Episode 4: Rocca
You’re listening to This Girl Can – real stories from real women celebrating getting active in all different kinds of ways.
This series was recorded during the coronavirus pandemic in Australia when the women that you’re hearing from were at home either with their families or on their own. All the interviews were done over the phone. We hope that these stories inspire you to feel good and get active in your own way.
My name is Rocca Salcedo. I’m originally from Colombia. I’ve been living here in Australia for almost 20 years. And I’m 44 now.
I grew up in Bogota, which is the capital city of Columbia. And I have a beautiful family. In Latin culture, family is extremely important, so my memories are somehow with my family – weekends, especially.
My grandmothers used to live with us. So, Saturdays and Sundays, we’d always have lunch with all the family visiting their grandparents. And we were surrounded all the time by music and dance. In Latin culture, music is extremely important. And in Colombia, we have different dances and music according to the different states of the country.
But I remember very much seeing my mum and my aunties and my grandma dancing. And waking up in the morning with music – all types of music – and the family and my aunties cooking in the kitchen – big kitchens.
Music as well is very important in Latin cultures, because it’s part of the history. It’s the way that we tell stories. So, if you listen, Latin music is always telling you a story, but a story that comes with the music. The story of the slaves, for example, that arrive in Latin countries and simpler stories of their daily lives. The stories of love; the stories of pain; the stories of women that struggle in Latin cultures or the socioeconomic status or … different kind of stories they are always telling through their music to the next generations.
I remember when I was five, six years old, going in to my auntie’s house – all the family. And we were always dancing. But also, my mum and my aunties, they were all part of a dance group of folkloric dances – national dances of Colombia. And one of the national beautiful dances is cumbia. So, I think my passion for dancing comes from my mum, definitely. With all her folkloric dances and group that they gather to do the rehearsals and they have performances.
I came to Australia because I got a scholarship at Melbourne Uni. So, I came to Australia to study a Masters in Public and International Law. And unfortunately, I had an accident here in Melbourne. I was crossing the street and a car passed on red – a red light – so it hit me. And after that, I got a permanent spinal cord injury. So, I’m in a wheelchair.
I was 22. So, what happened next was I was in hospital for almost one year – between hospital and rehabilitation centre – to learn to be independent and to learn some wheelchair skills.
As soon as I finished my rehab, I went back to Uni and I completed my degree.
I was lucky that where I was having my rehabilitation, they have a what’s on day, where they invite people to play different sports in wheelchairs. And we had a wheelchair tennis demo. And I didn’t have any idea about wheelchair tennis. To be honest, before my accident, I had never met anyone with any type of disability. And I didn’t even know that people in wheelchairs can be as active or play any type of sport.
So, after knowing that and seeing the tennis players, I enrolled, and I play tennis now on Tuesdays.
When I saw the demo of the people with disabilities that went to a rehabilitation centre, this really inspired me and showed me that it was possible that the wheelchair was not any real obstacle; that even though I cannot move my legs, I still can play sports.
So, the limitations, to be honest, I learned that you are the one that puts the limitations. The facilities are there. Of course, I’m not going to play in the same way. And of course, things probably take more time. But it was up to me to decide if I’ve if I want to do it or not. So when I tried, I found that was not complicated. People really want to help. And I enjoyed it. And this was the most important thing.
And I think doing exercise made me feel more calm. And made me feel like I can take better decisions after releasing all the stress or bad energy or the stress that sometimes can happen in life.
Dance has been always part of my life. Music is part of my blood; of my roots.
I started to feel that I wanted to dance freely in a wheelchair. And I didn’t know how to do it because it’s completely free in dance when you are not in a wheelchair and you move your legs and your hips.
So it was, a part of me was missing that and, as well, not knowing how to do it or how to use my body to express in a different way when you are sitting. So, I started searching for places in Australia – or in Melbourne, specifically – for para dance. And nobody really gave me any information.
So, it comes into my mind, like, okay, I’m going to create a group. And I mentioned that to three friends, and they were really happy and excited.
And then I created a group and then I applied for grants in the councils and we were lucky to find a choreographer, which is amazing. And she was able to adapt her teaching to this situation: teaching people with physical disabilities.
It is amazing to see how members of the group enjoy and feel free to express the feelings of the music or express their emotions through dancing.
At the beginning, when I was in a wheelchair, to be honest, I was, like, embarrassed in some way to go to parties or to interact when people were dancing, because I was feeling that I was not really part of the group. Especially because in the Colombian parties – or I mean in Latin culture parties – we always dance. And dance is the main theme of the party.
So, of course, if everybody was dancing, that was making me feel like I was not part of the group; that I was isolated. But it was difficult for me to interact with other people in that way. But then, after years of being in a wheelchair, in my case, I reached a point where, okay, I don’t care how I look. I’m just going to dance and I’m just going to feel the music.
And especially when it’s something that you really love and is your passion and you really feel it. So, I overcame that stage of being worried about what other people think; they were laughing or not, seeing me dancing. So, I overcame that period and then I just started to enjoy myself in dancing. And dancing at home, many times, listening to the music that I love.
I remember the first class when I saw the reaction of all the women in wheelchairs that wanted to join the class. We felt a connection and this sense of, like, we are part of a group; of our group that nobody will judge us, or nobody will criticize because we were all in a wheelchair. And we were all in the learning of how to dance, and how to move and how to, in some way, rediscover our wheelchair.
Because at the end of the day, I use the wheelchair daily as transport – never using the wheelchair as a tool to enjoy something that I love. So the wheelchair became, in some way, like a partner because it’s a way as well to use the wheelchair in a sexy way, and incorporate the wheelchair in our choreographies; to use the wheelchair in a different way – not just as a tool of transportation.
We were very lucky that we can continue doing the dance sessions online. And it has been very happy and rewarding for me to see that, since the isolation, we have more members joining us online.
I feel more confident on how to move, beautifully, my arms according to the rhythms. I have the choreographies in my mind; in my head. So, of course, I feel more confident. I feel, when I listen … or on the radio, when I’m listening to some of the songs that we have been doing in our sessions, it’s easy for me to move and remember the choreography and it makes me feel more confident.
What pushed me is the love of living. I think life is mysterious.
I think life is amazing and it’s beautiful. And I don’t want to waste any moment of my life. I want to use absolutely every moment to do the things that I love. And that’s including sports and being active. And by doing the sports, I’m being active. I have met beautiful people. I have connected with amazing people. That’s made me feel part of a group and therefore part of society. And it makes me feel useful and happy and full of energy – the energy that I need, and I want, to have to live this beautiful life.
This Girl Can is an initiative of VicHealth. For more information about how to get yourself moving or to connect with clubs and groups in your local area go to www.thisgirlcan.com.au or check out This Girl Can VIC on Facebook and Instagram.
We love to hear about women who are getting out and active, whether it’s walking the dog, going for a ride or having a kick with your kids, so follow the hashtag #ThisGirlCanVIC and celebrate women who are all kinds of active, no matter how well they do it, how they look or how sweaty they get.
This episode was produced by Dewi Cooke and edited by Nick King. Thanks for listening.