanation as to why this really works, Dr. Pat Salber, MD, and Founder of The Doctor Weighs In comments: “researchers have been studying stem cells derived from menstrual blood for more than a decade. Stem cells are cells that have the capability of differentiating into different types of tissues. There are two major types of stem cells, embryonic and adult. Adult stem cells have a more limited differentiation potential, but avoid the ethical issues that have surrounded research with embryonic stem cells. Stem cells from menstrual blood are adult stem cells."
These stem cells are so important when it comes to new findings. “Stem cells serve as the backbone of research in the field of regenerative medicine – the focus which is to grow tissues, such as skin, to repair burn and other types of serious skin wounds.
A certain type of stem cell, known as mesenchymal stem cells (MenSCs) derived from menstrual blood has been found to both grow well in the lab and have the capability to differentiate in various cell types, including skin. In addition to being used to grow tissues, their properties can be studied that will elucidate many different aspects of cell function," Dr. Salber explains.
To show the outpour of support for her efforts and this major girl power research, Villarreal remarks, “women are volunteering their samples happily report the arrival of their periods by giving samples to our lab announcing “de-identified sample number XXX arrived today!" It's a far cry from the stereotype of when “it's that time of the month."
How are these collections being done? “Although it might sound odd to collect menstrual blood, plastic cups have been developed to use in the collection process. This is similar to menstrual products, called menstrual cups, that have been on the market for many years," Dr. Salber says.
Equally shocking and innovative, this might be something that becomes more common practice in the future. And according to Dr. Salber, women may be able to not only use the menstrual blood for early detection, but be able to store the stem cells from it to help treat future diseases. “Companies are working to commercialize the use of menstrual blood stem cells. One company, for example, is offering a patented service to store menstrual blood stem cells for use in tissue generation if the need arises."