By Yulia Federov
When Suzanne Kanso walked into her first bachata class two years ago, she didn’t know what to expect. She thought she might learn a few steps of this popular Latin partner dance, improve her mental health, or find a fun form of exercise.
What she definitely didn’t expect is that today, a mere two years later, she would be travelling around the world participating in dance competitions and festivals, learning from the world’s best bachata instructors, and inspiring thousands via her Insta-famous feminist brand, Bachata Femmes.
With 33.2k followers and rising, Kanso’s @bachatafemmes Instagram handle includes inspiring videos of female-leading-female dancers, as well as other gender-role-breaking dancers, in an effort to inspire women to feel empowered through dance.
As a self-taught lead in bachata, a role traditionally monopolized by male Latin dancers, Kanso is a huge advocate for women learning to lead. “Imagine that, when you’re having a stressful day and you go out dancing, you’re able to lead and follow. How exciting is that? You don’t need to wait for anyone to be happy. You can be your own source of happiness,” Kanso exclaims. “That’s what I want with Bachata Femmes, and why I want a female-leading-female platform that’s not tied to sexuality, or pleasing the male gaze,” she further explains.
While leading has always been a source of joy and empowerment for Kanso, she acknowledges that breaking the stereotypes in Latin dancing has not always been an easy thing to do. “I always had negative comments,” she says. “I’ve actually had derogatory comments from guys during class, where they would make sexual references to me as a lead.” Kanso continues. Not only has she been sexualized while learning how to lead, but she has also been forced to deal with being unfairly labeled. “I’ve had so many men question my sexuality because I lead. Just because I lead, does not mean I should be categorized into a box.”
Through her struggles with sexism and sexual assault on the dance floor, Kanso realized just how much the Toronto dance community had a need for a platform through which female dancers could feel empowered. What she didn’t expect was for that platform to go global. Today, she regularly receives messages from women seeking advice about how to cope with a variety of difficult situations, ranging from sexual assault to cyber harassment to rape in the dance scene. She struggles to explain how having fellow dancers seek help from her makes her feel: “Just knowing that it’s a safe space for women to speak up… I don’t know what terminology to use, because on the one hand I’m happy that people feel safe to come forward, but at the same time I can’t use ‘happiness’ in the context of what occurred to them.”
In terms of the future of Bachata Femmes, Suzy Kanso hopes to continue helping and supporting women around the world. “There’s no one specific place where people can go for advice, and so I’m hoping Bachata Femmes can be that kind of platform where people can anonymously come and say, ‘this is what happened to me—what am I supposed to do?’”
She also plans on teaching bachata as a lead in the near future, encouraged by the positive feedback she has received from her fans, dancers she’s led, and the medals she’s garnered throughout her unconventional dance career. “I’ve had a lot of people say to me, ‘I’ve never been led by a woman before—it feels amazing,’ and they keep coming back for more dances.”
Keep up with Kanso and Bachata Femmes by following @bachatafemmes on Instagram and Facebook. No matter if you’re a guy, a gal, a dancer or a non-dancer, the criteria for joining the Bachata Femmes fan club are minimal.
“My platform is all about inclusivity. I don’t care about anyone’s religious, political, sexual orientations—if you’re here to dance and have fun, then I’d like to welcome you.”