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Several leading dancers  have withdrawn their services from Tribal Fest after learning of festival co-producer Chuck Lenhard’s involvement in an offensive  Facebook group for DJs.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

Resources:

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Check the "Letters to the Editor" for other possible viewpoints!

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   |       |    13 Comments

  1. No Gravatar
    Carolynn Ruth

    Sep 27, 2015 - 12:09:20

    Very disappointing.
    I am baffled at how someone who has spent so much time around so many women could not realize that sexist, demeaning comments are wrong regardless of whether the targets were aware of it.
    Even if the individual women had never learned of this, if the nasty comments and insulting behavior had never come to light, this kind of misogynistic bullshit harms all women by fostering this sexist attitude in the men who practice it and the men who witness it but don’t have the integrity to speak up.
    The only real man in the whole story is the one who had the humanity and courage to blow the whistle. The rest are cowardly juveniles who don’t have the character to deal with women as human beings. And that includes the board owners who gosh just didn’t think hateful comments would be hurtful. Sure they aren’t- as long as they’re safely hidden from view.
    That is a well-crafted apology. But only future actions will show if it’s any more than craft.

  2. No Gravatar
    Eileen Spears

    Sep 27, 2015 - 01:09:27

    No matter where members of the belly dance community stand on this situation, there are a couple of things that should be addressed:
    1) From my sources, DJ Amar was a member of this group from the beginning. That was two years ago. I understand that he has said that he was only a member for a couple of months. What is the truth here? There were 43 members of that FB group. It would be helpful if some of them came forward and straightened this out. Amar is not clean in this and I was offended that his name was on the letter from the dancers.
    2) There has been what I will call “sister bashing” going on. The most recent being the cancellation of the BadAss Festival because some members of the dance community thought it was their right to dictate what others should say or do by threatening to black ball any dancer who performed at BadAss. This is so wrong and so out of control. These “sister” should apologize for their inappropriate and hurtful behavior.
    By the way, I am a small fish in the dance community, but am know by most folks in the Central Coast area. My involvement in BadAss has been as a performer and the Volunteer Coordinator.
    Thanks for listening.

  3. No Gravatar
    isa shisha

    Sep 27, 2015 - 02:09:43

    A few more clarifications here: Badass decided themselves to not have the event since one the the PRODUCERS, Roger Hendrix, was found to be one of the most vocal and malicious commenters in the private FB group. We wont support ANY festival who has producers like that.
    Secondly, the women involved contacted TF within 48hours of them finding out about the group yet 3 Weeks went by without any word back from TF…thus forcing those targeted to release a statement. They were never contacted by anybody from the festival and many still havent been.
    And lastly, in regards to the use of Tonya Tandoc’s name in association to this horrible situation was just immoral and downright disgusting as she was murdered, not part of domestic as stated. Too many inconsistancies and too little answers.

  4. No Gravatar
    Ziah McKinney

    Sep 27, 2015 - 02:09:59

    Please edit this article to stress that Chuck is actually the person that HIRES us at TribalFest, he is not just “Kajira’s husband.” He is who sends the email initially contacting us about teaching, he collects our legal information, and who handles all other details regarding the talent who teaches at TribalFest. This is not just a vendetta against the husband of the event producer, this is not wanting to hand over our personal information and be in contact with someone who has a blatant lack of respect for the talent he is hiring.

  5. No Gravatar
    Eileen Spears

    Sep 27, 2015 - 06:09:11

    How do you know what Roger said on that FB page? I am not absolving these men from responsibility for what was done and I’m not saying he didn’t participate, but statements like “…most vocal and malicious…” should be based on facts. Do you have those facts from a reliable source, not DJ Amar either. Because he was also a member for the two years this group was in existence and only brought it to light because he was angry at Chuck. His reasons for bringing this out are suspect as is the language he used in the letter which was extremely inflammatory.
    Regarding the cancellation of the BadAss Festival, I know because I was the first to know. Yes, it was cancelled, but then reopened as a Saturday only event after a number of performers and others asked that it not be cancelled. Many performers were planning to attend until they were threatened with being black balled from other events. Again, these people had no right to make those threats. Everyone has a right to decide for themselves whether they want to participate in an event or not and these other members of the dance community should have respected that right even if they did not agree with it.

  6. No Gravatar
    Pam Hardi

    Sep 28, 2015 - 03:09:19

    BadAss was cancelled after the organizers wrote a passive aggressive victim-blaming message on the BadAss website. Roger Hendrix, co-organizer, was one of the WORST in Chuck’s secret group. He was also the central figure in racially-motivated attacks against black dancers, incliding the lie that one named Cheyenne had tried to kill him.

    Chelle, his wife, was actively involved in deleting posts and silencing discussion as observed in screen shots posted to the TF facebook page. No one remotely threatened to black ball dancers who went to BadAss OR TribalFest.

  7. No Gravatar
    Lindsay Slevin

    Sep 28, 2015 - 03:09:22

    Eileen Spears, I feel I must defend Amars name here. He was a member of the group for a long time BUT the group did not start out as the group it became. It started out as a group for other DJs to keep in touch etc. We are all members of many groups on facebook and notifications don’t happen unless you opt in for them so Amar was unaware of how the group evolved into what it did until a short while ago. As soon as he realised he took screenshots of the offending material, and contacted those who were targeted.

    Without him everyone would still be in the dark. He did not participate in any of the wrongdoing.

  8. No Gravatar
    Pam Hardi

    Sep 28, 2015 - 04:09:47

    Full name – Cheyenne Dunbar. He wrote a full account on Facebook, if anyone cares to follow up.

  9. No Gravatar
    Red Ree

    Sep 28, 2015 - 06:09:52

    I’d like to know more about who was actually in this group, and what was actually said, by whom – also, the DJs who made the comments should answer for them directly.

    Can’t think of any way to publish this without re-opening those wounds.

  10. No Gravatar
    Maddie A.

    Sep 28, 2015 - 09:09:51

    The fact of the matter is, any dancer/performer/teacher/vendor who chooses to attend Tribal Fest will lose their credibility and respect of the community. The organizers of TF should step down and let someone else take over, or better yet a totally new event could be started from the ashes. From talking to the dancers I know, everyone feels so hurt and betrayed. I cannot imagine supporting TF now.

  11. No Gravatar
    Terri Allred

    Sep 28, 2015 - 10:09:25

    Hello friends, I was going to stay out of this discussion, but feel that it is important to share some facts. I am a consultant to the group of instructors who posted the letter and in fact, helped to draft the public letter. I have also seen each and every screenshot from the private Facebook group, much to my distress. In consultation with the victims, we have chosen not to release them because to do so would be to re-victimize those whose have already been objectified.

    I am thankful that Amar came forward and shared this situation with the victims and a few friends who happen to be leaders in our community. He has already publicly stated that he didn’t know about the photos and comments on this page any earlier than he acted upon them. Blaming him for the behavior or others is only an attempt at refocusing the blame away from the actual people responsible.

    A representative from this group did meet with Kajira very early on to explain what had happened, show her the images and tell her of the groups intended response.

    While I absolutely appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, I would like to make sure that the basic facts don’t get too distorted.

    Terri

  12. No Gravatar
    Eileen Spears

    Sep 28, 2015 - 03:09:44

    I have never heard Roger Hendrix make a negative racial comment and there are people of color who have attended BadAss and are friends with him.
    As far as BadAss is concerned; all I know is that people wanted BadAss to happen even after it was cancelled. I saw the posts on FB. It was after Chelle decided to do the event on the Saturday only and performers said they would perform that the black ball threats started. Chelle told me she was getting phone calls from dancers in tears because they had been threatened and I believe her. There would be no reason for her to make that up. I guess if you want proof, put it out there and see if anyone is willing to admit that they were threatened.
    We can go around and around on this, but one thing is very clear, there has be major damage done to the belly dance community and it will take a long time to heal. Sending love and prayers to you all.

  13. No Gravatar
    Michelle Manx

    Sep 28, 2015 - 04:09:59

    Hi,

    As a targeted woman of the group, I personally feel that rehashing this tragic event continues to reopen the wounds. This incident has consumed my professional and personal life over the course of the past month and has affected my emotional, mental, and physical well-being. Many other people have suffered, as well. I understand that it is important for the community to be informed out this revelation; however, I would really like to see more articles about establishing personal boundaries and professionalism in a growing industry.

    Thank you for your consideration,

    Michelle Manx

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