Founder of Afrovibe™
THE INSPIRATION TALK
BONJOUR MARYAM! SO HAPPY TO TALK TO YOU TODAY!
TELL US WHERE YOU ARE FROM AND WHAT YOU WERE DREAMING OF DOING WHEN YOU GREW UP ?
My name is Maryam, I’m 38 years old and I am French! I was born in Paris but was raised in the suburbs of Paris until I was 24. Then I moved back to Paris for a while until coming to Rio at 35! When I was young, I didn’t like school at all! It was not for me, I felt like someone was forcing me to fit into a box. When I was 4, my teacher even told my mom that although I was clever I would never be a big fan of school. At 6, I first heard about Gymnastics and at 12 I finally started going to sports school. I had to work hard because if you didn’t have good grades there, you couldn’t stay and practice gymnastics. There I realized that I would need to find something I love to do as a job in order to motivate myself. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, only that I loved to travel, to keep in movement and have fun. I thought : “I’m really good with people and taking care of them, I’m good at sports and I give good advice”. So I became a personal trainer / dance teacher. I actually started training people when I was 18 or 20.
IT’S AMAZING THAT FROM A VERY YOUNG AGE YOU ALREADY UNDERSTOOD THE IMPORTANCE OF DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE !
Everybody doesn’t have this chance but as far as I can remember, whenever my mom was asking me what I wanted to do when I grow up, I always answered: “in the morning I am going to roller-blade, in the afternoon I am going to ride a bicycle, then I am going to dance and at night I am going to take care of people like a nurse”. I was hearing the question simply as I child: ”what do you WANT to do when you grow up”. So I answered simply with the things I WANTED to do without trying to know if these were actual jobs one could do for a living.
THIS IS SO SWEET AND ACTUALLY ACCURATE; MORE AND MORE PEOPLE ARE QUITTING THEIR JOB NOW REALIZING WHAT YOU HAVE UNDERSTOOD AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. IN FRENCH, WE SAY “LA VERITÉ SORT DE LA BOUCHE DES ENFANTS” (TRUTH COMES OUT OF CHILDREN’S MOUTH) AND IT’S SO TRUE : WHY STRUGGLE WITH SOMETHING YOU DON’T LIKE DOING AND ULTIMATELY WILL END UP DOING NOT WELL ENOUGH WHEN YOU COULD FIND WAYS TO EARN MONEY WITH SOMETHING YOU LOVE AND ARE GOOD AT DOING!
My mom never told me that roller blading, bicycling, dancing… all these things were not “proper” jobs. She always told me these were great things to do. Straight away she was really supportive. I had this chance. Life is so short, tomorrow it can all end. That is actually why I also moved to Brazil at 35 years old!
TELL US ABOUT THAT DECISION !
So from 28 to 35 I kept thinking that I wanted to move away from Paris. I felt Paris was not my place to be anymore, I felt again caged in a box.
My life was perfectly okay in Paris but I also thought that they were so many places to explore and things to learn, that I can now say that my life is so much better! But Brazil was not my first choice. Asia was, because I am a diver too. And at that time I was going through the process of becoming a dive master and instructor, and Asia is a very good place to do that. But then I realized that culturally speaking it could be very challenging to really mingle, specially for me, as I am so social and I didn’t want to be only hanging out with expats. So then I thought of Brazil, a place where sports is a big part of the culture! My friends were afraid for me, especially taking this decision at 35, but my mom was so supportive telling me that if it didn’t work out I could always come back. And I found myself in Rio.
But I didn’t want to leave everything I had been building for so long, behind. I was not running away from anything. So I wanted to make the move properly.
I first travelled to Rio for holidays with my best friend to kind of having someone “validating” my choice. After a week here, she told me my choice was obvious. So we went back to Paris and from then I told my friends and family and started preparing for my move.
As I already had my Afrovibe™ classes in Paris, I started training replacement teachers to take on. I left my coaching classes, sold the rest and arrived in Brazil in December 2013 with 5000 euros on my bank account. My focus upon arrival was to chill out because I was exhausted after the past few months dedicated to preparing my move.
But then a month and a half upon my arrival, something happened which gave a whole different outcome to my plans. My cousin who was raised with me by my mom, was an alcoholic and passed away. She was living in Guadeloupe alone with her daughter Paloma at that time. So I flew there to take care of the situation with my mom. I always knew this moment would come eventually. Obviously I didn’t plan the moment would happen so early on...
So after one month in Guadeloupe taking care of everything, I came back to Rio. It was too difficult for me to go back to France… I spent three months not knowing who I was anymore. I was empty. I put on a lot of weight. I could not do anything anymore, I would not run anymore, I would not dance anymore, nor do any sports. And after three months, one day, I said to myself : “wake-up! You’re 35 years old, in a foreign country, you don’t have any money, you don’t have a visa. So either you go back to France, or you do something about it here.”
So I decided to give it a try, and went to see all the dance studios in the Zona Sul (editors's note: south zone of Rio de Janeiro) to find work as a dance teacher. After two or three of them told me they would hire me to start the following month, I booked a plane ticket to spend the time until then with Paloma in France where my mom was taking care of her.
When I came back to Rio, I felt like a warrior, dedicated to make it happen for me here! I had a goal: succeed for my new daughter and make a good life for us both. And so from then on, I worked like crazy to reach that goal.
YOU SAID THAT BEFORE MOVING TO RIO, YOU HAD A VERY GOOD LIFE IN PARIS WITH YOUR COACHING BUSINESS DOING GREAT (EVEN FRENCH VOGUE'S CARINE ROITFELD’S FAVOURITE)… SO TELL US HOW THE AFROVIBE™ ADVENTURE BEGAN?
When I was 12, at gymnastics school, I met with my friend and now business partner, Doris. We don’t have anything in common except she’s like my sister. She was a great gymnastics champion! After sports school, she moved to the U.S.A. because she needed to find herself, but then we reconnected at some point and decided to do something together, obviously in sports, which was what linked us in the first place. Something “afro” because we are both “afro” descendants. That’s how Afrovibe™, a dance workout inspired by African music and movements was born, in 2011.
So I started introducing it to chic Parisian gym venues, and soon got some press. Doris was doing the same in Los Angeles where she was living. But it was around this time that I also wanted to move to Brazil. So that is when we started training teachers and creating this network to take on the Afrovibe™ legacy we created in France and it somehow grew like that.
NOW THAT YOU LIVE IN BRAZIL, A COUNTRY WITH SUCH A STRONG MIX OF CULTURES, DO YOU FEEL AFROVIBE™ CAN BE AS SUCCESSFUL AS IT IS FRANCE?
In Brazil, I immediately saw the potential for Afrovibe™. But in terms of history, it is more complicated. Brazil banished slavery only 100 years ago. So I realized that doing something that was linked to that African heritage, while wearing an afro, could actually be perceived as a political statement. Whereas for me, it had absolutely nothing to do with that! I just wanted to share something that I think is nice, plus you absolutely don’t need to be black to dance “Afrovibe™”, as a matter of facts I wouldn't want a black-only public!
So when I started giving classes in Zona Sul, which often included wealthy white women, some people started saying that I was "black but white inside". Of course everybody is not like this here, but I had to fight this negativity. I understand that these people are suffering a lot but I still don’t find it very clever to act like this. I bring Afrovibe™ everywhere, not only in the rich neighborhoods, but it is true that racism exists here on a whole different level than in France. So I had to adapt and gave a new dimension to Afrovibe™, with a more fitness accent: focusing on the body and the fun.
WHAT IS THE MESSAGE YOU WANT TO PASS AND HOW DO YOU INTEND TO PASS IT ON?
We live in such a complicated world right now, and are completely over flooded with (sad) information, that if I can offer one hour of total connection to nature and to movement in front of the beach with good music and percussions and forget about the rest, I’m happy. One hour of mindfulness and feeling good about yourself. Of course it won’t change anything in the world, but maybe it will change something in the way you see it.
I FEEL IT IS A TRUE LUXURY NOW TO REALLY DISCONNECT WITHOUT SUFFERING FOMO. THERE IS ACTUALLY THIS NEW GENERATION OF HOTELS PROMOTING A NO-WIFI CONCEPT AND PEOPLE PAY A LOT OF MONEY TO GO THERE AND FEEL COMPLETELY SHUT OUT OF THIS WORLD.
Weirdly enough we don’t manage to disconnect alone, so we pay to be in a context where it is the norm. So that is why I think that if I can help with that with my classes, I feel happy. This is also the reason why I am so dedicated when it comes to training a new Afrovibe™ teacher; I always tell them to show the people that they can succeed in learning a new choreography in one hour if they are really connected to themselves. These small successes ultimately bring them more confidence and actually I have a lot of husbands from women who attend my classes, thanking me for the positivity that I helped their wives with!
I GUESS THIS POSITIVITY MADE YOU SHINE FOR BIG NAMES LIKE NIKE. YOU ARE NOW A TRAINER FOR THEM; TELL US A BIT MORE ABOUT IT!
It actually took one year or so since Nike first noticed me through Afrovibe™. They invited me to big Nike events in L.A, Portland, and Rio, doing classes in front of 1000 women! And finally asked me if I would join the company as a trainer. But it is completely separated from Afrovibe™. It is I as Maryam. In Brazil I am actually working with them as an influencer in big events and also in the Nike Training Club in Arpoador.
AND THEN THERE IS “LA CONSÉCRATION”! YOU HAVE BEEN SCOUTED BY ONE OF THE BIGGEST SAMBA SCHOOL (UNIDOS DE VILA ISABEL) TO OPEN THEIR PARADE IN SAMBODROME DURING THE NEXT CARNIVAL! I DON’T KNOW IF EVERYONE READING UNDERSTANDS THE MEANING OF THIS… HERE IN BRAZIL, THIS IS HUGE NEWS! IT IS A REAL COMPETITION BETWEEN ALL THE SAMBA SCHOOLS, THEY START TRAINING NEARLY ONE YEAR BEFORE THE EVENT, THERE IS A LOT OF MONEY INVOLVED AND ABOVE EVERYTHING IT IS SUCH A GREAT PART OF BRAZIL’S CULTURE. SO FIRST OF ALL CONGRATS! AND SECOND OF ALL: HOW DOES IT FEEL?
I’m like in a dream. It actually was never a “dream” of mine to dance at Carnival. I always liked going to Carnival and watch it but never thought of being part of it one day. But somehow even when I was struggling at the beginning of my adventure in Brazil, I felt a strength that kept me going on. Maybe it was for that (laughs).
I was in France last September when I received a Facebook message from Patrick Carvalho, Vila Isabel's front commission choreographer, who was asking me if I was “THE” Maryam from Afrovibe™ because they were looking for one dancer who would be able to dance like that and not typical Samba which I don’t really know how to dance properly anyway. But I was on holidays to visit my family and really needed and wanted to disconnect, so when I saw the message I didn’t really pay any attention. Once I got back, I saw the choreography and I realized the challenge that it was: the role was for one woman, dancing in the middle of 14 professional men dancers, opening the cortège for the whole samba school! Plus I knew I had to be 100% dedicated to it when at the same time I have to deal with my classes, Afrovibe™, Nike Training Club, my business for which I don’t have any help in marketing or anything… Saying yes would mean 2 to 4 times a week rehearsals from 10pm to 1am, and a f***ing responsibility! But he insisted I should at least come to one rehearsal to meet with the other dancers and see the choreography live.
So I went. Little did I know that it was actually a surprise audition! So I danced, and they asked me to join them for real. They said they didn’t want anyone else. After two weeks of over-thinking it, I finally said yes.
IT MUST BE SO FULFILLING AFTER ALL THESE YEARS OF STRUGGLING, TO FEEL THAT YOUR HARD WORK PAID OFF AND YOU ARE WANTED FOR SOMETHING YOU CREATED!
That is exactly what they told me; they were not as impressed by my ability to dance and my choreographies, than the actual “movement” / community that I created with Afrovibe™. And I’m proud of myself for that too!
WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU?
Living and enjoying everyday as if it was your last one.
ONE LAST QUESTION... WHAT SONG WILL ALWAYS MAKE YOU WANT TO DANCE?
Michael Jackson’s Wanna be Startin’ Somethin’, with the sample “mama say mama sa mama coosa”. This is my song!
MERCI BELLE MARYAM! X
More on Maryam here and here!
Photos ©Daryan Dornelles and ©Charlotte Valade