A HEALTHY WAY TO EXPRESS EMOTIONS WITH FEMME! CREATOR, BERNADETTE PLEASANT
Since early childhood, society teaches us to pass judgements towards emotion; it tells us that expressing anger is negative, being over joyous can make us look crazy, and admitting to sadness is a sign of weakness. As we get older, many of us find ourselves feeling completely off balance and out of tune from being trapped in this emotionally suppressed life cycle; from trying to grow in a world that aims to kill what makes us feel alive inside.
But do we have to live that way in order to be successful? Do we have to bottle everything up for the sake of others? If not, how can we practice healthy ways of expressing our emotions? How can we make a change for ourselves and the next generations? How can we experience true freedom?
According to Healer + Entrepreneur Bernadette Pleasant, the answer is: we move. And not, like, to a new place… But we move our bodies.
In 2010 Bernadette Pleasant established, active emotional wellness brand, Femme! for people to use body movement as a way to unleash physical power and discover release. Femme! classes, workshops, and retreats hold space for emotions to be what they are. It’s where joy can be joy, grief can be grief, and rage can be rage without judgement, resistance or suppression. Femme! uses live music to create a fusion of movement and expression that helps individuals acknowledge, feel, release, and elevate.
This spring, Femme! made a tour stop in Philly and I was invited to attend the class for a tour of my own… An emotional tour. This experience with Femme! was refreshing for me as a young black woman. In a sense, I felt like it connected me to my roots, to my higher self, and guided me through what a true effort in emotional healing should be. To the beat of live drums, I was able to move my body freely and express anger, pain, grief, love, and joy… I was able to release what was weighing heavy without anyone or any thought shutting it down in the process. It was 90-minutes of freedom and pure channeled wisdom that I plan to carry on with me throughout the rest of my life.
In an interview with Bernadette Pleasant earlier that day, I learned all about how Femme! came to be and what the movement is on it’s way to becoming for a world in need of emotional healing. Over guac and burritos at Lolita’s Restaurant, we talked about the history of Femme!, what sparked her career as a healer, her views on self-care, and the importance of ordering exactly what you want + what you know you deserve from life.
You can check out the conversation below, which has been edited for length and clarification.
“I firmly believe there are no good, bad, light, or dark emotions… Only emotions that need to be fully expressed.” — Bernadette Pleasant
Tell me a little bit about yourself and what lead you to pursue work as a healer.
I am a native New Jersey girl, born and bred. My upbringing was very shut down — I come from a background of abuse and religion that sucked the life force out of me. I had to do things so structured that it kept me in a tight lane and I am a really big personality, so it didn’t feel good to live like that.
Years and years of this kind of shut-down and having no place to grieve about things I experienced, like being sexually abused as a child, caused me to start creating those patterns as an adult. There was a compound of things that made me smaller and smaller, like seeing the really amazing people I looked up to — my mom, my aunts, my family members, etc. living small. They spoke great things, but I could see fear in their eyes and I thought, “I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to live like that.”
I started to look at my own life and was like, “You know what? This doesn’t make me happy… I’m in a marriage that perpetuates the same thing and I just don’t want to continue to go through life like this.” I decided to step away from that by getting the therapy I needed and starting to do the things that felt good to me. I stopped looking outside of myself for approval as to whether I can do something or not; I started acting like a grown ass woman, even if that meant my decisions were going to really upset someone else.
In the process of doing that, I ended up stepping away from the religion and from the marriage. It actually ended my relationship with my mom as well, which was very painful for me… But I realized what was more important was my truth and what I needed. I realized I would stay and bottle things up because I wanted these relationships with other people… I didn’t want to ruffle feathers, I didn’t want to stir anything, I just wanted to go along. But I started to see too many people living and dying like that, and I didn’t want that… So I started dipping my toe in making my own choices and I felt so great that it became a way of life.
It was my own need to heal that lead me to become a healer because as I started to do that for myself, I could see when someone else needed the same type of healing but didn’t have a voice or the courage that it takes. I would notice it because it showed up in my body. I wanted to dance, I wanted to do things because the shut-down had kept me still. These hips like to move, I’m a little wild, but everything was shut down — even my movement. I started to see that same shut-down in other people and was like, “You know what? This is what I did for me. Look at this, or try that.” And so, the healer came from my innate ability to just connect with people, to be honest and to just be willing to have hard conversations in a safe space.
What does Femme! mean to you? How has it helped you on your own journey?
Sometimes people think that the fact that I call it Femme! has something to do with sexual orientation… But no. A normal way of living, an acceptable way of living, is to be shut down — try not to be too much, try not to be too loud, try not to attract attention to you. I started to notice that also translated to, “Don’t be angry, don’t be sad…” But suppose I am?! Suppose I’m sad, suppose I’m pissed off.
Femme!, to me, was an opportunity to rebirth (as we all come from the feminine)… An opportunity to say, “Hey. I get to rebirth me and I’m going to celebrate my big, bold, loud ass and all of its glory.” So it is a rebirthing; a space where I encourage people to just be and to let it out if they need to cry, or yell, or celebrate.
My desire is that because of the exposure to that kind of freedom, voice, movement and sound, that they are going to take that into their own lives and know that they are allowed to take up more space. I do it to drums because I find that when you use piped music (which I also love), is that it starts and it ends — a song starts and ends. What I love about drums is that as you are evolving from moment to moment to moment, the drums move with you. That’s why I want to create that container to help folks get out of their heads, into their bodies, and to get loud.
Is this what you consider to be a healthy way to express your emotions?
Absolutely. It’s acknowledging emotion as opposed to immediately shaming it or trying to curtail it somehow. It even happens with joy — who would want to curtail joy? When you see kids, they are so happy, but for adults, it has become so acceptable that great joy is reduced to a smile… Because nobody wants to look crazy. The norm is to look at someone who’s expressing joy as if something’s wrong with them, and that’s not okay. I don’t want to live like that. It affects the body, it affects the mind, it affects how we see each other. It affects the next generation because they get to see the shut-down and then grow up in that. I’m saying, “No. I don’t want to do that.” I think it’s beautiful how my way of living and being is more than just the Femme! 90-minute experience, it’s a lifestyle of checking-in. How does your life feel? And not how am I supposed to feel, but how do I REALLY feel?
When did you start Femme!?
7 years ago.
Since then, you’ve traveled all over for it?
There are a lot of places I’d like to go. I try to travel around a lot in the U.S. I’d like to travel around the world. Later this year I’ll be teaching in Mexico, then China, and I have an opportunity to teach in Morocco that I’m looking forward to. One of the things that’s also really important to me is that I have teachers, because I want to grow my business… So I’m training others to do what I do. I personally can’t reach that many people on my own, so my desire is that I will train more instructors who are passionate about teaching this work. Whether they teach privately, or in a large group, that is how it grows and reaches.
You do retreats as well, right?
Yes I do retreats and I do workshops, which vary from 3 to 5 hours. An ‘Emotion & Motion Workshop’ is a much deeper dive that features a type of emotional theatre and other exercises that I don’t do in a 90-minute Femme! experience. When you’re working with emotions, it takes creating a truly safe container for people to let their guards down. I’m good at that, and I’m proud of that too. My desire is always for someone to leave one of my spaces feeling lighter. It’s going to take you through a bit of fire, but nothing scary. It may be scary in mind, but it really isn’t.
Do you ever have people come in that are really hard to open up? I will probably be that person today.
Absolutely, and that’s fine! Because you know what, that’s a choice and it’s completely fine. That’s an, “I can’t” mindset which is a limitation that I can’t affect. What matters to me in those situations is that someone stays in the room. This is the power of using the drums. Because we go on an emotional tour, the drums play to the different emotions. My job is to make it possible for those in the room to feel safe… Because when people feel safe, they’ll do all kinds of shit. You can get to that silly state when you feel safe.
My work to do is to create a really safe container which is done by the choice of space, the assistants, you name it. It’s a lot of things that go into that planning. I don’t just hire drummers, I hire people who understand the healing experience of my work. It’s not a dance class. It can feel like that for some, but I’m not teaching dance at all. I’m teaching freedom of movement. When someone is hesitant, but they stay in the room, what happens is that with the rhythm of the drums and even witnessing other people in that experience, they go on the ride anyway. I encourage folks to do it at their own pace and in a way that feels good to them but still to consider pushing an edge. At the end of the day, most people are all for it… But that’s about trust. Trust in me and what I create, and also trust within themselves. With people who are reluctant, it’s because they don’t trust themselves… And that ego will keep someone safe and stuck. I only know because I’ve been there.
How important do you think body movement is in the healing process?
Because we are mostly made of water, it is important for things to be in flow to move. What I love about great teachers is that they always include movement in their plans, even if it’s just a quick dance break or an opportunity to move and stretch the body… Because you can get all the head knowledge in the world, but it does not get on a cellular level until you have taken that head knowledge and moved it in your body.
Finding the truth of the wisdom that lives in our bodies, the combination of our great minds with the body, is what allows you to know when to trust something in yourself. Like, “Yeah let’s not go down that street.” Or, “That person doesn’t really feel safe.” Or, “I feel safe right here.” Because of movement, your body gets more and more and more informed and gets to do the work it does. Movement is key. It has to happen, it’s needed. I don’t respect bodies of work that don’t have some form of movement in it because it’s necessary. There needs to be some kind of flow and movement.
How do you define self-care and self-care rituals? I noticed you have an e-book dedicated to self-care rituals.
I do, and I created the e-book because some people don’t know where to start… Or they make it so big and elaborate that it’s not attainable, as if self-care is can only be done on vacation… But your body needs it every day. To me, self-care is about the choices you make. Self-care is deciding which restaurant you’re going to eat at, and feeling worthy of doing that. Self-care is looking at the menu and rather than just deciding to have what’s right there, really feeling into it and determining what you want to feed your body. Opting to take care of yourself and honoring that food choices affect you. Nothing’s more beautiful to me than when someone takes time to figure out what really matters to them. Whether that’s starting the day with stretching, yoga, meditation, or just stillness.
I have a habit of waking up and starting to stretch in the bed — I look like a cat in bed, because that feels good to me. To move my body and not wake up and just jump out of bed, but to be really intentional about it. Self-care is a decision I like to make breath to breath. To ask myself what feels good, and to be okay with what feels good. If that means carrying a sweater because I know I get cold when I go indoors and I don’t want to be uncomfortable… It’s in really small ways, yet starts to feel so good that it becomes a way of life and gets easily modeled for other people.
How you really feel, matters. What was important to me with the content of the e-book was to provide suggestions on what to do in situations where you only have 5 minutes as well as if you have a little more time... Just so that the assumption isn’t that there’s no time for self-care if it isn’t, like, the weekend.
How do you maintain your self-care practices while traveling and working?
I do things that I can do anywhere, like stretching when I wake up. Also, I rest. It’s important that I get more and more of that, or that I’m carving out the time for it knowing that I operate better with it. If I’m doing something like a teacher training, that requires a lot of energy from me because I’m holding that container all day, for 3 days straight, what I realized is that afterwards, I can’t jump right into something else... I need time to just be still, to integrate and digest what just happened, to rest. Always giving myself a few days after is really important to me and I work that into my schedule. I’m never going to fly somewhere else the next day. I can’t always have as much time as I’d like, but I do make it a point to make it.
It’s also important for me to move and dance by myself. To find a space where I can get into my body, because when I’m in there, I think better. I hold space more fully because I’m taking care of myself. I’m really good at doing that and making sure the giving that I’m doing isn’t coming from depletion, that it’s coming from overflow. When it comes from depletion, you start to resent others or the frustration kicks in. So it’s very important to take care of myself. Sometimes that means I might need a little space from the energy I’m around… And I’ve gotta be okay with asking for that.
What’s some advice you’d give to a younger version of yourself?
The whole notion of not wanting to be “too much…” That mindset really makes you so small. My advice would be to be a lot. Be A LOT because that’s where the spark and ignition is. That’s where the life is, that’s where the juicy turn-on is. From that place you get to create better, you write better, you connect with other people better… You leave such an impression on other people that they can’t get rid of the thought.
When I was little, I used to watch certain actresses on television that I couldn’t take my eyes off of. I realized that there was something in me that could see a spark in them. It was what was in myself, that I recognized in them, and although I didn’t understand it at the time, that’s why I couldn’t take my eyes off it… Because that type of admiration can only exist when it’s in you.
How would you spend a Sunday with no limits?
First of all, I’m going to start my day, and periodically come back to, having amazing toe-curling sex. It’s going to be loud, it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be everything. It’s going to be like listening to the radio where there’s a jazz feeling, a gospel feel, underground rap, blues… It’s going to be everything. All 88 keys of what’s possible. That’s going to happen a lot. All my senses on this day would be soaked. And that means visually, what I lay my eyes on, what I take in, is going to look so good that it makes me giggle. I’m going to laugh! I’m going to touch things that feel good to me. I’m going to smell good food and scents that work for me. Things that touch my skin are going to turn me on. Everything’s going to be well thought out. It’s going to be a real good day. Whether that’s in the South of France or South Africa, the ‘where’ doesn’t matter. Being in my full rightness of who I am and feeling like every good thing that I’m deserving of, and feeling so right with that, it won’t matter where I am. That’s my day… And when the night comes I’m going to sleep so well because it’s been a great day.