The idea for fictional novel, ‘Rebel in Venus,’ sprang from Marissa Nick’s live, dance show

Written By Rebekah Lanae Lengel
November 15, 2023 at 3:23 PM

Marissa Alma Nick, the founder of Alma Dancer Theater, will read from her fictional drama, “Rebel in Venus,” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16 at Dear Eleanor in Miami.  (Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Mckibben)

For choreographer-turned-author Marissa Alma Nick, her journey into the world of authorship was a path carved with unexpected turns, personal losses, and a relentless pursuit of creative expression. In 2020, Nick experienced a period of intense turmoil: a tear to her meniscus that required surgery and kept her immobile for months, the devastating loss of her best friend by suicide, the isolation and fear that accompanied the global COVID pandemic along with political upheaval.

It was her own road to healing, which involved intensive months of physical and mental therapy that led her to storytelling through the written word instead of the physical body. While Nick had written previously, her primary focus had always been dance. It took yet another meniscus tear to her other knee and many more months of immobility, she says, to push her into self-publishing her debut novel, “Rebel in Venus.”

“Rebel in Venus,” delves into themes that have been hallmarks of Melissa Alma Nick’s dance work: personal
agency, mental illness, sexual assault and sex work. (Photo courtesy of Ashlyn Mckibben)

“It was just honestly, very scary to make that shift, that jump on how to own that (being an author) or what does that mean as a dancer, choreographer?” says Nick.  “It took a year and three surgeries forced on to me, and that’s when I was like, ‘OK, well, you know, I’m just gonna do it.’ It was very chaotic but beautiful at the same time.”

Self-publishing is also consistent with a DIY approach that had been a hallmark of her work as a choreographer and artist, the founder of Alma Dance Theater, which she launched in the fall of 2014. “Rebel in Venus,” the novel, first began as a live show authored and directed by Nick.  Alma Dance Theater debuted “Rebel in Venus” at Miami Dade County Auditorium in March of 2018. It was fueled by the #metoo movement and Nick’s own personal search to understand the expression and embodiment of female sexuality.

Dancer Brittany Peña in Alma Dance Theater’s “A Rebel in Venus” in 2018. (Photo courtesy of Carla Forte)

The book, a fictional drama, that was released in May 2023, delves into themes that have been prevalent in her dance work: personal agency, mental illness, sexual assault and sex work. Centered on a conversation between two friends, the story becomes confessional as they reveal pain and trauma, unpacking years of individual struggles with depression and societal expectations.

“I really wanted to create a visceral experience for people, who if they don’t have depression, anxiety or trauma, this is what it feels like, not just what’s going on in her head but what she’s feeling in her body.”

Nick will read from the work at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 16 at Dear Eleanor in Miami.

As for the title, the author deliberately chose it as a further interrogation of gender ideals.

“What it is to be a goddess in American culture is very specific. The Venus is often presented as white and docile and apologetic almost and pure. What is it to break this singular archetype of what it is to be a goddess? If we can break through that ‘I’m not good enough to be a goddess,’  that’s the biggest breakthrough for any woman or fem-identified person — when we take ownership of our bodies or even our own happiness or purpose — that’s still seen as a very rebellious act.”

In making one of the main characters a sex worker, she further rebels from what is typically accepted in society for women, underscoring the importance of bodily autonomy and agency. In giving voice to the character and revealing her inner world, Nick, who herself worked as a stripper and burlesque dancer challenges the stigmatization and judgment that often surrounds sex work.

While her primary focus was always dance, a period of turmoil in 2020 led to the debut novel “Rebel in Venus.” (Photo courtesy of Jade Lilley)

She witnessed that stigma in women’s marches. She saw groups of women like sex workers discouraged from participating, creating hierarchies of who is allowed to have a voice or fight against oppression.

“That always stuck with me, patriarchy and this toxic masculinity and rape culture is always going to win if we allow it to get to us that way, which is this division and this dehumanizing of women and their bodies and the ability to own it, whatever that means. And so, it is also really about the humanizing and creating that bridge of  —   in no way is the story ‘in order to own your body you have to be a stripper’  . . . .that’s not the message at all. But sometimes this is what some women want and women’s stories are and this is actually the humanity of it.”

Whether in dance or writing, Nick’s commitment to humanizing those pushed to the margins of society is steadfast.  Recognizing the assaults on LGBTQ+ rights across the country, particularly in the state of Florida, emphasizing care and humanity to those who have been forsaken is of utmost importance to Nick, who herself identifies as queer.   “Especially in the gay community, there is so much mental health and suicide and things that need to be treated, but the thing that needs to be treated or fixed is not being gay.”

Marissa Alma Nick recorded the audiobook for “Rebel in Venus” herself and devised her own book tour, including a reading at Dear Eleanor in Edgewater on Thursday, Nov, 16. (Photo courtesy of Jade Lilley)

While choreography and performance remain important to her, Nick is dedicated to her writing, recording the audiobook for “Rebel in Venus” herself, and devising her own
book tour, allowing her to connect and interact with audiences in a new and different way.

“I have such peace when I’m writing. I’m really excited to disappear from the world again and write the next thing. I love the whole ritual of it so much.”

WHAT:  “Rebel in Venus” reading with author Marissa Nick and book giveaway

WHEN:  7 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16

WHERE:  Dear Eleanor, 148 NE 28 St., Miami

COST:   Free

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