Gilded Serpent presents...

Tribal Fest Under Fire

Chuck and Kajira in 2012

Tribal Fusion Stars Quit California Belly Dance Festival
as Co-organiser Admits Sexist Facebook Posts

by GildedSerpent Staff
posted September 25, 2015

Several leading dancers  have withdrawn their services from Tribal Fest after learning of festival co-producer Chuck Lenhard’s involvement in an offensive  Facebook group for DJs.

Lenhard is the husband of festival creator Kajira Djoumahna.

The group of teachers and performers released their statement via Tumblr, initially anonymously, on September 20 2015, some three weeks after confronting the festival producers. It is understood that they were alerted to the existence of the private group, which featured degrading, derogatory and sexist comments about many of these dancers, by a DJ who had been invited to join and who took screenshots of what he saw there.

The signatories to the Tumblr statement, in which the dancers announced that they would no longer participate in Tribal Fest, are Jenn Aguilar, Terri Allred, DJ Amar, Ariellah, Rachel Brice, Hilde Cannoodt, Jennifer Faust, Lilly Freeland, Martina Hewett, Aubre Hill, Mat Jacob, Zoe Jakes, Sharon Kihara, Kami Liddle, Medina Maitreya, Nathalie, Carolena Nericcio-Bohlman, Dusty Paik, Jill Parker, Ebony Qualls, April Rose, Calamity Sam, Lacey Sanchez, Violet Scrap, Colleena Shakti, Amy Sigil, Michelle Sorensen, Alexis Southall, Tjarda van Straten, Amel Tafsout, Sherri Wheatley.

They emphasized that their action was not a boycott.

The full text, with link to the original Tumblr and list of signatories, is reproduced below.

Lenhard and Djoumahna separately published statements of contrition in the Tribal Fest Facebook group, which was subsequently closed to viewing by non-members.

Their statements are also reproduced below.

Teachers United Public Statement Regarding Tribal Fest:

It is with great disappointment that we have decided to no longer participate in Tribal Fest®.

It has come to light that offensive posts, photographs, and photo albums, which included sexual objectification, derogatory statements, and sexist comments, were regularly posted in a private Facebook group. The person who facilitated this group and participated in the behavior is involved in the production of Tribal Fest.

Because of this person’s involvement in and access to the festival, much of this content was focused on Tribal Fest® teachers, participants and attendees, and targeted our friends, colleagues, and students.This behavior was a violation and abuse of trust.

As leaders and members in this community, we strive to create safe, positive spaces for self-expression, personal growth, and healing. We cannot participate in an event or associate with an organization whose members use their standing in our community to engage in and promote stereotyping, dehumanization, and belittling comments.We cannot participate in an event or support an organization that does not reflect our own morals, ethics, and beliefs.
We have no desire to start a campaign against anyone or fight hate with hate. To the contrary, we hope to bring attention to the deeply negative impact of derogatory speech toward any group of people so that something positive may come out of this experience.

We are thankful to Kajira for the effort and vision she has brought to creating this 15-year event, which has nurtured the tribal belly dance community. We value her and honor her contributions to our art form. Our decision is not a reflection of our feelings for her as a person or a dancer.

Our non-participation comes only after much thought and deliberation. Each of us came to this decision as individuals of our own accord, but we stand together as a community.

Kajira Djoumahna’s statement:

Dear Tribal Fest® Attendees, Teachers, Dancers, Supporters, Vendors & Friends,

Please feel free to share this everywhere.

I am so very sorry, shocked, saddened, betrayed, disappointed and truly heartbroken to have found out that my husband and TF® Co-Producer for the past 8 years, Chuck, had a “secret” Facebook page in which there were photos of as many as ten different dancers who had to suffer sexist and rude comments by Chuck and other members of the group. I knew absolutely nothing at all about that page’s contents until the matter was made known to me, or I absolutely would have had it shut down immediately.

I have never condoned that sort of behavior from anyone, and it hurts me more deeply than I can express to know that the very people I created Tribal Fest® for in the first place have been equally devastated. I was notified by a dear friend and dance ally about the situation when it went public.

As soon as I found out, I immediately reached out with love and compassion to everyone in the photos via voice messages, texts and/or in a letter emailed on my behalf by the same friend, because I knew I could reach absolutely everybody in said group with my emailed message of support and sisterhood. I also confronted Chuck, and he is no longer TF® Co-Producer or a staff member.

Though only two teachers called me back, I was gratified to hear from them and feel good about our conversations, if not about the subject matter. I sent another message to the group and called and texted some more in the hopes that more of them would consent to talk about this, to no avail. In the meantime, I was not allowed to see any portion of their conversations or be involved in any way.

I believe it to be of utmost importance that you know absolutely that in no way have I, Kajira Djoumahna, or my beloved event, Tribal Fest®, EVER engaged in or promoted “stereotyping, dehumanization and belittling comments”! My event and I are completely innocent of these charges, and those of you who have attended TF® have seen and felt in your hearts and souls the love and that “special vibe” that makes Tribal Fest ours – yours and mine.
From inception more than fifteen years ago, TF was created out of my own pure love for tribal belly dance to be a place where we of like mind could gather to be ourselves. It was created to be a welcome home for all those who love tribal belly dance and its related forms, and it will continue to be so with your help and support.

My promise to you is that my original goal of co-creating with you the most wonderful, safe, supportive and accepting place to share your heart and art with others from around the world will never change. I am here and listening to what you need to continue to make Tribal Fest® the place you want to be. I will continue to do my utmost to bring love, beauty, acceptance and joy to the world!

Please help me to help our community move forward and heal from our collective wound. With this goal in mind, I am in the process of setting up the new Tanya Tandoc Tribal Fest® Scholarship Fund to benefit dancers unable to attend TF® without help from the community. This scholarship is in the name of our tribal bellydance sister, Tanya Tandoc, who was recently a victim of domestic violence.

Tribal Fest® will also contribute to the woman’s rights organization/s chosen by attendees via popular vote. Information about participation in both of these endeavors will be on the TF® web site when it opens on December 1.
I am here for you to call or text anytime: (+1) 1 707 978 8116. I am not the best with Facebook or email, but I will be working on checking and responding on a more regular basis.

Thank you so very much for reading and for caring.

Yours, Kajira Djoumahna

Chuck poses with a random dancer

Chuck Lenhard’s statement:

"Hello everyone,
As embarrassed and ashamed as I am to admit this, some of what you hearing is true and I wanted to apologize because I really do care about this community.

There was a private page on Facebook that started out as a place for DJs to go and vent and bitch and complain about events and people within our DJ community. As time went on, pictures of dancers were also posted and comments made that I am not proud of — nor did I stop them from being posted by others. I did not think that speaking of people in this manner could truly cause serious trauma to the individual and have considered and evaluated the impact it had on the women. I was told that I acted like an insensitive 12 year old boy trying to impress others. This does not excuse my actions.

Kajira did not know about this page, nor does it reflect on her love and support and admiration of the bellydance community. I am learning a painful lesson. I’m deeply ashamed to have hurt the community and my wife. I am hoping that you will continue to support Kajira, even if you cannot forgive me. This is not her fault. I was insensitive, obscene and rude.

When I found out that posts from this group had been made public, I was angry that the private posts were shared. But now I realize that it’s really a giant painful life lesson. I am sorry for the actions that I took the first day this came to my attention.

I did try and reach out to a number of dancers privately to apologize. I understand that if at this time you are not able to forgive me. I tried to reach out and make amends before Sunday’s "Public Statement Regarding Tribal Fest" went public, so that I could avoid the shame and embarrassment this would bring to my wife and her event, but I wasn’t able to find a way to effectively apologize.

It I realize now that words and images can hurt just as much and it was never my intention to cause that hurt. I am sorry that I violated the trust of friends, festival employees and attendees.
I am going to be seeking help for my issues and actions.

I understand why people are upset. What I did was beyond stupid and uncaring. I can only hope that time will show how sorry I am and how much I regret what I have done. To everyone I have upset and hurt, let me just say how sorry I am and offer my sincere apologies and I ask for your forgiveness. For those who reached out to me and talked to me and shared their feelings and thoughts on this, I say thank you."

Audience in 2011


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