Joanne Schwarz uses experimental dance to heal from sexual abuse
Joanne Schwarz, a UK based trained contemporary dancer and filmmaker, uses her talents and platform to illuminate a dire issue in today’s society as well as take us a long her personal journey towards recovery from sexual abuse.
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“Set on You,” her debut dance film, traces the stages of grief and eventual liberation Joanne experienced in the aftermath of sexual abuse, from the depths of despair to the highs of re-establishing self-love.
“It filters through the disabling feeling of helplessness to a sickening sadness, through a sticky feeling of aggression, which turns into uplifting thoughts of revenge and reestablishing self-worth and love,” says Joanne.
Throughout the entire film, the song “I Got My Mind Set On You” by James Ray plays in the background and rings through your head when the film is over.
“The song was chosen as this this cheerful earworm turns into a haunting one which you try to get out of you head, but it sticks, just like an assault,” says Joanne.
The lush imagery within this film takes us through events of everyday life, portraying them as tainted with the trauma of sexual abuse. The sequencing depicts the arduous struggle of overcoming that trauma by finding the strength to forget, overcome, and heal. The film was shot in several different locations in Joanne’s home of Suffolk, UK their significance aiming to underline the issues of sexual abuse.
“The open green garden space resembles normality and growth. This is juxtaposed by cutting wood, as normality and growth are beyond comprehension after an assault. Later on in the video the same location is used but in the rain, resembling purification and regrowth,” says Joanne.
The powerful movement of dance and the freedom of self expression it grants is used to represent Joanne finding the strength and will to reclaim her dignity.
“I chose the empty, seedy pub to resemble my natural state of being after the assault, cold, sticky, non-important. I juxtaposed this with my dancing where I used high levels of energy, to visualise the internal will and strength of overcoming, which was necessary to find a way back to my former self,” says Joanne.
The symbolic value of the shower and bath also represent the vital importance of cleansing during her recovery process. Her excessive showering shows how trauma can you drive you towards abnormal coping mechanisms, hindering your ability to return to a normal, comfortable life.
“Cleansing became something so crucial to me that it was obsessive. I would often have 5-10 showers a day and still not feel clean, this is why I wanted to include the dirt in the shower shot,” says Joanne.
Although it is devastatingly heart-breaking that any human being must bear such senseless trauma, Joanne’s re-emergence through courage and art is astoundingly beautiful and sends a message of hope and solidarity to all survivors of sexual abuse.