'I feel like a different person': Sex assault survivor heals with dance

'I feel like a different person': Sex assault survivor heals with dance »Play Video
Roya Cohen dances with her instructor, Gleb Makarov.

KIRKLAND - When Roya Cohen steps onto the dance floor, she loses herself in the music and the motions. Less than a year ago, she'd never danced before.

Her dance instructor, Gleb Makarov of Infinity Dance in Kirkland, describes meeting Roya. "She was the most shy person which I saw in my life."

Now, Roya moves across the floor with beauty, grace and confidence. "Yeah, it's a big change," Makarov said. "Of course it's better to ask her what kind of change, but visually, what I see right now, completely different person."

Makarov helped bring out this new person when he gave Roya advice.  "You need to be strong. You need to keep your space. Don't let me walk over you," Roya remembers him saying.  He was talking about dancing.  But what she heard was advice about life.

As a child, Roya was so shy, she didn't leave home schooling until her freshman year of high school. A short time after taking the plunge into public school, she was sexually assaulted - twice.

"That just made everything worse," Roya said. "I didn't want to go outside. Being around anyone, even family members, I just couldn't have them get too close to me."

Roya came to believe she was meant to be a victim, until she discovered she was a natural on the dance floor, where success depends on strength and respect.  For Roya, that was empowering.

"Treat yourself with respect. Don't let people take advantage of you. It's easier when you're doing something you really enjoy to have that sink in," she said. "

Now she wants to share what she's learned - and how she learned it - with other victims of sexual assault.

"I think the biggest thing is confidence and making people feel empowered," she said.  "When you realize that people don't control you, you're responsible for your own body, you're responsible for what you do, no one can make you do anything. You can work as a team with people, but no one can force you to do anything."

She's raising money for a nonprofit dance program. At Diamond Ballroom, girls 12 to 17 years old - who are already in therapy for sexual assault - will be able to get scholarships for dance class.
Roya hopes other girls will experience what she did.

"I feel like a different person," she said.  "There's me before, and there's me now.  If I hadn't started dancing, there's no way I would have made that transformation."

Roya is organizing a fundraising performance, featuring some of the best ballroom dancers in the country.  The event will be held on Dec. 21.  To help Roya's cause, you can make a donation on our Problem Solvers page.  Just make a note that it is for Diamond Ballroom.