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  • 26 Jul 2015 17:07 | Anonymous

      The Road to Donetsk
    a tribute to the inspirational women of Ukraine

    By Diane Chandler

    Diane Chandler
    TACIS Programme in Ukraine

    Watching the news about Ukraine over the past year has been a poignant affair for me. Both the streets of Donetsk and its surrounding landscape seem so familiar, because I was once a frequent visitor. Way back in the 1990s, I used to manage EU overseas aid projects for Ukraine, and Donetsk was then a benign and busy city, full of hope and potential renewal after the fall of communism.

    Our aid programme was called TACIS (1) (Technical Assistance to the Commonwealth of Independent States) and our goal was to transfer European expertise and know-how to Ukraine, in support of its transition to the free market. And, eventually, to democracy. It was some challenge, but back then we were all of us – Ukrainians and Europeans alike – up for it. It was early on that I first flew down to Donetsk (2), a city at the heart of the vast Donbas industrial region, with its mass of coalmines, steel and chemicals plants. Half the mines were earmarked for closure, and we set about designing an aid project, which might help those mining communities begin to cope with the thousands of expected job losses.

    Marina, a beautiful young woman with long blonde hair and those Slav eyes that beguile, was one of our interpreters and she made a lasting impression on me as we began our fact-finding. Her cheeks would flush with the passion she felt for her people, for getting the development of her country right. With her we drove about on dusty roads, cutting through sunflower fields, the wheels of coalmines rising starkly against a luminous spring sky. On into villages, where picket fences marked out cottage gardens, abandoned stork nests sat on disused chimney tops, and the dazzling greens of trees and hedges vied for attention.

    To shape our aid project we ran workshops with all the local stakeholders, including several miners, hefty men with pinpricks of blue coal-dust emblazoned in their foreheads, who seemed bewildered by the collapse of the Soviet Union. Once it was finalised, we put in a team of empathetic Brits, who knew something about pit closures, to help boost economic regeneration and bring new jobs into the region – a tall order indeed. They helped to set up job centres, which had not existed under communism, they supported the handful of entrepreneurs who were ready to give it a go, despite the ludicrous red tape and absurd interest rates, and they made efforts to attract foreign investment.

    The Women of Donetsk

    In my view, the women were orchestral in bringing renewal. And we were keen to encourage initiatives where they played significant roles, particularly at grass roots level, for example, in self-help community groups, or the emerging NGOs. For sure it was with the women of Donetsk, that I felt the most affinity, and I met many of them – regional officials, interpreters, villagers, secretaries, journalists. These were exuberant women – alert, intelligent, emotional, and extremely feminine – and often it would seem to me as if the whole of womankind was embraced within just the one woman. For them, hardship was part and parcel, they lived with so little, and to stand beside them was to feel their resilience, the need to keep their families going.

    And yet, while all these people had ever known was collapsing around them, their hospitality towards us as visitors was humbling. My memories of receptions in local cafes are vivid, the tables laden with platters of chicken legs, pork cutlets, stuffed pancakes, and tomato salads with no trace of a pesticide. The toasts with cognac would come at us fast and furious, the traditional third toast being to the ladies, after which I’d be up on my feet, several shots in, to add my own tribute to their kindness, to their resourcefulness.

    I do remember that in Donetsk there was a hankering for the past, for the good life of the Soviet days of yore, but I sensed no overt disruption to the intrepid Western reform path this new country was embarking upon. It was as if they’d give it a chance, with the presence of umpteen national aid programmes, plus major World Bank and IMF (International Monetary Fund) (3) loans. So much aid, so many EU experts on the ground, and I can only presume that some of our Ukrainian government partners ‘played’ us; at times their mind-set was impenetrable. I believe it was Vaclav Havel (4) who said that these people had ‘lived in the lie’ under communism – so many of them presenting a public face for fear of being denounced by the neighbours. For sure, they were wilier than we were. But then it was their lives at stake not ours.

    “The Road to Donetsk”

    Well, that was all a long time ago. I moved on before our project in Donetsk came to an end and I wonder what became of all we hoped to achieve. Often the institutions we helped to set up might crumble, or at least stumble, but we did bring new skills, fresh ways of working, and also cash into the local economy – and what’s more we walked alongside them in those early, muddled days, which in itself had a value. Donetsk was to become a thriving hub, with a spanking new airport. But of course still there are those who hanker after the past and who have notched their disgruntlement up to crisis level; that shiny airport has been obliterated by the rebels, and as I write well over 5000 people have lost their lives in the conflict. Marina, our fresh-faced interpreter who must now be in her forties, is currently coordinating the work of a humanitarian charity, I’ve heard.

    As for me, well a little piece of Ukraine climbed into my heart and has stayed there. So much so, that I have written a novel about it, an affectionate portrait of a country and people in transition. Loosely based on my time there, The Road to Donetsk is set just after the fall of communism and features a group of magnificent women in a mining community, which is faced with pit closures.

    It is also a story of love between an idealistic young English woman, who wants to change the world, and an older American, who is jaded by his years in overseas aid. I wanted to bring Ukraine and its people to life, for it is indeed a special place, and I cannot begin to fathom how somewhere I once knew as so benign can be now suffering such conflict.


    1. TACIS:
    2. Donetsk:
    3. IMF loans:
    4. Václav Havel:

    Short Biography

    Diane Chandler (born Marshall) worked at the European Commission in Brussels for several years, where she managed overseas aid programmes in Ukraine just after the fall of communism. Ukraine soon worked its way into her heart and she travelled there extensively. Back in London, when Diane married and her daughter was born, she was able to pursue her passion for writing in those few hours she could snatch, and she chose Ukraine as a setting.

    The Road To Donetsk is her first novel, published by Blackbird Digital Books in January 2015. It has just been long-listed for the People’s Book Prize in the UK, also the Beryl Bainbridge Award for Best First Time Author 2015/16.

    She is currently working on a second about a career woman going through the trials of IVF.

    Contacts Details
    Diane Chandler

    Disclaimer - 
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Blackbird, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • 26 Apr 2015 16:35 | Armelle Loghmanian

    Back to PWI Magazine- Q1 2015 edition

    I am convinced that Beauty boosts our immune system

    Interview by Alessandra Zocca

    Anna Piratti

    Visual artist

    Anna, you define yourself as a "visual artist", what do you mean?

    "Visual" art is the terminology used to define art expressions/works which produce a visible object/item.
    Amongst the various visual art forms I have a preference for painting and installations, but I am also engaged in art didactics and I teach art at school, public and private institutions, and in companies.

    How is it that art has become your profession?

    I have a specific memory from my childhood which can help me answer this question: when as children we were asked by adults what we would choose as a profession once we were grown up, some of us used to answer they wanted to become dancers, engineers, vets or mechanics, while I always answered, without hesitation, that I wanted to become a cartoonist (animated cartoons). Now I understand that I made my decision to work as an artist long ago and in a very natural, spontaneous, but also conscious, way. Later, along my journey I have developed the stamina and the competencies that have enabled me to work as an independent visual artist.

    How do you get inspiration for your art? Have you had role-models in your life?

    During my educational and professional development I have met at least five people who deeply inspired me: my teacher at the elementary school, my philosophy teacher at the high school, my art anatomy teacher at the school of fine arts (1) and two pedagogues during my post-university education.
    These individuals have triggered my creative process more than anyone else - so far – by providing me with the appropriate cultural frameworks and with their living example, with their human qualities and expertise they empowered me and sustained me in finding my own path.

    From the visual art side the artist who has impressed me mostly has been Bruno Munari (2), who represents for me an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The quality of his art shows without doubt how exceptional he was both as an individual and as an artist. I have become attached to Bruno Munari, whom I profoundly respect and whom I candidly call "my uncle".

    I also find his writing style very touching (3), though simple, essential, ironic, intelligent, vivid, joyful and authentic.

    What is the red path of your art?

    The red path of my art is "sharing", I give you an example, Alessandra, of my own concept of sharing, how it works:
    • When I read a book, watch a film or I simply talk with somebody, some elements - details, images or sentences – might touch me in a special way, move me or disturb me (as I guess it happens to other people too)
    • These elements look to me like stones thrown into a stretch of clean water, which do not plummet to the bottom but always float under the water’s surface until an unforeseen moment when they start interacting in an unpredictable way
    • I believe that any new idea is the result of a new interaction, something born in the stretch of clean water that comes to the surface - like a surprise - to be "shared".

    How have you started your career as an artist? What was your first orientation?

    I started by painting a series of pictures that I named "FACE TO FACE" (a mixture of acrylic and collage on canvas, various dimensions). These paintings reflect my thought that people can influence the climate of a place by changing the energy vibration through their presence, their voices, their gazes, the colours they wear.
    I have painted several facial expressions: for example an eyebrow rising up, a grimace, a tear, or laughter can reveal different moods.
    While I was preparing the materials (cuttings of paper with different thickness), I used to reflect about how people experience different temperaments and that made me feel so enthusiastic!

    Canvas - "FACE TO FACE"

    Are your art works considered rather "traditional" or do you experience the graphic techniques offered today by new technologies?

    I have a preference for painting on canvas, but at the same time I am fond of all that the new art technologies can offer. Concerning “digital painting”, I would like to share with you the story of one of my art works named "IN EQUILIBRIO" (In Balance) that combines both the aspects of tradition and innovation. It is actually a permanent "digital fresco" (size 5mx3m), I created according to the rules of the innovative technique called "Tattoo-wall" (4), a real permanent tattoo on a wall.

    Digital Fresco - "IN EQUILIBRIO" (In Balance)

    This digital fresco was commissioned from me by the consortium for land reclamation in  Padua (Consorzio di Bonifica Adige Euganeo di Padova) (5) to celebrate a successful infrastructural work in an area mostly below the sea level - located in the north-east of Italy, between the Adige and Bacchiglione rivers, close to the Adriatic Sea -. This area was drained and taken back from the sea during the 19th and 20th centuries thanks to the ability of hydraulic engineers, the hard work of agricultural workers and, later, of the new technologies.

    My digital fresco "IN EQUILIBRIO (In Balance)" celebrates the synergy between people and technology in order to protect the precious balance between the intervention of man and the miracle of nature.
    It was not easy to help my buyer imagine what the final work would look like … it often happens. He was afraid that the picture could look too modern and being a permanent tattoo, he feared a potential "permanent" mistake … Fortunately the project leader trusted me and my work turned out to be a unanimous success. You know, Alessandra, giving me trust makes my fly.

    Anna, I know you are very sensitive to social issues, how do you reflect your contribution to the society in your art?

    Through my installations (6) I contribute to create awareness around some of the most urgent social issues of nowadays. For instance, across the world many women and girls are treated like merchandise, trafficked from one country to another, sold like toys: my aim is to involve passers-by in the topic of human trafficking, slavery and female body mistreatment. I think I can explain better with the example of one of my installations - which I named “TOYS?” (7) - that normally generates a deep impact on the public. This is the process I put in place for the "TOYS?" installation:
    •  I delimit an area – public or private – and throw on the soil in a random order 800 dolls, battered and with no clothes: they represent neglected human beings, in a state of need and abandonment.
    •  I ask passers-by to pick up a doll, to take care of "her" by dressing her (I provide also some white fabrics and red ribbons) and to symbolically give human dignity back to her, and then to lay the doll in a specific zone of the installation area defined as a “safe zone”.
    • During these activities people interact, exchange ideas, feelings and emotions, they develop awareness around these social plagues, and experience solidarity and sympathetic behaviours.

    Interactive Installation - "TOYS?”

    Anna, I know you are trying to advance your innovative idea of integrating the world of work with the world of art. What is your concept and how do you implement it?

    Yes, I call this approach “art for business”. My goal is promoting people’s/ employee’s creativity in private and public companies, organisations and institutions through “art actions”. Again I think that an example from one of my art projects – "DISCORSO ALLA PARI (Peer Discussion)" (8) - could be the best explanation of how art can support an organisations’s goals.

    An entrepreneur from Padua (Italy) - after attending my performance of "DISCORSO ALLA PARI" - engaged me for a dual goal: increasing the team spirit amongst his 100 employees and promoting his company products through an appealing monographic catalogue. The DISCORSO ALLA PARI (Peer discussion) project I put in place for this company included the following steps:

    • Participants choose an object
    • They treat/consider their object as an equal, as a peer
    • They try to feel no prejudice, no embarrassment, no sense of superiority/inferiority, but to feel equals
    •  Participants talk to their object, about the object and about themselves.

    Art for Business - "DISCORSO ALLA PARI (Peer Discussion)”

    In the below video please see the spin offs of the University of Verona taking part in DAP project during  the European Researchers' Night 2013 (8).

    Anna, you are also an art teacher, a profession which has a great importance for you …

    Didactic is one of my greatest passions, teaching teaches, you know it, Alessandra. I love creating art educational curricula and specific training projects, like the one I called "OMAGGIO A CAPOGROSSI (Tribute to Capogrossi)", that I am happy to share with you.

    When I studied the work of Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900-1972) (9), I have been touched by an episode that the artist narrates: " Once I went with my mother to an institute for blind people. In a room some children were drawing. I went closer: their papers were full of little black signs, a sort of a mysterious alphabet... I felt deeply moved. Since then I have understood that signs are not necessarily the image of something we have seen, but they can express something which is inside us... ". My educational project "OMAGGIO A CAPOGROSSI (10) (Tribute to Capogrossi)" is inspired by his quote.

    I have structured "OMAGGIO A CAPOGROSSI (Tribute to Capogrossi)" into two phases: in the first phase participants create their own personal logo, unique and original, while in the second phase participants through a negotiation process are requested to integrate their own logos and deliver a collective logo.

    Art Educational - "OMAGGIO A CAPOGROSSI (Tribute to Capogrossi)"

    As in all my educational projects attendees are not required to have any specific design and painting ability or competencies. These types of art educational projects are addressed both to school pupils and to organisation employees or work teams. Actually these projects are excellent team building exercises.

    I help the attendees feel proud of their work and see the beauty. As you can see in the above picture, Alessandra, what participants can do is amazing; at a glance we realise their art work is very beautiful.

    Beauty is my guiding principle: I am convinced that beauty boosts our immune system!

    Anna, which are you professional or personal dreams?

    Professionally speaking I hope to find a manager that likes my work, believes in me and that takes care of promoting me and my work: this is critical for my future success. Promotion is a very tiring activity for me; it's not my cup of tea at all… I dream that my art work can contribute to improve "equity" in our society. I have been inspired by my grandparents, whom I have never met and who have experienced both the world wars. What I mean is that I acknowledge the sacrifices made by my relatives and predecessors, who came before me and who contributed with their efforts to build a more free and peaceful society. Thanks to their living example I feel called with my actions and my art to do my part in building a better future for the next generations.
    My heart’s dream is to live in Venice; in a house with a turret overlooking the lagoon …I have already shining eyes!

    Thanks, Anna, I truly wish  that the PWI Magazine brings good luck to you and that you can find your promotion manager or the "right" contact amongst our readers
    Thanks, Alessandra, for this opportunity of introducing myself and my art to the PWI Magazine readership.


    (1)       Accademia di Belle Arti (School of fine Arts) of Venice

    (2)       Bruno Munari

    (3)       Books by Bruno Munari

    (4)       Tattoo-wall

    (5)       Consorzio di Bonifica Adige Euganeo di Padova

    (6)       Some installations by Anna Piratti:

    SOTTOTITOLI (Subtitles): Europen Year For Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion (2010)

    POLLINE (Pollen): an action for a sustainable future


    (7)       TOYS?

    (8)       DISCORSO ALLA PARI

    DAP @ European Researchers' Night 2013 

    (9)     Giuseppe Capogrossi (1900-1972)

    (10)     Omaggio a Capogrossi

    Short Biography

    Anna Piratti is a visual artist. She currently lives and works in Brussels.

    Her works include paintings, digital surfaces, installations and performances. Some pieces of her art are currently exhibited at Compar Bata, Consorzio Euganeo, Athlets World and Cinzia Araia.
    Since 2008, Anna has been creating urban installations, with the intention to actively involve the public.

    Anna Piratti also works as a consultant for private companies and is involved in educational programmes commissioned by public organisations and institutions.

    She approaches education with the concept that learning occurs through experience. Anna is also a teacher in a high school in Padua (Italy).

    Anna Piratti was born in Dolo (Venice).
    She graduated from the School of fine Arts (Accademia di Belle Arti) in Venice with a major in painting. Whilst at college, she drew comic strips and illustrations.

    Contact Details




    Back to PWI Magazine - Q1 2015 edition

  • 08 Feb 2015 14:00 | Armelle Loghmanian

     Profession: undercover agent 

    Interview by Alessandra Zocca


    Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone

    Commander of the Carabinieri station of Muggio’ (Milan)

    What are the main differences between the life of a secret agent and the stereotypes proposed in movies?

    “Adrenaline” is the real difference factor between playing the role of secret agent in the highly popular spy movies or fiction, and being an undercover agent.
    Real secret agents must play their role without a script, but acting according to the situation they are facing, they need to rapidly figure out what to do or what to say even in situations they do not know, or when they know only the elements collected through phone tapping.
    All this in addition to the rapidity of action and the creativity in reaction, however the main risk secret agents must avoid is to be identified. adrenalin, in these situation helps a lot.... .

    Which reasons or motivations inspired you to accept such a dangerous challenge - as it is a mission as an infiltrator?

    My role as a secret agent started from a simple and unexpected consulting request by our colleague from the anti-drug department (called ROAD = Reparto Operativo Antidroga in Italy): they needed me as an interpreter of the dialect of Genoa (city in Italy), so I started listening and transcribing hours and hours of telephone tapping which took several months. The assignment also included tailing/chasing cars, hidden in a specially equipped van – a sort of camper, which was uncomfortable and spartan - especially after long hours and long periods.

    After this first, ‘cutting my teeth’ experience I was chosen to attend a course in Rome, held by DIA (American police department fighting the international drug trafficking). Again, the great difference between training/theory and practice as an infiltrator has been the adrenaline running in my veins, which provided me with the push in those stressful and dangerous conditions.
    Once I started in that role as an undercover infiltrator – nearly “timidly” assigned by my superiors – the motivation that sustained me for so many years was my willingness and determination to succeed in every operation, meaning confiscating several kilos of drugs and arresting drug-traffickers, reaching the most important international narcotic trafficking bosses and cartels.
    Being successful in my mission was giving gave me a sense of omnipotence, the fear of risks was neutralized by my aim to surpass the limits of my own ability, to win the challenge against the criminals and the challenges with myself.

    What values and inner strength have sustained you during those long years undercover? What was stronger than risking your own life, stronger than the fear for your family and the stress of being recognized?

    During this period I was sustained by the values and the ideals for which I enlisted in the police, which include performing my duty through to the end, independently from the task I have been assigned. My target, meaning accomplishing my operations/tasks at any cost, has always been much stronger than the risks, fears and potential consequences of this profession, which has been so stressful for me and for my family.

    What have you learned, lieutenant, from this experience, that otherwise you would not have learned in your life?

    From this experience, which lasted 10 years, I learned to know entirely the world of narcotic trafficking, the world of money and avidity. I also learned to:
    • Rapidly and courageously make decisions, even the most difficult and risky ones
    • Face all kind of situations in order to fulfill my purpose at any cost
    • Not giving up for any reason, not even facing the risk of death
    Reflect a lot, particularly when I had to deal with misfits and unscrupulous criminals, balancing with attention and wisdom my life opportunities and the love of my family, against the dissolute lives of those criminals, who lived in isolation and were inclined to take great excesses, which I witnessed when I lived so closely alongside them..

    Unfortunately some women emulate men in a criminal career instead of keeping their distance and differentiating themselves.
    How have women reached power in criminal organisations? Which type of power is exerted by those women, do they exert it in a different way than men do? Do you have some cases or examples?

    In the criminal environment there are two types of women:
    • The devoted and dominated wives, daughters and mothers of men, who, despite being criminals, play in an apparently normal way the role of respectable husband, son or father. These women are passively involved, accustomed to and aware of the profession of their relatives.

    • The other type of women involved in the ranks of organized crime are women with important active roles, who do not hesitate to exert their power with perfidy and cruelty, using very feminine, persuasive and deceitful methods, able to trap any kind of man in their network, in order to achieve their own objectives. They are very determined women, capable of crushing people without regret, conscious they can get everything they want: money, power and a luxurious life.

    Also in the army and in the police women have a career nowadays. What do you think motivates them? Which qualities can women bring? Do you have any case to share?

    Women in the army and police are moving up in their careers very rapidly, surely due to their merit and competencies and they do not suffer from discrimination in comparison with men.
    The contribution of a woman is critical in criminal cases affecting female victims or children, and in cases of rape or violence towards women, thanks to their female sensitivity. Additionally, women’s versatility, supported by the same military training delivered to men, allows them to enter any professional area.

    Let’s go back to you: if you could be remembered for only one of your merits or qualities demonstrated in your mission as an undercover secret agent, which one would you choose?

    Taking a hard look at my life as an undercover agent, I acknowledge my merit of never giving up, despite all the police and military disciplinary actions/proceedings started by mistake against me and despite the attitude of the judicial system, that ruined my life for a period. All this was crazy!
    On the other side all these incidents pushed me to accomplish all my tasks at all costs, whilst remaining at all times within the law, allowing me to demonstrate my loyalty to the values of my institutional role and to the education received from my mother and my father, who also had his career as a “Carabiniere” (branch of the Italian national military police) (1).

    Is there something else you would like to share with our readership? Please tell us about the book published in Italy about your experience as an infiltrator.

    I think that I had the chance to do the best work in the world and I think I have done it in an excellent way. A lot of people dream of becoming a secret agent, - they are simply identifying themselves with the various characters in stories, where secret agents are depicted in a stereotypical and obviously fictional manner.
    Nevertheless I highly discourage anyone from starting this profession due to the huge suffering my family and I had to pay: I could have lost those dearest to me (family), there was the highest risk it could easily occur to me.

    I would like also to highlight my sense of impotence towards this ceaseless and deathly trade, against which my many successes in sequestering large quantities of drugs and in defeating the top members of narcotic trafficking bands are only drops in the ocean compared to the drug commerce phenomenon, which looks like a tsunami.
    This negative feeling is also increased by the awareness that, due to the international economic interests, there is not enough political willingness to act more effectively: in my opinion the disbanding of the department to which I belonged, despite our successes, is a confirmation of my thoughts.

    In 2008 the book <<The Infiltrator>> was published, written by the journalist Carlo Brambilla, who narrates the ten year experience of Lieutenant Rapone as an undercover agent. The book (2) about my story was a sort of liberation for my psyche and I see it as a sounding board about the necessary legal interventions that I think are necessary to continue fighting this battle against drug trafficking and to support the secret agents who are involved. Here are some interventions I suggest:

    • Psychological support to the undercover agents, not available now

    • A pause between one mission and the following to permit agents to restore their physical and psychological resources after long periods in close contact with drug-traffickers

    • Avoiding secret agents being identifiable when acting as a witness in court, because criminals can recognize the agents who betrayed them and enabled their capture … this happened to me in recent years….
      The accused could not believe I was a Carabinieri marshal, as I had been so credible acting as one of them, or a customs agent, or a drug-trafficker or even a corrupt policeman.
      You might think this is incredible, but the Italian law does not consider the psychological effect of witnessing with an “open-face” (no protection) for a secret agent; this is an inhuman way to treat members of such a risky and necessary profession.


    (1) “Carabiniere”

    (2) “L’infiltrato” y Carlo Brambilla

    (3) Muggio’ (MB), Italy

    Short Biography

    Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone is the commander of the Carabinieri (1) station in Muggio’ (3).

    Lieutenant Rapone  joined the Carabinieri Army in 1979 and has covered different positions.
    He has participated in several investigation missions abroad (Germany, France, Spain, Switzerland, Slovenia, Turkey, USA) and to the NATO mission in Bosnia Herzegovina.

    In 2008 the book <<The Infiltrator>> was published, written by the journalist Carlo Brambilla, who narrates the ten year experience of Lieutenant Rapone as an undercover agent.

    In 2011 Lieutenant Rapone has been appointed to “Cavaliere della Repubblica Italiana” (knight, honorific title) by Giorgio Napolitano, President of the Italian Republic.

    Lieutenant Rapone is married, has an 11-year old daughter, and a 23-year old son, who is attending the military school to become a Carabiniere.

    Contacts Details

    Lieutenant Giancarlo Rapone

    Carabinieri Comando Stazione Muggiò
    20835 Muggiò (Monza e Brianza) Italy

    Disclaimer -    
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Arma dei Carabinieri, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.

  • 08 Feb 2015 10:47 | Armelle Loghmanian

     How I finally took the leap
    From a serious job I made dance my profession 

    Interview by Alessandra Zocca


    Elena Leibbrand

    Dance teacher & co-manager at Frisse Folk
    Events management consultant

    When and how did you start learning folk dancing? What inspired you and who taught you?

    I started folk dancing in the summer of 2006 during a family holiday in France. I was already very fond of Viennese and Cuban dances and Argentinian tango, and this seemed yet a totally different approach to dancing; especially the group dances where you change partner every so many bars. As soon as I returned to Brussels that year, I signed up for dance classes with Frisse Folk, which is the folk dancing school I now work for.
    Since then, my teachers and sources of inspiration have been numerous. There is Koen Dhondt of course, the founder of Frisse Folk, my first teacher, and now dance partner, and then many dance masters in France.

    In this video, Koen and Elena improvise a scottish during a big festival in France:


    I try to go to France as often as possible to follow workshops, and we regularly invite foreign dance teachers to teach for our school in Brussels.
    I would like to share this video of one of my favourite dance instructors, Pierre Corbefin, who speaks about traditional dances and their impact on human relations. He has been dancing for over half a century!

    What does dancing mean to you in your life? And what does ‘folk’ mean to you?

    To put it simply: dancing is my life. Or it has been for the last 18 years. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t dance: I teach it, I study it, I do it for enjoyment and most of my friends nowadays are dancers.

    ‘Folk’, for me, is the one dance that may well suit me the best. I am also a passionate salsa and tango dancer, and I’m very curious about contemporary forms of dancing, but folk is so much more than just the dance: it is also about history that has deep roots in European regions, the life style and an environment in which I feel particularly at home: everybody is welcome, no dance partner needed as we all dance together, no dress code, little alcohol, live music, ecologically-minded ...

    Elena, could you explain to us what ‘folk dancing’ is and its origins? What is the difference between folk dancing and folklore?

    In 2013, we produced this little video to answer your question, and also to show what folk dancing looks like today:

    You see, it is a tricky question as we navigate between cultural backgrounds and the modern boom in folk dancing where everybody tries to find the right words. These are the three different words we use:

    • Traditional dancing is how it used to be done in the villages at the time when these dances emerged. Nobody will ever dance like this again, since many traditions have been lost because they were no longer popular or ‘in’. After the two world wars people moved from their villages to the city and adopted a modern life style, including dances from America (swing, rock ‘n’ roll...)

    • Folk - In the 70s there was a revival of traditional music and dance, and the folk movement was born.
      What we do is take whatever is left of the tradition and adapt it to modern taste; some researchers have been to villages and interviewed the elderly about the musical and dancing habits of their youth (this is what we call ‘collectage’ in French). We try to get as close to the forms and movements that may have existed in villages before the industrial revolution, and we make this material our own.

    •  Folklore is the name used when someone takes a snap shot of what they think a dance would have looked like, and present it on stage. It is an artificial representation on stage, in costumes, by trained (amateur) dancers of something that has never existed in this form.
      Indeed, in the villages, people danced in whatever dress they had, and the goal was not to put on a show, but to have a good time after a long, hard working day.

    I still use the term ‘traditional dancing’ when I want to make the distinction between:
    • “Dancing in a very contemporary way based on tradition, but with lots of improvisation and new influences” (folk) or
    • “Dancing a specific repertoire, as closely as possible to what my dance masters taught me” (traditional).
    For me, being a good folk dancer today means being able to do both. It is a quite a delicate balance between respecting our ancestors’ heritage and adding a modern swing to it.

    What are the main differences in folk dancing in different countries?

    It depends on how fast and how far the industrial revolution went, some countries like Belgium almost completely lost contact with their traditional roots (fortunately, still a number of Flemish dances and Walloon dances have been collected, and we dance them); whereas in a few more remote areas of France, for example, the tradition could almost be kept alive without any real interruption.

    Then there are areas where it is very popular to claim that tradition never died (although many a researcher would claim otherwise), as tradition is sometimes used to back a culture of separatism or nationalism (e.g. Brittany where traditional dancing at the “fest noz” (1) is very popular these days).

    What type of music and instruments qualify for folk dances?

    Typical musical instruments would be the violin, the accordion, the flute and more ‘obscure’ instruments such as bagpipes (2), ullean pipes and whistles, tambourines, flutes (3) and the hurdy gurdy (4). I find this one a particularly fascinating instrument, now that I’ve learned to appreciate its very particular sound.

    Some styles require certain instruments: in the Auvergne (5) you will almost always have a violin, in Brittany the most fascinating bombard (6), etc. In recent years, the banjo, trumpet, cello, saxophone, etc. have found their way into folk music.

    Do young people still play folk music?

    Yes, there are more and more very young bands (7) playing, and even composing new ‘traditional’ tunes, some even very contemporary – can you guess all the references made by the band Accordzeâm in the following video of a ball we organised in Brussels?
    Incidentally, this video shows how folk dancers are quite open to anything, and yes ... at minute 6’00 you can see me dancing the Macarena!


    When we organise folk balls here in Brussels we try to follow the trend and invite a mix of the older, more traditional bands, as well as bands from the very creative younger generation. Some have a classical music education and others are self-taught – many of them are very good.

    How do folk musicians differ from the pop/rock and classical music ones?

    I see two main differences: firstly, they never use scores, most learning and playing is done by ear. Secondly, and it must derive from number one, there is a great camaraderie between all these musicians: very often a folk ball ends with a jam session where professional musicians will jam together with beginners, and that is basically how many of them learn the common tunes and how to play together.

    In the following video you can witness a very late night (or early morning) jam session with musicians and dancers at a festival:

    Are folk dances meant to be danced primarily in groups or in couples?

    Traditional dances were first danced in chains and in circles. Then the square dances (8) came, as danced at court. Dancing in couples is a very recent development from, the 19th century.

    Elena teaching the Ronde du Quercy, a dance from South-West France

    Nowadays, although we love the romantic mazurka and the scottish – two favourite couple dances along with the polka and the waltz – you will have a nice balance between these, and chains, circles, mixers (where one changes dance partner regularly) (9) and even some individual dances like the Fandango, which you can discover in the following video, also taken at a very late night jam session at a festival:

    They can go from a very simple learn-as-you-go style to highly intricate movements which can take years to learn.

    Observing your folk class I noticed that you warmly invite men and women to perform both the roles (the leading one and the following one): is there a specific reason, what’s the benefit?

    Both roles are fascinating and have their own particular flavour. Changing roles has benefits, for example:
    • Firstly you simply learn faster when you learn both sides – what are my partner’s needs? How do I communicate this or that?
      It took me years to become a really good follower, to really listen to what my partner was saying, and to finally enjoy being taken on a journey by a leader. But I also realised how wonderful it can be to take someone else on a journey ... now I lead as much as follow.

    • Secondly, if you can lead, you will never stand alone and wait to be invited (that’s the main reason why I stopped going to tango balls).

    Are there international folk dancing competitions?

    There are no international folk dancing competitions at all, simply because – unlike promoting folklore – our main motivation is not to perform on a stage, but to dance for our own pleasure.

    However, there are competitions at a local level, for example every summer, at Les Brayauds (10), the traditional dance & music centre where I go to study the bourrée auvergnate (11) (probably my favourite dance for the moment), there is a competition to choose the two best bourrée dancers of the year (12).
    It is quite informal and the winners go home with a huge Saint-Nectaire cheese. Which is quite amusing as this happens in July and we all sleep in tents – so basically the winner has to share the prize on the same day with everybody else!

    Once in a while you can see us on stage when we do an – always improvised – demo, like this one with my dance partner Koen Dhondt in Antwerp:

    Koen Dhondt & Elena teaching at a festival in France

    Our meetings are festivals. Up to 3500 people gather together in villages in France, Portugal, Italy and so on, to dance all day and night for 10 days, and then again a few days later in another village, for another 7 days.

    Do you think folk dancing will become more popular in the future?

    I really don’t know. I would love to say “yes”, as I consider the whole environment a very healthy one, but we are subject to fashion, like any other form of dancing.
    What I can say is that no matter what, there will always be those who cannot imagine dancing without live music, without switching from couple, to group, from circle to chain and ... staying up until 7am to listen to bagpipes and whistles!

    I collected some feedback from your students; I asked them why they attended folk dance classes. Most of them told me that they like the spirit of conviviality, the possibility to dance both in couples and in a group. Others mentioned that they were happy they had the opportunity to experience both the leading and the following role, it was a great surprise to exchange roles.

    Elena teaching folk dance to her evening class

    What types of students attend your classes? What is the average age of the folk dancers in your classes? Do you need any previous dancing experience or any musical experience to start?
    How long does it take to learn them (on average)?

    Everyone is welcome and I’m quite happy to say almost anyone comes to our classes. As neither experience, nor a dance partner is needed, it is very easy to join in. We have 17 year old students dancing with retired people, EC- civil servants and expats surprised by how easy it is to melt into a Belgian universe, hard-rockers, classical musicians, couples, mothers and sons, sisters ... My only regret is that we don’t have many people originating from non-European countries yet.

    It can take many, many years to become an excellent dancer (I myself, am still learning so much every year), but the great thing about folk dancing is that within a few weeks you can feel completely comfortable at a folk ball and then it is quite easy to join in other dances even if you don’t know the steps yet.

    Would you like to add any more reasons?

    I think the most touching feed-back I ever got was this one: “Elena, when I joined your classes 3 months ago, I had to force myself to come and the next day my whole body hurt. And now, I can’t wait to come to class and the next morning I feel young again – nothing hurts”. What a beautiful present this was!

    One more thing I have noticed is how many of our students very quickly bond with each other and then go to folk balls together, and even spend week-ends and the summer holidays together. Dancing helps break down barriers.

    Elena explaining the couple dance position

    Is teaching folk dancing your major occupation, Elena, or is it a hobby?

    Dancing had been a very important hobby for over 10 years, when in 2011 I finally took the leap and made it my profession.

    It was not easy to trade in my ‘serious’ job as a web content editor and event organiser for one of dance teacher and co-manager of a dance school, but it may have been one of the best decisions of my life. What I lost in security and cash flow, I gained many times over in happiness and sense of purpose.
    My two main pillars during this period of change were The Hub Brussels, a co-working space that is now closed; and a women’s circle held by two fantastic women here in Brussels.
    To maintain a good balance, I still work as a consultant in my other domain of expertise – I love trading my dance shoes for the rush of a high level expert group meeting.

    Do you also play music or sing?

    I played the violin and trombone for many years when I was younger. A good knowledge of classical music and jazz helped me a lot when I started dancing – generally speaking, when I listen to music, rhythm is the first thing I hear and enjoy.

    What are your dreams for the future, Elena, - both professionally and personally?

    I have two main dreams. One is to continue as a dancer and dance teacher and gain a better understanding of the body, of movement and of teaching.

    The other is to create a strong bond between dancing, energy work and movement and the work place. I want to offer bodywork as part of coaching or training sessions and also as leisurely breaks. For the moment, I run a folk dancing class at lunchtime, and very much enjoy the idea that participants go back to their offices refreshed and ready for a good afternoon’s work.

    Innovation consultant Jeffrey Baumgartner and I are also working on a project called ‘Human Dynamic Problem Solving’, where we coach participants to have a new outlook on unsolved problems by impersonating the situations. Our first try-outs generated some very promising feedback. My dream will come true when we can apply this method in a real business environment!

    If you had a magic wand, Elena, and were allowed to do magic to promote folk dancing, what would you do?

    I would pay a professional team to produce a short promotional video of our dance classes and other activities to be distributed on local TV, on the big promo-screens I have started seeing in town, and on the Internet.
    I would also like more people to know about our folk dancing animations which we offer for corporate and private events: the (B)all in One, where in a bit over an hour a group of people learns a few simple dances, and then has a lot of fun together while dancing them.
    Last but not least, I would have a brand new website for Frisse Folk, and one for my own activities.

    Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

    If you have a dream, or if you feel a calling: go for it now!

    Elena’s students dancing a Chappelloise, one of the most common mixer dances


    (1) Fest Noz

    (2) Young musicians from Les Brayauds playing a bagpipes duo

    (3) A comprehensive article in French on tambourines and flutes

    (4) Hurdy Gurdy

    (5) Auvergne

    (6) Bombard

    (7) “Les Piliers de Bal” are a very young folk band

    (8) Square dance

    (9) Short list of common folk dances

    (10) Les Brayauds Traditional Music & Dance Academy (only in French)

    (11) Bourrée auvergnate

    (12) Dance competition at Les Brayauds

    (13) Human Dynamic Problem Solving

    Short Biography

    Elena Leibbrand is a dance-enthusiast who has been practicing folk and traditional dances; Argentinian tango; Viennese and Latin dances; and contact improv’ / contemporary dance for over 15 years. She has also been training in massage and energy work since 2011.

    In 2010 she became co-manager of the folk dance school Frisse Folk, where she teaches several weekly dance classes in Brussels as well as holds dance workshops in Belgium and abroad. In parallel, she teaches private tango and folk dancing classes in her home studio and coaches people for their wedding dance.

    In addition to her substantial professional dance experience, Elena has worked in the corporate world as a web content developer, conference organiser and communications specialist for 10 years. She still acts as a consultant for communications agencies.

    One of her goals is to bring dance and movement to the corporate world through workshops designed to analyse problems; relieve stress and spur creativity.

    Contacts Details

    Elena Leibbrand

    Dance teacher & co-manager at Frisse Folk
    Private teacher of tango, folk & wedding dance
    Events management consultant

    Disclaimer -    
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Frisse Folk, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • 14 Sep 2014 13:57 | Armelle Loghmanian

     Bringing music to the heart of people  

    By Alessandra Spalletta


    Giusy Caruso


    Giusy, can you tell us what inspired you to become a classical pianist when you were a child?

    I was lucky to be born into a family of music lovers. Both my grandfathers played many instruments by ear (guitar, mandolin, accordion, clarinet and keyboard) and, when I was a child, I was absolutely fascinated by my father playing the electric keyboard.
    I started reproducing sounds and songs by playing on a little keyboard bought for me by my father who was rather jealous every time I tried to touch his cherished instruments.
    Then I started attending a dance beginner course where there was a pianist accompanying the lessons. At the end of every lesson, I used to open the marvelous piano just to touch its black and white keys (without ever playing it). It was a strong and special attraction for me because I was feeling a tactile experience different from my little instruments. It was bizarre, but at the age of only nine years old, I remember I was determined to become a pianist and I begged my mother to let me leave my dance classes in order to attend piano lessons.
    Finally, I was bought my first upright piano, which I still like practicing on. I attended the Conservatoires in my region, Calabria (Italy), where many musicians and some very good piano professors inspired me by giving me a solid musical knowledge and a strong sense of discipline. Music requires constant practice like in sports because you need many hours practice every day to prepare for concerts and keep your fingers warm and agile, always ready to play.

    How easy was it to become an artist in your region? Did you have to face difficult choices to become an artist?

    After receiving my diploma in piano and my university degree in Philosophy in Calabria, I decided to study abroad. Only recently, the Italian Conservatoires evolved their system according to the European regulations which provide cross-cultural exchange as part of their internal Erasmus projects.
    At that time, the opportunity to study music abroad was quite a challenge. A large dose of courage drove me to pursue my dreams because Calabria could not offer the opportunity to be part of a lively international cultural environment as it does now.
    Strong willed, I won over my insecurities and fears and I started organizing my study path using my own strengths and resources. I had understood that I would need to go abroad to enlarge and develop my artistic competences.

    I should say that everything that has happened since then was as a combination of interwoven events. Quoting a line from one of my favourite books by the American psychologist Hopcke: "Nothing happens by chance."
    I believe that in life there are transition periods and these serve to highlight signs and lead us to make choices. Using the terminology of Hopcke, these moments are called Synchronic-Destiny.


    Giusy Caruso in a classical concert

    I lived my first Synchronic-Destiny moment when I decided to follow a piano master class at the “Mozarteum” in Salzburg. During my stay there, I had the opportunity to meet several well-known musicians from other parts of the world. Since I was a very shy person coming from a little town in Southern Italy, I was suddenly flooded with a sense of openness towards the different cultures present, who were linked by a common goal: sharing Music.

    After this experience, I wanted to challenge myself and I was determined to study and perform in concerts abroad. I then began to travel and to reap the benefits of feeling "a citizen of the world" through Music. The benefits I drew from my personal history have now led me to suggest to other young musicians that they take advantage of any opportunities to study abroad.

    As an artist you need a lot of preparation and discipline. Can you tell us how you have been affected by the need to audition? Has there been someone who supported you in this process?

    When you feel completely devoted to your passion, it becomes a natural mission to carry on. I should say that music became a “life style” for me right from the beginning.
    It is indeed a hard discipline. I organize my time by dividing the day into practicing the instrument (almost 5 or 6 hours every day) and often combining this with theoretical studying and teaching.

    Concerning my music career, I met many professors and well known musicians who supported me with their teachings and suggestions. However, I should say that when you want to develop an artistic career the best support comes mainly from your own intention and determination. 

    What do music academies offer today? How easy is to start a career there? In today’s world does having a piano diploma help you to become a successful artist?

    I think that a successful career builds on a combination of talent, discipline, determination and fresh artistic ideas which capture the attention of the audience.
    The Academies and Conservatoires are the basic educational institutions where musicians learn and develop their their musical and professional background. These institutions offer a good starting point. A musician then has to invest a lot of his own strength to develop his own professional artistic career. Competitions and auditions undoubtedly constitute another chance to develop one’s own career but these are not the only means. I do emphasise once more how personal talent and creativity determine the success of a person’s artistic career.

    At a certain moment in your career, you decided to experiment with contemporary classical music. Why this choice?

    The novelty of experimenting with new timbres, sounds and techniques was the triggering factor, which lead me to open and enlarge my repertoire to classical contemporary music. Today, this is still a hard path for those musicians strictly connected to the classical or the romantic/modern music tradition.
    Contemporary music represents an aesthetic challenge and a new frontier of communication for both composers and performers. I do not avoid classic repertoire completely but, on the contrary, I am interested in combining it with the contemporary way of composing and performing in order to give a pragmatic idea of how musical processes are evolving.

    Do you need to be courageous enough to undertake such a profession? Where do you get your strength to go ahead?

    Talent and passion are the first elements triggering any professions, dreams or projects. The strength comes out unconsciously, I think. The motivation is inside your genetic code: you decide because your life decides for you, at a certain point. I do not like shortcuts and I prefer working hard in order to ensure I give a great performance. I think everyone is responsible for determining their own destiny. Constant effort, supported by talent and determination, is sooner or later, rewarding. I am learning that life is like a puzzle whose pieces have a sense only when they all fit together. In this way, they have their own form and their own logical explanation. I recently watched an Indian movie “Lunch box” whose motto is shown in its last sentence: "Even on a wrong train you can get to the right destination."
    It is not easy, but you have to go on persevering, because even the most difficult periods lead up to the right ending and eventually to success.

    Critics say that contemporary music remains inaccessible for many. What is your experience? How many people are interested in contemporary classical music?


    Giusy Caruso plays the famous contemporary installation created by the visual artists
    Allora & Calzadilla

    Nowadays, only an audience of experts consider contemporary music as accessible as classical music Normally, people are more interested in commercial music, pop – rock – jazz because these genres are broadcast on the radio and television. This music encompasses our daily life. People should be encouraged to try listening to classical and contemporary music, which requires not a passive listening but an interactive and critical understanding. Classical and contemporary repertories are full of philosophical meanings, recalling images and different timbres through the instruments.

    When I perform, I try to encourage the audience to understand and enjoy classical and contemporary music by offering them recitals in the form of lectures or by matching different forms of Art: visual art, singing, dancing and theatre. I often interact with the public asking their feedback and their reaction in order to stimulate an active discussion.
    I like to propose programmes guiding my audience along specific performance paths and aesthetical themes often by linking and combining different genres, historical periods and cultures.
    Having been fascinated by this way of performing, when I arrived in Belgium I began doing artistic research based on the influence of Indian music in the Western contemporary piano repertoire. This research led me to perform an original project entitled “Re-Orient” in collaboration with an Indian singer and some dancers.
    I am very satisfied with the results of this kind of performance that I’m trying out in various countries. I have just come back from successful and rewarding tour of Thailand.

    Do you think that being a woman makes a difference in undertaking such a career? Have you ever experienced any sort of discrimination in your artistic environment as a woman?

    To be honest I have never experienced discrimination in my artistic environment. I know that in many professions women have problems following their career, but I have not experienced that.
    . I think that in music people are judged not by their gender but only by their capacity to express themselves and communicate. It is clear that during my artistic path I experienced some injustices but this was not linked to the fact that I was a woman.

    How do you prepare yourself before performing a concert?

    My preparation for an artistic performance is very meticulous and it takes many hours every day, from 6 to 8 hours if necessary. At first, you have to practice your score and analyse every piece in order to give it a musical meaning, in respect to the style of the work and the composer’s warnings. This part requires both practicing on the instrument and theoretical studying.


    Giusy Caruso in a contemporary performance

    I am also used to listening to many historical interpretations performed in the past in order to finally refine my own personal way of playing.
    Since I perform by heart, I also spend a lot of time in mental preparation for my performance. I practice yoga for augmenting and improving my concentration, and the control and relaxation of my muscles. I also like swimming and running because practicing sports is important to eliminate tensions and refresh your mind.

    Have your own culture and traditions ever been a value or an obstacle for your career?

    I am proud to bring a strong message from my native land through my musical performances. Actually, I also feel I bring with me all those foreign cultures I experienced intensely and metabolized over the years. I feel my artistic research and the way I perform the music enhances the international and multicultural aspects of the music, and helps the audience to connect with the culture of the composer.
    Concerning my region, Calabria, I should say that although it is a land full of talent and resources, it continues to remain a hard land to live in; we must work hard in order to stand out and achieve real growth. Especially in this time of crisis, culture is increasingly destined to become a secondary need compared to other priorities, leaving very little opportunities to artists.

    What are your dreams?

    My fundamental dream is to continue to bring music to the heart of the people. I have followed this dream from the beginning of my studies: I consider my playing to be my mission, my life’s work.

    Short Biography

    Giusy Caruso is a talented young pianist from Southern Italy (Calabria region).
    She gained a Piano Diploma cum laude and from the Conservatoire “F. Torrefranca” of Vibo Valentia (Italy) and a Post-Master’s Degree in Piano cum laude from “Politecnico Internazionale Scientia et Ars” of Vibo Valentia (Italy).
    Giusy gained also a University Degree in Philosophy.
    She continued her career in Northern Europe where she could expand her knowledge thus gaining a Master’s Degree in Piano Solo Performance with the highest distinction from Codarts, the Conservatory of Rotterdam (The Netherlands) and a Post-Master’s Degree in Contemporary Music with the highest distinction from the Royal Conservatory and University of Ghent (Belgium).

    She also started to enrich her performances with interaction between her music and dance and theatre. She received many awards from important institutions and commendations by distinguished music critics. Not only a musician, but also a teacher and a researcher, Giusy is a polyvalent figure who devotes herself to her piano career.

    Contacts Details

  • 07 Sep 2014 22:38 | Armelle Loghmanian

     The Unlikely Story of a Tibetan Woman 

    Interview by Alessandra Spalletta


    Jocelyn Ford

    Filmmaker & Freelance Multimedia Journalist

    I met director and Beijing-based journalist Jocelyn Ford in Brussels during the world premiere of her film at the “Millennium Film Festival” (1) and I decided to interview her. She caught my attention because of her curiosity and her great sense of humanity.

    <<Nowhere to call home: A Tibetan in Beijing>> (2) is your first documentary, selected from amongst 800 films for the Millennium Film Festival in Brussels. The film talks about the life of a Tibetan mountain woman whose husband dies, leading her to become a street vendor in
    Beijing to support her young son. It addresses gender discrimination in her community.
    You've lived in Beijing since 2001, what inspired you to make this film?

    One of the frustrations for foreign correspondents working in China is the government’s near-ban on reporting in Tibetan regions.  At the time I thought the world hears about Tibetans in exile, Buddhist Lamas and literate Tibetans, but outsiders hear very little about the rural majority, such as Tibetans with little education who grew up in remote areas of the People’s Republic of China. 
    But there are quite a few Tibetans selling jewelry on the streets of Beijing, so one evening I sat down to talk with one. The more I learned about Zanta’s life, the more urgent I felt it was to tell her story. It soon became apparent that the outside world is largely ignorant of the daily concerns of people like Zanta. I thought if people are truly interested in the welll-being of Tibetans, they first need to have a better understanding of what their lives are like. And though I can’t say Zanta is representative of all Tibetans -Tibet is a vast area the size of Western Europe with many different cultures and traditions - at least Zanta represents a different voice that has yet to be heard. There are many like Zanta’s father-in-law, who don’t think education is important. I was astonished to learn the illiteracy rate in Tibet is something like 45%. I was shocked to learn that out of the four girls in Zanta’s family, three had attempted suicide. Suicide attempts among women in her village are extraordinarily common. This speaks of the suffering and low value placed on women, as indicated by a Tibetan word for woman, “inferior birth.” 

    Zanta is the main character in your documentary. Is there anything in Zanta’s life that inspired you? Why did you choose Zanta and not another Tibetan woman? 


    “Nowhere to Call Home: A Tibetan in Beijing”

    Why Zanta?  Serendipity is the answer. I’d long been curious why so many Tibetans came to Beijing to peddle jewelry on the streets. The night I decided to stop and chat with the Tibetan street vendors I happened to choose Zanta. 
    Had I stopped to talk to someone else, I doubt there would’ve been a film. Had Zanta not been such a remarkable person, with a remarkable and inspirational story I would not have pursued this story. Zanta simply refuses to give up, even when the odds are stacked high against her. Zanta is an impressive and determined person. She is feisty, principled, smart, passionate, compassionate and has a strong sense of justice.  She is no angel - you can see this in the film - but she is a role model.  One man after watching the film said “never underestimate what women can do”. A number of women who joined my test screenings said afterseeing the film, their own troubles were easier to manage. To tell you the truth, in my decades of reporting I have rarely met someone with Zanta’s qualities. Her charisma and life experience speak to people from rich and poor countries, and from all walks of life. And to think, had her husband not fallen tragically ill, the world would not have benefited from what she has to offer.

    You are a journalist and a film maker. What inspired you to pursue a career in filmmaking? 

    Ha!  I’ll have to give the same answer as the last question: serendipity! At the end of the day, I’m interested in people. I’m interested in doing my little bit to leave the world a better place.  If I’d been a patient person, I might’ve become a school teacher.  I think teaching little kids is one of the most important jobs in the world.  But I’m a nosy person who likes adventure. I have a simple belief: if people are better informed they will make better decisions.  So, I chose journalism, a form of storytelling. In fact, I never “decided” to become a filmmaker.  A friend - my producer Wu Hao - insisted I make a film, and offered to give me all the support I would need to do so.  How could I turn down an offer like that? During filming I was in way over my head, and needing far more support than my producer had signed up for. But by the time I ran into these difficulties I had decided the story was too important to abandon. I simply needed to do my best.  So, that’s how I became a filmmaker. 

    You seem to have lived most of your life in Asian countries. You went to Japan right after graduating from college and stayed almost 20 years, then moved to China. How is it for a young western woman living in these countries, with cultures that are still quite unknown by the western world?

    I faced a lot of culture shock while living in these countries. For example, when I arrived in Japan I didn’t know how important nonverbal communication is. Japanese try to avoid confrontation and don’t like to say “no.” I learned this through misunderstandings and I fear by being rude.  But I was there so long I internalized indirect communication, and now find it difficult to be straightforward! Sometimes I want to tell people I may look American, but beware of misinterpreting me because some of my behavior is closer to Japanese!

    However, as a white woman in Japan, I was treated better than my Japanese female colleagues. As an outsider, the expectations for Japanese women did not apply to me. In fact, I probably had more freedom than I would have had in the US, where I’d feel more pressure to live up to societal norms.  I did, however, face a delicate balancing act of maintaining values that are dear to me while adopting enough Japanese etiquette to make those around me feel comfortable. Some of my values ran counter to Japanese expectations. For example, I’m the type who will shout out “The Emperor is wearing no clothes!” or who will point out injustices. In Japan, maintaining face and smooth social relations is more important than standing up for principles,  because doing so might cause friction. But I think, at the end of the day, since I was well-intentioned I was appreciated and accepted for who I was.

    You were the first foreign female journalist working in the Japanese Prime Minister's press club. Did you experience any cultural prohibitions or any discrimination in your working environment, as a woman and a westerner?

    I was not only the first foreign woman; I was the first foreign reporter of any gender to be assigned by Japan’s Kyodo News Agency to cover the press club in the Japanese Prime Minister’s office.  Essentially, every day I went to work in the Japanese equivalent of the White House. 
    Japan is quite a conservative and insular country that is wary of outsiders. At the time, around 1990, there were only about five women among the 100 or so reporters. Few of my Japanese colleagues dared to ask questions that would embarrass the political leadership, or that the leaders didn’t want to answer.
    In the beginning, I planned to lie low at press conferences. But there was a big news story just before my very first press conference. The U.S. invaded Panama. Japan is an ally of the U.S. so I thought someone should ask what Japan’s position on the invasion was. But no one did, so I opened my mouth.  Much to my surprise, after the conference was over one of my Kyodo News colleagues ran up to me and told me that some reporters thought I shouldn’t be asking questions at all! I was surprised, because asking questions is our job! But in fact, my ideas about the role of journalists were very much influenced by my cultural background.

    What about discrimination as a woman?

    First and foremost I was a foreigner. Being female was secondary. In certain ways when trying to break the ice in a different culture, being a woman can be an advantage. I think because I am small - even shorter than most Japanese women - I was less threatening to Japanese men than a big Caucasian man would’ve been. I was comfortable behaving like a Japanese woman was expected to behave - for example pouring drinks for men or letting them enter an elevator first - but I was also comfortable speaking out when I needed to.

    How is the condition for women in Japan and China? What is the influence of women in these societies?

    In Japan women control the budget and the household. They wield some decision-making power inside the home. But men and women are expected to play different roles in society. Women don’t have the same opportunities or influence as men. 
    When I was a teenager I declared I was a humanist. I’m interested in the well-being of all humans regardless of gender. I thought my mother’s generation had paved the way for me to be myself, rather than be restricted by societal expectations for people of my gender. Alas, I was wrong. After arriving in Japan (aged 21) I realized that until women enjoyed the same social status as men, I needed to be a “feminist.” I felt responsible for asserting that women should be able to follow the path of their choosing, and not be restricted to the narrow path society imposes on them. (I think men should be demanding similar freedoms from restrictive social expectations, but that’s another story).


    “Nowhere to Call Home: A Tibetan in Beijing”

    With my film about Tibet, I feel I’m traversing similar territory. The Tibetan word for woman “inferior birth” is a smoking gun for serious underlying discriminatory attitudes. But there is inadequate research or attention to gender issues in Tibet. My research thus far, suggests treatment of women varies from place to place, but there are areas with very serious problems. Zanta says in her village of about 50, almost every family with girls has had at least one suicide attempt, usually due to abuse by the parents-in-law. She thinks women in her village are treated much better than Tibetan women in another province she visited. I think everyone should ask how Tibet attained the image of a peace-loving people if abuse of women is so rife. How did the rest of the world miss this? 
    I was disturbed that the foreign “Tibet experts” I met expressed little concern about gender injustices. Some suggested there are “more important” issues, namely China’s repression of Tibet. There is pressure among Tibetans to sweep social problems under the rug. In my view, both issues are important and need addressing.

    Do you feel that your own culture and traditions during these years have been more of an advantage or an obstacle for your career?

    I suppose short-term obstacle, long-term benefit. I’ve never been conventionally ambitious. I don’t like adapting to the group mindset and internal politics and competition that exist in pretty much every organization. So I suppose you could say I’ve opted out of working within large powerful organizations. This poses its own challenges. Essentially, I’ve had to create my own job. I doubt any media organization would’ve thought my film was important enough to dedicate the resources needed to make it. The fact is, it’s harder to get recognition when you don’t have a brand name behind you. So, after embarking on this film project I downsized my life and largely lived off my savings. Hopefully I will be able to turn this around now that I have a film that has social impact.  

    If a young woman asked you whether to pursue a career as a journalist, what would you tell her? 

    I would first ask what kind of journalism? If they want to do social impact journalism, they should ask themselves a series of questions. Do they have empathy?  Do people open up to them? Can they tell the difference between what they think they know and what they really know? Are they patient and willing to work long hours in pursuit of great stories and factual information? Are they skeptical? Do they know how to tell a good story in a style their audience would enjoy? Do they want to do something they believe in? Or is a good income and security more important? Are they willing to take risks? Are they willing to stand up to editors and bosses to defend a good story? Are they good at working both independently, and in groups? Do they like social media and can they do self-promotion? Do they excel at writing, photography or video, audio, drawing, infographics, or any or all of these?  I know that sounds like a lot. They don’t need to have it all. I think the most important ingredient is strong conviction and a desire to pursue this career. Finally, they need to be ready for change. Technology and tastes are changing rapidly, so the way we tell stories is changing. Those who refuse to change will get left behind.

    What are your life goals and guiding principles? 

    I like “integrity” and “honesty.” I would like to be a wise (and happy and healthy!) old lady. I would like to make a positive impact on society and individuals. I don't want to be penniless or destitute on the streets when I die. But I don't want to have too much either. After you die, I don’t think many people will remember what was in your bank account; but they might remember the stories you told, how you changed their thinking, or the joy you brought them. Naturally, making an independent documentary on a shoestring budget is a tremendously helpful step toward reaching this goal of a near-empty bank account. On a more serious note, I’ll simply say my experience in life is my wealth. 

    What are the words or awards which you are most proud of?  

    I’ve won a number of media awards and fellowships, but to be honest, I’m a bit skeptical about some of these. Awards are often big business - organizations collect fees from the applicants. Often the accolades go to people with connections, or who have a brand name behind them. 

    Having said that, I’m proud that my film is premiering at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and that it has been translated into six languages. I am an independent first-time filmmaker, and I don’t have any connections in the film world. So I feel my work is being recognized for its merits. I’m proud that I’ve made a film on a politically volatile subject that can be seen as a human story, and can be a catalyst for constructive discussion on how to make our world a better place for all, regardless of ethnicity or gender. 

    What are your dreams?

    When I started filming, I thought I would never be able to show my documentary in China. My dream is to make a small contribution toward raising awareness about discrimination of all sorts, especially ethnic and gender discrimination. In China, I’d like to promote ethnic tolerance and inspire deeper thinking about the roots of discrimination, as well as how to eradicate it. I think young people in China are ready for this. 


    (1) Millennium Film Festival

    (2) “Nowhere to Call Home: A Tibetan in Beijing” 

    Short Biography

    Jocelyn Ford is an independent documentary filmmaker, and a freelance radio and video correspondent based in Beijing.

    In college she studied East Asian Studies and Chinese and studied for one year in Taiwan.
    In 1986 she was hired by Japan's leading news agency, Kyodo News Service. After working as a feature story writer, she became the first foreign reporter in the Prime Minister's press club.  

    Jocelyn Ford is an independent documentary filmmaker, and a freelance radio and video correspondent based in Beijing. 
    In college she switched to East Asian Studies and Chinese and studied for one year in Taiwan. In 1986 she was hired by Japan's leading news agency, Kyodo News Service. After working as a feature story writer, she became the first foreign reporter in the Prime Minister's press club.  

    Jocelyn helped found Tokyo-based International Women in Communications for female journalists (there were so few in the 1990s) and women in PR and translation.
    In1994 she was hired by the popular U.S. Public radio business show Marketplace. br>
    In 2001 she was hired as a “foreign expert” by China Radio International (CRI) to work on “RealTime Beijing,” a new live news show which she named, and in 2002 she opened a Beijing bureau for U.S. public radio’s Marketplace. 
    In 2006 Marketplace moved the bureau to Shanghai, Jocelyn became a freelance reporter for shows such as Radio Lab and Studio 360. 
    In 2008 she bought an HD camera to do news videos for newspapers during the Olympics.  

    From 2009 onward she has been an independent filmmaker.
    In 2014 her film premiered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. 

    Contacts Details

  • 16 Jun 2014 23:22 | Armelle Loghmanian

     The Lady who swims the oceans
    “Find a sport that brings you joy” 

      Interview by Alessandra Zocca

    Jennifer Figge
    Endurance athlete and record-holder

    Jennifer, you have become the first woman to swim the Atlantic, crossing the ocean in 24 days (1).
    Why did you want to cross the Atlantic?

    The idea came in 1964, when I was eleven years old and flying over the Atlantic to visit my mother (the opera singer Margherita Roberti) who was living in Milan. I simply told my mum that I wanted to swim in the middle of the ocean … of course this idea created a lot of turbulence. Just imagine - my mother thought that people who sailed the ocean were crazy to take the risk.
    I used to sail a lot with my father, who unfortunately died from cancer, and I committed myself to do what my dad dreamed of, but could not do.

    Indeed, later on I could feel for the first time the voice of my father helping and comforting me during my Atlantic crossing in 2009.
     In 2013 I completed my fourth crossing of the Atlantic, I swam a total distance of 257.5 nautical miles (477 km) over the course of 32 days. I departed from Cape Verde (417 miles off the coast of West Africa) on April 8th and landed on the shores of Antigua in the Caribbean Sea on May 9th 2013. 

    Please describe one of your days crossing the oceans

    I have breakfast around seven o’clock and I eat potatoes and pasta with parmesan cheese. At nine o’clock I jump into the water and I normally swim daily for six hour blocks of time, till four or five o’clock. It depends on the weather conditions and also on the sun and light.

    Jennifer, you have also swum in the Pacific Ocean, is that different to the Atlantic?

    Oceans have different tastes, even the salinity of water is not the same. The Pacific has no river waters mixing in, while the Atlantic - approaching South America – gets water from the Amazon.
    My love is the Atlantic, it’s like my home.

    What helps you to keep swimming in the difficult moments? What did you think in those dangerous situations? What motivates you?        
    In such cases I used to think about the challenges my family had had to face: my uncle lost a leg in an accident, my cousin was critically burnt in an airplane crash and my father died of cancer …
    And I said to myself: “Lucky me, Jennifer, I am just swimming !
    I believe in God and I am a Roman Catholic. When I leave for these endurance swims I take some Holy water with me from my church in Aspen (Colorado) and a little Madonna that my mother had in Italy, a little painted wood medal of Madonna.

    I guess in dangerous situations I felt motivated to challenge myself perhaps because some of my friends faced difficult situations, while I did not have so many challenges in my life. I have had a very lovely life, I am fortunate.
      Jennifer Figge swimming in the Atlantic

    Would you like to share with us some anecdotes from your swims?

    In February 2011 I was swimming in the Pacific in the period when whales migrate and it happened that, I was followed by a twenty foot baby whale. It looked like the shadow of a small airplane. The crew pulled me onboard as quickly as possible and the whale continued to follow us for three hours. It was amazing!      

    I remember that once when I was swimming the rough waters of the Straits of Bonifacio in the Mediterranean, approaching my destination I noticed my husband, who was on the support boat. He kept looking at his watch because we had to catch a plane and he was showing me that I was late. We made the plane!

    Are you planning to write a book about your epic swims?  (Or maybe someone will make a film or TV programme about it?)

    I keep diaries for every crossing and maybe one day I could write a book. The current plan is to make a video graphic documentary titled “Woman overboard” (2).

    What has inspired you to prioritise sport in your life?

    You will be surprised to know, Alessandra, that I used to smoke cigarettes till 26 years ago when my seven year old son Alexander asked me to stop; so I substituted cigarettes with sport … Maybe it was my mother who suggested to my son that he asks me to quit smoking, promising him whatever present for his birthday … joking!

    I read that you were a marathon runner before or maybe you still are. Which are the key analogies/ differences between running and swimming in your opinion?

    Yes, it’s true and I ran several marathons over ten years. Running was fascinating, but I was ready for a new challenge … probably this is one secret of success: the ability to switch over.

    Comparing swimming and running, I think that the main difference is that while swimming you need more concentration, while you are running, you can let your mind wander.

    What is the difference in sport between being courageous /brave and running serious risks? Do you think this difference is the same for all sports, or does it vary according to which sport you are looking at?

    I like this question, Alessandra!
    My son Alexander is a racing car driver and he said to me about his profession: “Mum, why do you worry about me in the car when you are swimming with sharks?“ And my response was, “The sharks are only going 2 miles per hour!”

    If you just compare the frequency of shark attacks on the California coast to the frequency of automobile accidents in California, you easily conclude that people are safer in the ocean.

    I am very cautious when swimming in the ocean, we cannot control an ocean, we respect the wind limits, otherwise I could wander far off course and get lost.
    Endurance swimming is a team sport, I could not accomplish my swims without my crew, they do all the work and I have the fun. I am constantly supported by my crew and the captain is in charge of assessing all risks. A doctor is part of the crew and we have on board the necessary rescue equipment (defibrillator, electrocardiograph, etc.). We are aware that in case of an emergency a helicopter cannot reach us beyond 150 miles (around 240 km) … then we are on our own.
    It’s a matter of choice, you can always swim in a pool … if you want to be in flat water.


    Which are and have been the key factors of your success?

    I believe the secret is that I do listen to my own inner voice, I do not pay too much attention to the big challenges, I just go. Actually, Alessandra, if I had listened to others I would have not started running … I mean, I do not want to hear the negativity: being confident is essential.
    I probably started learning to be confident because my mother moved to Italy for seventeen years to pursue her career as an opera singer in the 1950s when I was three; I was raised by my father and I thought everything was possible, I also acknowledge the importance of my mother’s brilliant career – she was a great role model. My father pushed me, this was unusual in the 50’s: “Jennifer, she has to go! “ For a man to do that in the 50’s, you know, it was unusual.
    I guess I inherited the endurance from my father and my adventurous spirit from my mother.

    Which are, in your opinion, the challenges to success that professional or sports women face nowadays?

    The first woman who swam the English Channel was American Olympic champion Gertrude Ederly – the Queen of the Waves - in 1920s, it is amazing to read her story.

    I think that there are more opportunities for women nowadays, but there is still an important challenge: women need to believe in themselves, as I did.
    The family’s attitude might sometimes represent a challenge as far as they fear for their members’ safety; my mother, for instance, would prefer me to write a book, safer than swimming. On the contrary my husband, who is a sports person (he loves bird hunting), has always been very supportive, he is my sponsor. He has been on the boat during some crossings, but not in the Atlantic; when he is not with me, we talk via satellite phone.

    Which are the two main pieces of advice you would give to a young woman, who wants to develop a sports career?

    First of all I suggest that they find a sport that brings them joy. Secondly I recommend not being afraid of trying sports where they think they will not be the best: there is no need to be the best, they should do what they like and what they want to do.
    What I like is swimming, for me the “romance”, is in the middle of the ocean, not only the final goal: actually, I do not like to see the end of the crossing, the land, the completion …

    Short Biography

    Things You Need To Know About Jennifer Figge
    1. In ten years, from 1985 – 95 she ran seven marathons and five ultra-marathons. She ran across two states (Iowa and Illinois), six countries (France, Romania, Thailand, India, Mexico, Iceland), and South America (Chile and Argentina).

    2. She just turned 61 in November 2013 but is agelessly giddy.

    3. Jennifer lives in Aspen, CO and trains in a pool at the Maroon Creek Club. “I like training at altitude in the cold and snow,” she says.

    4. She didn’t swim across the Atlantic. She completed three Atlantic Crossings, swimming daily for up to 8 hours a day, accompanied by “Jamie” a 42′ catamaran and a 5-person crew, including a rescue diver and a doctor.

    5. Despite widespread erroneous reports, Jennifer Figge did not swim across the Atlantic inside of a shark cage. The shark cage lasted all of one hour. She swam the rest of the journey un-tethered to the boat with tremendous risk of being separated from them.

    6. In 2009 during her first Atlantic Crossing, her longest consecutive swim was 28 nautical miles. To put that in perspective, the Ironman Triathlon distance is 2.4.

    7. During her first Atlantic Crossing Jennifer swam in seas up to 30 feet and the only way for her to be safely returned to the boat was with the assistance of a rescue diver

    8. Jennifer’s son Alex is a professional racecar driver.               

    Contact Details

    Jennifer Figge


  • 26 Feb 2014 22:06 | Armelle Loghmanian

     The importance of the “Recovery Time”
    - The illusion of humans who think there will not be any consequences when they try to do more than what is physically possible -

    Interview by Alessandra Zocca


    Tom Meyers

    Stress Coach for Body & Mind

    Tom, I was invited to one of your conferences and I learned that you are a regular speaker about stress at RadioX Brussels. Is stress so diffused in our society that you talk about it every week on the radio? (1)

    One out four employees suffers from work stress and 75% to 90% of all illnesses are related to stress.

    I think those two figures (2) alone tell how important it is to put health back on everyone’s agenda.
    At RadioX, where I present the weekly feature ‘Health Matters’: this program is a good medium for giving the message that we have to take stress more seriously. On ‘Health Matters’ I share insights on three fundamental questions:
         • What is stress?
         • Why has stress become a nuisance?
         • What can you do about stress?

    Stress is an autonomic response triggered so we can adapt to our changing environment and it’s essential for our survival. However, stress itself is not really the problem, but when this biological response is switched-on all the time it leads to wear and tear on the body.
    Thus our seeming inability to relax, take time out, do nothing without feeling guilty about it, to reset the stress response and activate the relaxation, recuperation and regeneration response, that is the real underlying health problem that leads to disease i.e. cardiovascular disease, immune deficiencies, muscular problems, digestive problems, insomnia, diabetes and even death.

    Could you please provide us with a brief definition of stress and explain to our readership how they can spot symptoms of stress? What do they look like?

    Stress is the bodies autonomic response that protects you from harmful effects and so it is essential. Each time the stress response is activated, the body will adjust itself according to the demand (fight and flight (3), which is a biological response to acute stress) and when the stressor (4) is over, it will adapt itself again to the new environmental demands (relaxation, recuperation & regeneration). This dynamic, balancing act of our body is called “allostasis” (5).
    When that balancing act is altered due to demands being greater than the body’s ability to cope or when too many stressors follow one another too quickly without a break, then the body goes into “allostatic load” (5). This means, for example, that when the danger or challenge is over, the body continues to function in the fight and flight mode and keeps on releasing adrenaline and cortisol leading to problems and eventually to diseases.

    Stress symptoms could be classified in 4 categories:
    a. Physical Symptoms – These are: aches and pains that are there seemingly without reason and that don’t go away - for example neck, back or shoulder pain which you woke up with one morning and which you think will go away, but you realize that weeks later you still have it This also includes frequent colds, diarrhea or constipation, loss of sex drive, chest pains, heart palpitations.

    b. Cognitive symptoms – They are: memory problems, inability to concentrate, reduced creativity and seeing the negative in every situation.

    c. Emotional symptoms – They include: moodiness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, anxiety or depression and having a short temper.

    d. Behavioral symptoms – They are: over-eating or eating too little, insomnia or sleeping more, social isolation, procrastination, pacing, nail biting and overindulging in alcohol or cigarettes.

    Is there a variation in stress patterns due to different causes? I mean does work-related stress have different symptoms from stress caused by private problems? What are the main causes of stress?

    That is really hard to say, the body reacts in each instance in the same way, so I don’t think there is a variation due to different causes. There is a person-to-person difference as everyone responds in a very distinctive manner and these differences are shaped by age, gender, genetics, experience and habits.
    The main causes of stress are taking on too much personal, social and work pressure. In a culture where doing nothing is seen as a something strange, stress is the outcome.

    I can illustrate this with an example straight from my practice: I had a client who needed some help with accumulated tension in the neck and shoulders. On her second visit she told me straight away that she didn’t have the time to practice the breathing exercises I suggested to her so that she could help herself.
    So I asked her if she had colleagues who smoke. She had, so I asked her “why don’t you go out with them to take some fresh air a couple of times a day?” Her answer baffled me: “Oh no, I can’t do that, what would they think of me doing nothing?” And at the same time she realized she would feel guilty for taking a couple of minutes from her work for the sake of her health.

    Based on your experience and expertise is the stress syndrome more usual in certain categories such as women vs. men, young vs. old people, thin or over-weight people, etc.? How about different nationalities and religions – for example are Australians more relaxed than the Japanese? Do Buddhists get stressed about anything – or are these stereotypes a myth?

    Stress can happen to everyone. However, there are cultures that are less prone to it.
    A lot, actually, depends on the person’s environment, mindset and way of living. A very active business person who practices daily relaxation exercises, does a bit of low impact sport, has a good team around him/her, has social support at home and has a good work life balance will probably not be affected.
    A practicing Buddhist who has no social support and whose environment is constantly challenging him/her, probably will feel the effects of stress building up.

    I was quite impressed at your presentation when you talked about the “recovery time” and the mental persuasion of humans who think there will not be any consequences when they try to do more than what is physically possible.
    Has this society lost the lesson from the Seneca about the balance between otium (leisure time) and negotium (business)” or the one by Bertrand Russell “In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays”: is idleness no longer affordable in our society?

    We’ve lost our connection with nature and with time. These days it is possible to be online 24/7 as time is not defined by the sun and the moon cycle anymore but by technology.
    My presentations are about bringing our awareness back to the fundamentals of how your body works, is this what your body needs and what health entails.

    Stress is regulated by our body’s autonomic nervous system. That system has two branches:
    • One that is active when we are in action mode and that instigates the fight and flight response
    • The other branch which stimulates relaxation, recuperation and regeneration. The latter is also responsible for your digestion and healing.
    When our body is continuously challenged and thus is always in a fight and flight mode, then the other healing branch is inhibited and disease becomes a logical consequence.
    I do say ‘body”, as people might think they are relaxed, for example, when they are lying on their sofa and watching a horror movie, but each time they twitch at a horror scene, their stress response is activated.

    Another problem we have is that we’ve become so intelligent that it is making us ill. In our brilliant mind we can come up with 100 things to do and we set out to do them, but who says our body can cope with this? It’s like imagining running a marathon: we can easily imagine doing that, but if we are untrained and start running, then we will get into trouble. With our fast paced life and instant access to information we’ve started to “copy and paste” what we can imagine into our body... it’s like running a commodore computer with the latest mac software.

    Do you suffer from stress yourself? Is that a reason why you became interested in stress? Or have you discovered the secret of a stress-free life?

    Stress still affects me and that is lucky because stress is part of life. However I've learned to handle it, so it doesn't become a health hazard. It doesn't mean that it doesn't get under my skin sometimes.

    My interest in stress didn't come from the personal experience of being stressed but rather from the feedback my patients have given after their treatment for non-trauma related neck, shoulder or back ache. For an osteopath, the expected feedback is that patients are cured of the aches that caused them to visit me. However, what was unexpected and surprising was that they also reported cognitive and behavioral changes, for example they state:
    • “Since your treatment... I notice that I can focus and concentrate better.”
    • “Since your treatment I'm less anxious and worry less. Before your treatment I had lots of decisions to make but didn't know what and the day after your treatment I knew exactly what I had to do or choose.”
    • “I have the same amount of stressors but since your treatment I can cope better and realize it's a moment I've got to go through. Before your treatment for months I haven't found the time for my morning meditation session and the day after coming to you I’ve started again”.
    So patients who received a physical treatment started to have significant improvement in cognitive and behavioral aspects of life. It is important to note also that my patients reported that they had never experienced this with other osteopaths and related it to my work. If only one patient tells you something like this you think “ok”, but when more and more patients tell you this, one has to start asking why.
    So I started to investigate what the link was between the body and the mind and what I was doing differently. That investigation started seven years ago and from the beginning it led me to research the stress response.
    Last year I enrolled at the University of Dresden for my Bachelors and Masters in the Science of Osteopathy where I'm conducting a clinical study to put into evidence the effect of the “Reaset approach” (6) I've developed on the autonomous nervous system (the system affected by stress) anxiety and muscular pain.

    The Reaset Approach is a physical approach based on osteopathic principles that helps the body return to ease by regulating the autonomous nervous system and by unwinding the accumulated tension in the body. It helps the body to heal itself better and most people not only feel better physically but also psychologically.

    I hear that you support companies in helping employees in managing stress: could you please tell us more about this phenomenon trend and which type of support you provide?

    The first step to managing stress is to understand what stress is, why it has become a nuisance and what you can do about it. In my presentations I try to answer these three questions.
    I see my workshops as the backbone to health management in companies. We have a good idea what causes stress: long hours, pressure, deadlines, evaluations, but few people know:
    • How the body is involved in stress
    • How the body responses to stress
    • How it can alter thought processes, creativity, memory
    • How the body can make people short tempered, depressed or
    • How stress can lead people to a burnout.
    If people don't know this, then they can't make the right decisions either. For example, they're living in a work culture where doing nothing is not an option, they must be busy, all the time. If they don't, many employees feel guilty or get stigmatized for doing nothing, while a break now and then is essential for health promoting behavior.
    The pressure upon employees is not going to decrease. Computers will work faster and faster and external demands will increase. It has done so for years and will not stop in the near future: but how to deal with that? How do we adapt? The first step in that process is information. When you get a new toy, you need to read the instructions first before you can use it. Well I’m there to teach you how to know your body.

    You are an Osteopath: what is the link between osteopathy and stress healing? How are bones involved in stress syndromes?

    The general mistake that people make is to consider that osteopathy is only about bones. The name probably has something to do with that. Also from a historical perspective osteopaths themselves have been more focused on the bones, joints, ligaments and muscles especially here in Belgium as most osteopaths start their training as a physiotherapist (7).

    The psychological and cognitive aspect of health has however always been part of osteopathy as Andrew Taylor Still (1828 - 1917) - the father of osteopathy (8) - treated people with psychological ailments with success. Many psychological problems stem from an imbalance in neuro-hormonal regulation and through touch you can help the body to heal better.
    Imagine your child is in distress. What works to calm him/her down: Talk to it or holding him/her in your arms for a while?

    What inspired you to enter the profession of osteopathy?

    Tom Meyers at work

    That’s a very interesting and long story, but in short when I was 29 I had travelled the world, worked in England in hotels and had worked on board the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II for two years and decided to open a deli in Mechelen.
    I got depressed as I discovered I wasn’t cut out for it. I ended up with a great coach who helped me find myself. I felt there must be more to life and she helped me to see what more there was. She gave me homework with specific questions that lead to the discovery of untrained talents.
    Suddenly I discovered that there was more that life could give me as I was a researcher, a writer, a communicator and a therapist or at least that I had the innate ability to be those, if I decided to develop these talents. So I did.
    It all started with workshops in kinesiology which for me was like coming home. After a year of kinesiology courses I wanted more and that’s when osteopathy came to the forefront. Last year I wrote to my coach. “Who would have thought I would ever do my BSc and MSc in osteopathy?” and she wrote back one word “Me”... She never told me that years ago, but apparently she had perceived this potential in me. It might sound presumptuous but her boldness is what I always admired and so far she’s always been right.

    Tom, what are the dreams that have not come true yet in your life? Do you have “a dream” you would like to share?

    Like many people, writing a book is one of my dreams. I already have a small eBook “Reaset: The return of Ease” that you can download from my website. But I’d like to add chapters to that and make it a book for the public, a sort of inspirational cook book but then for health matters.
    Another dream is of course gaining my Master degree and the ultimate dream is a Doctorate.
    I want to continue doing research and travelling the world giving workshops and presentations about the discoveries that come from this research. I just want to keep doing what I like doing.

    What is the Réseau Biloba you belong to?

    Réseau Biloba is a network of professional masseurs and therapists that support each other with professional queries, but is also a guarantor of quality. Every member is qualified and adheres to an ethics charter and, before he or she is accepted, they have to go through a selection phase. The first phase regards the qualifications and if they are acknowledged, then someone from the network will come and visit the candidate’s practice and test their skills. In this way the network assures quality.

    From a client’s perspective, knowing that your masseur or therapist is a member of the Réseau Biloba, means a reassurance that he/she is a professional.
    There is still the personal aspect (the chemistry) that needs to click when you go to a therapists, but at least you know they are trained properly and selected by this network.

    Short Biography

    Tom Meyers, Stress Coach for Body & Mind, was born in Antwerp, Belgium (1970). He speaks English, Dutch, French and German fluently.
    He was initially trained as a chef and worked as a waiter and sommelier in various establishments in France, England and on the cruise ship Queen Elizabeth II between 1990 and 1998. In this 8 year period he also travelled extensively around the world before returning to Belgium at the end of 1998.
    From 1999 till 2001 he had a small deli in Mechelen.

    To pay for his osteopathy studies that started in 2002 he worked as an office clerk in various companies, until he opened his health practice Osteo and Co in Woluwe in 2007.

    From his early days working as an osteopath he has been intrigued by and has researched the effects of the body on the mind. These studies lead to Tom’s enrollment at the Dresden International University in 2013. Now he is writing his two theses - on the effect of osteopathy on the autonomic nervous system and anxiety levels – for his Bachelors and Masters Degrees in the Science of Osteopathy.

    He likes to see himself as a contributor of thought for a more joyful and healthier way of living.

    Contact Details
    Tom Meyers
    Stress Coach for Body & Mind

    Tel: 0472 399 779

    Av. H. Pauwels 7
    1200 Brussels


    Radio X:

    (1) RadioX – Listen to Health Matters every Monday 7h35, 9h35 and 16.35 on
    (2) European Agency for Safety and Health at work (EU-OSHA): Brun, A., Milczarek, M., (2007). Forecast on Emerging Psychosocial Risks Related to Occupational Safety and health. (PDF) Luxembourg office for Official Publications of the European Communities
    The American Institute of stress
    Stress op de werkvloer: 11 opvallende cijfers

    (3) Fight & Flight - The fight-or-flight response (also called the fight, flight, freeze, hyper-arousal, or the acute stress response) is a physiological reaction that occurs in response to a perceived harmful event, attack, or threat to survival. It was first described by Walter Bradford Cannon.

    (4) Stressor – internal or external stimulus that activates the stress response.

    (5) Allostasis and Allostatic Load - Beckie, T. M. (2012). A systematic review of allostatic load, health, and health disparities. Biological research for nursing (Vol. 14, pp. 311–46).

    (6) ‘Reaset Approach’ is the name coined by Tom Meyers for the approach he developed. Reaset comes from bringing together the words ‘reset’ and ‘ease’.
    Reset is used in the sense of bringing a system to its normal condition (Merriam-Webster). Ease refers to freedom from pain or trouble, comfort of body or mind (Merriam-Webster) and being comfortable and free from stress (Wiktionary).
    Approach is used as meaning ‘a way of dealing with’ (Oxford) and chosen instead of technique to address the underlying notion that it is based on a dynamic principle and not a fixed modality.

    (7) Physiotherapy specialises in the rehabilitation of acute and chronic pain and often use a variety of exercises or use tools such as ultrasound or infra red to facilitate change in an injured area.
    Osteopathy is solely manual therapy and holistic in nature. The osteopath doesn’t treat a symptom, but the body as a whole unit that is suffering an ailment, and must be treated in an integrated manner to return to good balance and function.

    Disclaimer -     
     Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Réseau Biloba, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement
  • 02 Nov 2013 18:09 | Armelle Loghmanian

     “Winning factors: active listening and lack of arrogance”

    Interview by Alessandra Zocca


    Giulia Mauri

    Partner at Verhaegen Walravens - Aviation & Transport

    Giulia, I was very pleased to be invited to an interesting event organised by “Intercompany Talent Platform”, which is a collaboration project between IBM, Starwood Hotels and Verhaegen Walravens, the latter being the law office where you are a Partner.
    Can you explain more about this platform that Verhaegen Walravens sponsors?

    I met Melanie Barker of Fulcra and Yves Veulliet of IBM at an event organized by PWI. Together with Starwood Hotels, we all share a strong interest in the promotion of diversity and talent within companies and organizations. Therefore, some time ago, we decided to create a joint project for the organization of a series of small seminars promoting the debate around issues such as gender policies, diversity and the role of talent within companies.

    The idea is to reach an audience of about 20 people per event. This relatively small number of participants allows everybody to speak up to share ideas and doubts, and to ask questions. We launched the format in September and we were very happy about the level of participation that the first seminar has attracted. The debate that followed the presentation indicated clearly that the participants were honestly interested in the topics discussed; they wanted to share their views and were open to various suggestions.

    The last event took place on October 15th. I believe that the two speakers at this event were complementary: so I, together with Mr. Thierry Hubert, director of Brussels South Charleroi Airport, have presented a comparative view of the different regimes in place in different EU countries to promote the participation of women in boards of directors and we have in particular discussed why and how quotas were introduced in different countries, how directors are currently selected and what it is important to do or not do if you wish to sit on a board.

    These seminars proved very interesting and we are planning to deliver a similar seminar to other interested parties who could not participate to this interesting Intercompany Talent Platform’s session.

    How did you get interested in topics such as gender, diversity and talent development?

    For most of my working life, I believed that if you want to reach a goal, you just have to put your mind to it. Even though I still believe that you cannot reach a goal if you do not put all your efforts into reaching the objective, I have also come to realize that, as a woman (like other minorities), you are often confronted with stereotypes that act like a glass wall: you hit the wall, but you do not see it and you do not understand what has blocked you.
    By discussing with other women about their working experiences, I came to realize how, as a woman, you may not only be judged on the basis of your skills, but also on the basis of other people’s stereotypes:
    • If you have young children, you are too busy to become a business partner
    • If you are pregnant, you should relax and stop travelling
    • If you do not stay at home with your children when they are little, you are a bad mother
    • If you can no longer be available 24/7, you cannot do your job properly, and so on and so forth.
    This new awareness made me curious to know what were the issues involved, the studies that had been done and the discussions currently surrounding gender issues. I started reading materials and having a look at statistics. I went to seminars and conferences and I slowly started developing my own idea about the problem.

    I now believe that we all use judgmental shortcuts that allow us to categorize people without making the effort to really listen to the person before us: all Germans are well organized and good at producing technological goods; all Italians are extremely creative, but very disorganized; all lawyers are clever and slimy and all women love shopping and gossiping about their friends.
    Like all “general” statements, they are wrong and therefore produce errors when they become an unconscious bias for (or against) recruiting or promoting people. Let me give you an example: you are recruiting a fashion advisor for a famous brand of clothing. Would you appoint a German?
    The fact is that you are not recruiting “a” German; you are recruiting “that specific person” before you, with that CV and that expertise. If candidates are judged on the basis of stereotypes, the recruiter may make the wrong decision and appoint the wrong candidate.

    This hits women in particular as there are so many stereotypes about women, often perpetrated by the media, and by our own families and friends, that being considered as a person and not a category sometimes proves to be extremely difficult.

    How are women perceived in your profession of law, and in the aviation and transport industry your main sector of specialization? Please can you also give us an overview of your responsibilities?

    I have been working as a lawyer in private practice for almost 16 years. Even though I practice general corporate and commercial law, my main fields of expertise are the negotiation of international contracts and international finance. In addition to this, I have been working closely with the aviation and transport sectors (including rail, road and logistics) for more than 10 years and I now feel that I know these sectors quite well.

    At Verhaegen Walravens, I head the Aviation & Transport Department which advise on legal issues relevant to companies active in the transport and logistics sectors. As I am double qualified to practice law in Italy and Belgium, a few years ago I created the Italian Practice. The Italian practice is a cross-sector and cross-practice group that delivers Belgian law advice in Italian for Italian companies and Italian law advice for foreign companies willing to invest in Italy. The in-depth knowledge of two different legal systems allows us to be able to compare the two systems and to deliver clear and comprehensive advice to our clients.

    Both of my fields of expertise (finance and transport) are fields where women still remain a minority. I often sit in meetings where I am the only woman usually surrounded by men with strong personalities (and egos).

    I believe that my strong points in dealing with legal issues are my ability to listen and my lack of arrogance. These two elements have allowed me over the years to learn quite fast as people who are proud of what they do (and luckily in the transport sector people are still proud of their work) are usually very happy to explain things.
    Active listening proves to be rewarding, here are some examples:
    • Listening to a client’s expectations is for me of paramount importance to understand their needs and finally for being able to advise him or her correctly and in line with what they are expecting. Arrogance is for me an enormous limitation when doing business as it “blinds” you and does not allow you to see things as they really are.

    • The ability to listen has also allowed me to overcome a stereotype that is sometimes present in the transport sector: it is a common belief that women and lawyers (and for that matter a female lawyer!) cannot understand technical aspects linked to this sector.

    • I still remember a meeting with the engineers in charge of maintenance at the fleet of a European airline. We were negotiating a lease agreement and we had to negotiate the technical aspects linked to maintenance. The engineers walked into the meeting room, looking desperately at their watches. Their faces clearly indicated that they considered this meeting was a waste of time. As we started discussing the lease, they realized that I knew what I was talking about and they asked that the meeting time be extended and we all worked together to define a contractual strategy that could suit our mutual needs.
      I asked questions and carefully listened to their answers and explanations. The result of this exchange of ideas and the development of a legal/technical strategy was a great saving for the airline in maintenance costs for each of its aircraft. I do believe that if engineers and lawyers work hand in hand they could bring huge results!

    How did you develop your interest in the law practice? Has it been a tradition in your family or were you inspired by a fact or by somebody?

    Since my early days, I have always had a strong sense of justice and independence.

    I clearly remember the day when I decided that I would become a lawyer. I must have been 16 or 17 when I watched “Legal Eagles”. In this film, a handsome Robert Redford plays a district attorney who starts working with a young lawyer (played by Debra Winger) on a defense case involving a troubling and mysterious Daryl Hannah. I would have loved to be the character played by Debra Winger: clever and passionate about her job.

    Five years of university studies, several years of badly paid traineeship and a difficult exam to be admitted to the Bar have contributed in bringing my feet back to the ground, but I still remain convinced that I made the right choice.

    What do you particularly like about your job?

    My direct contacts at clients’ level are either the internal legal department or the directors of the relevant company. Whether I work with the in-house legal experts or the directors depends on the internal organization of the company and the strategic importance attributed to the relevant project.

    For important projects that involve mergers and acquisitions or strategic developments, I usually work directly with the board of directors. This is an extremely interesting experience. Indeed, as a lawyer, you have the opportunity to witness how decisions are taken at board level and you may contribute to the discussions and to the development of a project, but you always remain an external, independent and technical expert. This gives you a privileged position as you may observe how each board functions, what the interactions are between the different directors and how decisions are finally taken.

    I very much enjoy this part of my work.

    I also like my sectors of expertise and, in particular, the aviation sector. In this industry, people are extremely passionate about their job. It is not unusual to find that CEOs of airlines are also former pilots or engineers with a passion for flying. In particular, in the sector of business aviation, many companies have been founded or are managed by former civilian or military pilots.

    This gives the industry its characteristic feel of being pioneer-led. The aviation industry is also by definition extremely international and you have the possibility to work with people coming from extremely different cultures and backgrounds.

    What advice would you give to a young woman lawyer about developing her career?

    As general advice, I would tell every lawyer that all law firms are “pyramids”: only a few go up all the way to become partner. At a certain level of the pyramid, the competition becomes tough and you will be dependent on other people’s choices, on internal policies and on a number of other variable factors that do not depend on you or on how good you are.

    What will be required of you, will be to have a portfolio of clients. In most cases, this request will be brought to you completely unannounced. Until that point everybody told you to work 24/7 on the clients of the firm, and to be available night and day and at weekends, and, all of a sudden, you need your own client base. And when were you supposed to get those clients?

    My advice is: always remember that as a lawyer, clients will want to work with you if they trust you. Be honest to yourself and to your clients and act in a correct and ethical way towards your counterparts. Try to develop your own clientele at an early stage: working for your own clients is extremely satisfactory.

    As regards female lawyers, I would like to remind them that it is obviously important to do your job properly and be good at what you do (this is a pre-requisite), but you do not have to underestimate the importance of networking even at an early stage of your career. This suggestion is based on my personal experience, as I know that many networking events and occasions are quite “male dominated” and it is often difficult for women (and even more so for young women) to break into “male-dominated” conversations. If I may share a piece of advice it is this is: if you are confronted with a wall of ties and black suits, imagine you are wearing one yourself and, even if you do not believe it, act as if you belonged there!

    For a couple of years you worked as editor for the “Aerlines Magazine”, a non-profit internet journal on air transportation matters, with a broad target readership of both academic and business backgrounds. Tell us about this experience and your talent in writing.

    The experience with Aerlines Magazine has been extremely interesting since, as you mention, we hosted articles about aviation written by people coming from different backgrounds: we had articles written by economists, engineers, scientists and university researchers. The project was run on a voluntary basis and we reached a point where we needed to become more professional, but unfortunately we did not have sufficient resources to take the step to become a quasi-professional publication.

    However, I have always liked writing and I write quite regularly on specialized topics for the Italian and international press. I co-operate quite regularly with Bart International, a publication dedicated to the business aviation industry, where I write the section called “The Docket” containing a legal analysis of issues affecting the industry. I also work with the Italian publication “Contratto & Impresa – Europe”, a quarterly publication of high level legal articles. The publication is read mainly by academics and law firms.

    I am currently writing an article for “Rivista Tir”, the publication of the Italian Foreign Minister dedicated to road transport in Italy. The article will make a comparison between the Italian system which controls road transport operators and the systems of control used in other European countries.

    I truly like writing. It gives me the opportunity to give my point of view on legal issues affecting a certain sector of the industry. It also gives me the opportunity to make time to study certain legal problems more in-depth in order to be able to deliver a piece of work that could contribute to the debate surrounding topics which are judged “hot” by the industry.

    Short Biography

    Giulia heads the Aviation & Transport Department and the Italian Practice of Verhaegen Walravens. She has more than 15 years' experience in advising national and international clients on international contractual matters and she specializes in aviation and transport law, including asset-finance and leasing, regulatory issues, carrier's liability and litigation matters.

    Giulia holds an LLM in International and European law from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven and a Diplôme d'Etudes Universitaires Français from the University Jean Monnet, Lyon III. She graduated in law at Turin University.

    She publishes on selected topics of transport law and international law in the specialized press and she is regularly invited as a speaker at seminars and events.

    She speaks English, French and Italian and has a working knowledge of Dutch

    Contact Details

    Giulia Mauri
    Member of the Brussels and Turin bar

    Verhaegen Walravens
    Chaussée de Boondael 6 Boondaalsesteenweg
    1050 Brussels

    Phone +32 2 642 34 34
    Fax +32 2 648 08 09
    Mobile +32 494 36 09 64
    Skype: verwal.giulia.mauri

    Disclaimer -     
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Verhaegen Walravens, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement.
  • new

    28 Jul 2013 12:44 | Armelle Loghmanian

    Choral singing as a means of self-expression/realization

    An interview by Rita Nasini

    Janet van Noordwijk

    Contralto in the Brussels Choral Society

    Janet, could you please introduce Brussels Choral Society?

    I am very happy to have the opportunity to introduce the Brussels Choral Society. I joined this Choir in 2009. I've always been passionate about music. I consider music to be the true global language, which can connect people throughout the world.
    Actually, the Brussels Choral Society is a small but very good example of this. It was founded in 1979 and is now Belgium's largest amateur symphony choir. It consists of over 120 members out of more than 25 different countries. The aim of the choir is to perform to a professional standard with internationally known soloists and orchestras. Our repertoire is very wide and includes everything from High Baroque masses to modern works.

    The choir was invited (unfortunately before I joined) to perform at the wedding of Prince Laurent of Belgium and Princess Claire and was subsequently honored by the royal patronage of Princess Claire.

    Janet, what is your role in this amateur symphony choir?

    I sing in the choir as a Contralto. Generally speaking, there are four basic voices within a choir: two female voices, Soprano and Contralto, and two male voices: Tenor and Bass. Sometimes the parts may be split up further: first Soprano, second Soprano, first Contralto etc.
    Besides singing, I also contribute to the work of the communication team. With this group of people I'm responsible for presenting all information about the activity of the choir to the public, especially promoting our concerts.

    It consists in contacting radio stations to call attention to our concert, posting all concert information to various event calendars and websites, distributing flyers and posters during cultural events, sending concert information to the press, sending programs to mailing lists, etc. My contribution focuses on the Flemish-language contacts.

    Janet, has music been a means to integrate yourself into Brussels’ life?

    Absolutely, the choir has played an important role in my social life experience in Brussels.

    As all people who frequently move know, one of the most compelling challenges when you arrive in a new country or city is to make new social contacts. With friends and family far away, you obviously look for opportunities to meet new people.
    There are many areas in which you can find a way to integrate and to socialize: work, school, language courses, hobbies, etc. For me it wasn't a difficult choice to look for a choir to join.

     I sang in a choir when I lived in Rome and now still, many years later, some of my closest friends are fellow singers from that period. I am very happy to have found a choir whose members come from so many different national, cultural and professional backgrounds. It represents exactly what makes Brussels so interesting: its international and multicultural atmosphere. We all share a common passion for music and when we sing we 'talk' the same language. And automatically you meet new people and make new friends.

    Janet, what motivated you to start singing? Could you describe the physical and psychological benefits that you get from singing?

    I believe that singing is something very natural and that it's in each of us. In fact, it is very beneficial, both for the body and mind.
    Physically, by taking deep breaths, you get more oxygen into your body.  You use more facial expressions and certain muscles are trained by controlling the intake and outflow of air.
    Singing also enhances the awareness of your body. It improves the coordination between your brain and your body by developing your reading skills. It is relaxing, relieves tensions in the body and reduces stress. After a rehearsal you feel good and in a better mood.

    Psychologically singing helps to calm negative thoughts, as it requires a level of focus that can take your mind away from daily reflections and worries. Without doubt and above all it creates positive energy.

     Research has actually shown that active involvement in a musical activity has a very positive effect on the quality of life of the participants.  Singing in a group increases your ability to concentrate, it improves your memory, reinforces self-awareness. All voices together make one great sound and all the participants feel the effects of such achievement. You become one big team and express yourself in a grand combined effort.  The melody, tempo, harmony, text, dynamics, rhythm and vocal color all come together in one big event.

    PWI – Janet, what will be your future projects with the Brussels Choral Society? Will you perform in other countries?  

    We just sang a beautiful Mass by Beethoven in BOZAR on the 2nd of March and now we started to study the program for our Spring concert in June. The Brussels Choral Society typically presents three or four major concerts each year.

    Generally our concerts are in Brussels, but the choir has also performed in Antwerp, Ghent, Leuven, Charleroi and Liege. In the past we have also performed abroad, for example in Budapest, London, Lille, Maastricht, Moscow, Cologne and Rotterdam.
    Our next concerts are:
    • Christmas Concert 2013
      Saturday 14 December 2013
      Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles, Henry Le Boeuf Hall

      Poulenc - Gloria
  Ravel - Piano Concerto in G   Vaughan Williams - Fantasia on Christmas Carols   Anderson - A Christmas Festival   Delson - A Holiday Triptych
      Brussels Choral Society
      Natasha Binder (piano) -- a then 14-year-old prodigy

    • Elgar - The Dream of Gerontius
      Saturday 15 March 2014
      Guildford Cathedral in UK.

      Brussels Choral Society &Guildford Choral Society
      Conducted by Jonathan Willcocks

    Janet, what practical advice can you give to someone who would like to participate in the activities of the choir?

    The best thing to do would be to come to one of our rehearsals! You can become a member through an audition. We hold new member auditions throughout the whole year. You are requested to attend at least one rehearsal prior to auditioning to see if it is what you expected. Then, if you decide that you'd like to join, you proceed with the audition. You prepare a piece in which you can demonstrate your vocal range, intonation and musical skills. A pianist will provide accompaniment.

    Tonal recall and sight-reading exercises will complete the audition. The tonal recall exercise consists of repeating a part from the music score that was studied during the attended rehearsal, to see how well and how quickly it is learned. The sight reading exercise consists of singing a short piece of music at first sight. Believe me, it sounds more difficult that it actually is!

    Janet, would you recommend such an activity?

    Yes, for all the reasons I mentioned earlier. I thoroughly enjoy singing in a choir. It gives the opportunity to learn different kinds of music, to perform with professionally renowned orchestras and artists in major venues. You get to be around people who share your interest in music and you'll meet new friends with the same interests as you. Singing in a group is a wonderful experience, creating a sense of community and giving you a chance to get to know people from all walks of life with different national, cultural and professional backgrounds, but with a common passion.

    You can visit our website to learn more and keep up to date on all our activities and upcoming concerts: .

    Short Biography

    Janet van Noordwijk was born in 1965 near Rotterdam in the Netherlands. She left her country in 1983 after High School and moved to Italy where she studied the Italian Language and Culture at the “Università per Stranieri” in Perugia.

    She worked for 3 years as a Sales Department Assistant/interpreter for a commercial company in Como (Italy). From 1988 to 1996 she was a Management Assistant in Rome. She continued her career as a Freelance translator Italian/Dutch. In 2001 her husband got a position in Ireland and she moved with her family to Dublin.

    Since 2008 they have lived in Brussels. Janet plays the recorder and the flute. When living in Rome she sang in a baroque a cappella ensemble. She now takes singing lessons and is a member of the Brussels Choral Society.

    Contact Details

    Janet van Noordwijk
    GSM: 0474/559762

    Brussels Choral Society adresse:
    Centre Scolaire Sacré-Cœur de Lindthout
    Avenue Albert-Elisabeth 3, 1200 Bruxelles

    Disclaimer -
    Any views and opinions presented in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Brussels Choral Society, nor do they constitute a legally binding agreement..
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