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.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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