THE NATASHA’S PROJECT

An Interview with Erena Bordon Sanchez, The Founder of the Natashas Project

I wouldn’t have thought that dance and human trafficking could have a connection until I met Erena Bordon Sanchez, the founder of a non-profit dance company called The Natashas Project. The aim of this unique dance company is: “to challenge and change the reality of Human Trafficking in the sex slavery industry”. The Natashas project creates dance productions to raise the awareness of human trafficking, conducts educational workshops in schools to inform and inspire the next generation to do something about this issue in their communities. And it also provides restorative dance workshops for survivors of modern day slavery, sexual abuse, and domestic violence. WOW! I was so impressed when I learnt of what Erena and her team do that I had to interview her to find out more. I loved how she’s used dance to highlight this very important issue that plagues modern civilisation.

There are approximately 46 million people currently living as slaves around the world! What’s even more worrying is that every one of us may walk past someone living in slavery every day and not even recognise it.  And even if we did recognise it, would we know what to do about it or have the courage to act? When Erena and I had coffee a few weeks ago I was really inspired by her decision to use whatever skills she had to fight for the victims of sexual slavery. She could have lived a life of complacency, but her passion for social justice would have made this impossible. I felt very privileged to learn from her that I can do something, no matter how small it may seem, to stand against the evil of slavery. Keep reading my interview with Erena below and I truly hope that you are inspired to take action.

Check out Erena’s website at www.thenatashasproject.co.uk, and get involved by donating money or volunteering your time.

The Natasha's Project

Picture taken by James Barringer

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MSA:  Please tell me how you first became interested in dance? 

ERENA: I was first introduced to dance through church when I was about 8 or 9 years old. I then went on to join an amazing youth group that performed and created dramas and dances about the amazing message of love and grace. Following that, I went on to do an apprenticeship with a professional dance company in London called Springs Dance Company, which then lead me to my professional dance training at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. The November after graduating was when we premiered and launched The Natashas Project.

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MSA: So what prompted you to create The Natashas Project? And why use dance to bring about change in the human trafficking and sex slavery industry?

ERENA: I started my research for The Natashas Project during my last year at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. I had to do a dissertation which could be choreographed or written; so I chose to do it choreographically and created a piece about human trafficking. Whilst doing this I felt led by God that it wasn’t just to be a research project, but that it was to be a tool to raise awareness of trafficking and slavery and to be a voice for the voiceless. 

There’s so much bad news in the world and watching the news can leave one desensitised or so overwhelmed that you just want to shut off. But when people see live art, it makes them feel something and that’s the key thing. Because when you make someone FEEL something then they say, “Well what can I do with this feeling?” The fact that they have even felt something is great because it means they can then ask the question, “What do I do now,” or, “How can I do something to help?” But if people even haven’t felt anything in the first place, then why are they going to do anything about it?

Live art also offers people time to reflect, as opposed to when you watch snippets of bad news on mainstream media when you don’t really have time to reflect on what, who or how, etc.; but with live art you have the time frame to reflect on the issues, why it’s wrong, the fact that there is hope and how can you be a part of it.

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Picture courtesy of The Natasha’s Project

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MSA: That’s awesome! It’s true that people’s emotions need to be stirred up in order to prompt them to act. I’m interested to know why you chose the name ‘Natasha’? 

ERENA: The name Natasha in some trafficking circles and in certain places in the world means ‘woman in servitude’ or one who is stripped of her name and given the name Natasha. When creating the project I went to my pastor at the time and asked what the name Natasha meant in Hebrew; he found that there wasn’t an exact translation, but that one of the closest translations meant ‘gift of God’. We thought it was perfect. As they (i.e. trafficked people) are a gift and they are worth fighting for, hence why we called it The Natashas Project, not just for one of them but for all of them._

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The Natasha's Project

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MSA: What steps did you take to get The Natashas Project up and running? 

ERENA: At the end of my final year of dance training, my lead dancer (in the piece I’d choreographed) said we should take it further and asked what me we were going to do about it. So we sat in a cafe, prayed and talked about what we were going to do. We decided to re-audition our dancers, because some of them had gone on to do different things, and we talked about going into schools, doing educational workshops and using dance as a restorative tool. So we started plotting out what the company could look like and what it could do. Then we premiered the company in November 2013. I’ve got an incredible team of passionate professionals around me that have worked hard and continue to work together to develop the project. It really blows my mind that I’m using dance and drama to bring light into a very dark area. 

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MSA: I’m interested to know how you’re funded because you don’t technically get a salary from your company? 

ERENA: I’m basically doing all the behind the scenes work voluntarily at the moment, but it is becoming challenging to do it purely because of how much it’s growing. We are funded by personal donations/fundraisers/standing order donations and applications to grants.

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Picture courtesy of The Natasha’s Project

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MSA: What is restorative dance? I’ll be honest and say that I’ve never heard of it. Do you have any examples of how it’s helped victims of human trafficking?  

ERENA: Our restorative dance workshops aim to provide survivors with fun movement exercises and creative activities that help them regain ownership of their bodies and minds, develop confidence, self-esteem, and physical fitness. Thereby enabling a creative and and healing environment aiding their restorative journey.  

So there’s a part of the brain that shuts off from verbal communication when you experience trauma. Which is why sometimes in counselling it takes a really long time to process things because you’re verbally talking it out. There’s scientific proof that the arts is what unlocks that part of the brain and allows people to actually start processing their trauma.

A few years ago I went to a safe house in India (this was with a different group of people before The Natashas Project was launched) and I was talking to one of the counsellors there who said, “Be aware that they [the victims] probably won’t share anything, because it takes them a minimum of 5-10 years for them to share what has happened to them.” We were working with girls aged 11 to 17; some had been sold into slavery before they could even walk, so their lives had been a traumatic experience. I was there for 10 days and on the 9th day we were doing different dance exercises where the girls could tell any story using their bodies, and within that exercise we had 4 stories told to us of their past experiences, of where they had come from and of what had happened to them. Just through moving and not speaking. It was amazing because we built a real trust within the group and they felt they were able to share without speech. So in 10 days we accomplished what may have taken years 5-10 years, and just through movement. So it’s really, really powerful!

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The Natasha's Project

Picture taken by James Barringer

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MSA: That is incredible. I never thought that dance could be a tool for healing. Do you choreograph all the dance productions that The Natasha’s Project exhibits? 

ERENA: Yes with help of my fantastic team of dancers.

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MSA: I think the workshops that you hold are an excellent idea! Do you approach schools to offer your services or do they contact you? 

ERENA: At the moment we are currently reaching out to schools, and have had a couple of schools contact us. This is the part of our project that we would love to have grow, i.e., doing creative awareness workshops and performances in schools.

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MSA:  So how many people do you have on your team?  

ERENA: Our team consists of 15 wonderful people, some of those are volunteers, some are on the board of trustees and some are company dancers.

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Picture courtesy of The Natasha’s Project

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MSA: I’m very curious to know what a week in your life looks like? 

ERENA: A week in my life changes every week depending on what is going on for the company, the last two weeks have been very busy with workshops, meetings, rehearsals and performances. Some weeks I’m rehearsing 5 days a week from 10-6pm, and this week is a week of catching up on emails. I’m an administrator, director, choreographer, and company manager – I wear a lot of hats at the same time, so I’ve had to start logging my hours and what I spend my time doing, so that when we get into  a position when other people can jump into different roles, we know how much time it takes. 

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MSA: So apart from running ‘The Natashas’ what else do you do?

ERENA: I work as a professional contemporary dancer as well, so I work with different choreographers at different times on on various projects. So I freelance, and its’s quite nice for me to switch off and just be a dancer. 

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MSA:  What are some of the highlights of running The Natashas Project so far?

ERENA: My highlights are getting to work with such an incredible supportive team, and together being able to speak up about such an important current issue and problem that needs to be addressed.

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The Natasha's Project

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MSA: Any low moments or learning points? 

ERENA: Every day is a learning day, there is so much to learn about how to best communicate to people about this issue and learn what the most impacting approaches are. It’s a constant learning game.

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MSA: When you watch the news, slavery can seem so far away and it’s easy to feel as though we can’t make a difference or bring about change. How does one overcome this?

ERENA: Modern day slavery can be very daunting, it’s everywhere, and it’s easy to think, “What can I do to make a difference? I’m just a little person in Hemel Hempstead.” So I love having conversations with people about their passions and what they can do with them. For example, if you love to bake why not hold a fundraiser, or if you love making jewellery then create artwork that speaks about your passions,  or if you’re into finance then consider working for a charity that focuses on human trafficking. So whatever you love doing, you can make a difference with it.

Or it might be just as simple as praying because prayer is just as powerful. Back in the day, William Wilberforce said that one of the 3 things that was needed to bring an end to slavery was prayer, because it isn’t just a practical issue, it’s also a spiritual issue involving people’s hearts. 

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Picture courtesy of The Natasha’s Project

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MSA: Where do you see The Natasha’s Project 5 to 10 years from now

ERENA: We would love to see The Natashas Project in 5 to 10 years’ time to be making a real dent in the UK and internationally as a voice against modern slavery. I would also love to be doing what we do full time.

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MSA: Any advice for people out there who want to turn their passion into a lifestyle/organisation/business? 

ERENA: Go for it! Start actively doing your passion and start connecting with others who have the same passion. Get together a team and get a dream/vision together for what you want to do with your passion.

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MSA: How can people support the Natasha’s project? 

ERENA: There are many ways in which you can support us. Firstly, financially; whether that is hosting a fundraiser for us, or doing a sponsored event for us (e.g. the marathon/bike ride/skydive), or becoming a regular supporter by setting up a standing order or doing a one off donation. ( If people would like to make one off donations, here is our go fund me page: https://www.gofundme.com/thenatashasproject)

Secondly, you can tell people about the issue of slavery and have conversations with others. Do report anything suspicious to the modern slavery helpline on 08000 121 700.

Thirdly, we also really value the support of your prayers; we would love you to pray for those caught up in slavery and that for our team and work to be the best it can for those who need to know.

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MSA: Thank you so, so much Erena for taking the time to talk to me. You’ve challenged me and given me much to think about!

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The Natasha's Project

Picture taken by James Barringer

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Erena is a great example of how the arts can be used as a voice to bring about change. Everyone has a ‘voice’ so it’s important to use it for something good. Erena is also a wonderful example of how your passion can become your lifestyle, your business or your cause. I’m challenged to think about what I can practically do to help the victims of modern slavery and to reject the lie that says that my efforts won’t bring about any significant change.

During our chat over coffee, Erena and I got talking about William Wilberforce and how he was such a hero. But then I thought, heroes as just ordinary people like you and me who decided to take action. So, by this definition, everyone has the potential to be a hero. I encourage you to act on what it is that you feel passionate about and think of how your actions can help those around you.



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 _Erena Bordon Sanchez

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