Who are they?
AfroFunk Rio: Feminist collective of dancers, performers and DJs based in Rio de Janeiro who do dance workshops, photo-shoots and host club nights to raise awareness to women's rights and combat racism.
What do they want to do?
"Dominate the world!"
Taisa Machando (Co-Founder)
They claim to be "warriors" who use dance as their weapon against a class divided society that is both sexist and racist.
Reality check in Rio
In Rio de Janeiro if you are a women getting on the underground during rush hour you will be able to sit in a pretty pink carriage that is strictly female only. The "ladies elusive carriage"" is a small attempt made by Rio's public security to combat the major problem of sexual harassment in the city. Small in the sense that whilst this carriage might enable a certain minority of women to feel more secure during the brief time they spend inside its Barbie doll interior, it does not benefit those (generally poorer women) who have had the misfortune to travel on the sweaty overcrowded city buses...and it is certainly no solution to this problem in wider society.
Having lived in Rio a number of times I can vouch that dealing with the city as a women is complicated. Living there as a European women I embraced Rio culture as one that enabled me to let my hair down, wear a skimpy bikini and openly "twerk" the moment I hit a dance-floor. However like most good things in life- all this freedom comes at a price. Women in Rio are made to feel like both a Goddesses and a victim; if you don't protect yourself against the latter you will find yourself in trouble.
Just to clarify, when I mention sexual harassment in Rio, I am not referring to the odd wolf whistle. Sexual harassment is when a man believes that by wearing a mini-skirt you are offering him an open invitation to put his hand directly up it - and in Rio should you give him a slap for doing so he may well give you one back- or worse. This is a society wherein male bravado is encouraged and femininity is quite confusingly both worshiped and viewed as a weakness.
"I am both feminine and a feminist"
Sabrina Ginga co-founder of AfroFunk Rio opposes quite firmly the notion by stating: "I am both feminine and a feminist". The idea of embracing femininity whilst openly declaring yourself a feminist is something that forms the basis of the AfroFunk Rio project. These girls use activities that are generally considered forms of feminine "play" such as dressing-up in glitter and feathers, posing for photos and making up dance routines a powerful tool for social resistance. Backstage at their events as they apply their lippy they jokingly remark "let's prepare for war" . When I asked them about the meaning behind the statement they told me they were comparing themselves with the Brazilian indigenous people who use red paint to prepare themselves as tribal warriors.
Their dance workshops are also viewed as "war preparation" wherein they use "Afrocentric" dance moves to build strength and express themselves in exactly the way they want to. AfroFunk Rio believe that connecting with the body begins in the mind and hence they ask participants of their workshops to embrace a mentality inspired by African cultural heritage and Carioca Funk dance culture (which hails from Rio's slums and also has strong African roots).
Founder Taisa Machando states proudly that she is s girl- "born and created by Funk culture". As a personal friend of mine I can vouch that her dance moves come direct from the Bailie Funk scene - illegal dance raves organised by gangsters in favelas - most but not all have been banned owing to police occupation. These are dance raves wherein " Tudo liberado"- everything is allowed!
The dance classes offered by AfroFunk Rio place emphasis on training participants in these techniques in a safe "uncensored" space. During my most recent visit to Rio I got to see this in action whilst I stayed with AfroFunk Rio for performance research purposes. Whilst it was not possible to film during their workshops here's a video from an event they hosted in Ipanema which demonstrates Taisa's skill at powering up a group of women. I also had the chance to run a photo-shoot with AfroFunk Rio with a collection of headdresses designed as a special commission by Jodie Cartman that fused the crown of Candomblé Goddess Oxum with Afro-Futurist fashion. Photography by David Peixao.
If you happen to be in Rio during the Olympics and feel like fusing fitness with feminism, discover more about Afro-Brazilian cultural heritage, Rio's favela dance scene and have alot of fun then its not hard to find these girls! As part of the Rio Olympic cultural program AfroFunk RIo will be performing their latest production AfroPower: Between the Sacred and Profane at the Parque de Madureira 18th August at 18:00h. Or if you want to have a go at dance training they run workshops at Fundiçao Progresso (behind arches of Lapa): Wednesdays and Fridays 9am - 10am, Thursday 8pm- 9pm and Fridays 7pm - 8:30pm.
And don't forget to follow them on Facebook / Instagram to check out more amazing photos/ videos! @AfroFunkRio #NaSuaCara.