Amy Alejandro dances her own choreographed routine to Justin Bieber's 'Life is Worth Living' at Yosemite Hall on Friday Oct. 12, 2018. Alejandro is a sexual assault survivor who uses dance as an outlet.

Robby Sanchez - The State Hornet

Dancer uses her craft as a healing mechanism

A Sac State student tells the story of how she came to express herself through dancing

October 16, 2018

For Sacramento State student Amy Alejandro, dancing is more than just a passion, but rather a means of distraction, expression, a coping mechanism and ultimately, a form of salvation.

“Once I’m in [the studio] with all my members, I forget everything that has happened,” Alejandro said. “They are the ones helping me up when I’m pushing myself down. Otherwise, without them, without dancing and without Sac Modern, I wouldn’t be here.”

Alejandro is a kinesiology major and treasurer at Sacramento State’s Sac Modern dance group.

She said that over the course of five years — from 2013 to early this year — her brother-in-law Russell Galanto would sexually assault her.  

From touching and grazing, to filming her and watching her while she was changing in her room or in the bathroom showering, the repeated assaults occurred in her own home, where Galanto, Alejandro’s sister Alyssa, and the rest of their family were living.

“It was like he got used to my college schedule,” Alejandro said. “He knows when my parents leave for work [and] when my sister leaves for work. He just knows how everything works, so I just feel like he used it to the best of his advantage. The [instances] I remember are the ones where I felt scared, where I felt really dirty.”

According to the Sacramento Police Department, it wasn’t until March of this year that Galanto was arrested on charges of sexual battery, annoying or molesting a victim under 18 years of age and photographing or videotaping an undressed person in a private room or place.

Alejandro said that the court case — where Galanto pleaded not guilty — is ongoing and that the next trial date is set for December.

Alejandro said that when she first started noticing Galanto recording her, she thought it was her own imagination. As it happened more, she came to terms with the reality of the situation.

“I don’t know if it was for his own self-pleasure or if he was posting it anywhere,” Alejandro said. “I just felt like an animal in a zoo just being watched for someone else’s entertainment. I dealt with all the touches and the cameras and photos just for my sister and niece. Instead of telling people, I just used dance as an outlet.”

Last December, when Alejandro decided to tell her sister and Galanto’s now-wife Alyssa, what was happening, she said her sister seemingly believed her. After a few attempts, Alejandro had succeeded in recording Galanto filming and watching her in the shower to have proof of what was happening.

But a week later, Galanto was still living in their family home.

“Everything happened so fast,” Alejandro said. “The following week, we called the police and they arrested him. [Galanto] was lying blankly in front of my father saying, ‘I would never do that to Amy. She’s like my little sister.’ ”

Alejandro said she hasn’t spoken to Alyssa or her niece since the two of them and Galanto moved out.

Around the time that Alejandro decided to tell her sister and eventually her family what was happening, Sac Modern’s third annual charity showcase was underway. The charity the hip-hop dance team partnered with last December was the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a Sacramento non-profit organization that offers support and awareness for mental health issues.

For her piece, Alejandro decided to prepare choreography to Justin Bieber’s “Life is Worth Living,” a song that she says is very straightforward in the delivery of its message.

“No matter how hard or how sad you feel, at the end of the day, life is worth living,” Alejandro said, describing the song’s message. “You just have to push through it.”

Alejandro said that creating choreography to the song helped her get closure and convey a message to the audience.

“Because of all the emotions I’m feeling, it makes my dance more meaningful,” Alejandro said. “It makes the audience members feel something. Even though that’s the whole intention behind why we perform and why we dance, I’m not only benefiting the audience, I’m benefiting myself.

“Since I can’t say anything to the people that it’s supposed to be for, I’m just letting it all out [on stage].”

Alejandro said that on the inside, she’s always thinking about her sister and her niece. She sometimes blames herself, wondering if a scenario in which she hadn’t said anything would have protected her family from the pain of losing part of her family.

“Every time I dance [with] Sac Modern, if we have an angry song going on, that’s just me cussing out my sister and cussing out that fucker,” Alejandro said. “It’s just me cussing her out like, ‘How dare you for abandoning your family?’ It’s also just me cussing him out like, ‘Look what you did to my family, you pervert. Why can’t you just admit [to] what you have done?’ ”

Alejandro said that if she could give her past self advice, knowing what she knows now, she would have told herself to get out of her own little world and realize what’s going on at home.

She would have told herself not to practice self-harm just because he hurt her, to not blame herself for what he did to her. She said she would have reminded herself that she never gave him a sign or confirmation that allowed him to touch her.

“Does a so-called brother really touch you in that way?” she said. “I would’ve told myself, ‘I know you’re scared but don’t be. He shouldn’t have done it and you should just stand up for yourself and do something about it because it’s not OK and it could get worse.’ ”

Now, Alejandro said she writes her niece letters, just in case. She writes her advice that she would give her years from now, when her niece is her age, just in case she doesn’t see her until then.

For her sister Alyssa, Alejandro records videos of herself talking, as if the two of them were having a conversation, sharing puns and inside jokes, despite everything that is happening.

”If her and my niece see the videos and letters I’m doing for them through this hard time, at least they know that I’m thinking of them every day,” Alejandro said. “[I’m] doing all of this just in case something happens to me and this is how we end things — on a bad note and not seeing each other as family.”

At the prospect of her sister reading her story, Alejandro said she is unafraid.

“I just hope she knows that she can do that too if she’s suffering,” Alejandro said. “I hope that this is a message for any woman that is in the same position as me no matter how severe or how minor it is. Being mistreated as [women], we have to remember somehow that we have a voice.

“There are other ways to cope rather than keeping your mouth shut, rather than hurting yourself or devaluing yourself.”

Ever since Alejandro began sharing her story with the people around her, she said those people have praised her strength in the face of vulnerability to do something about her situation, calling her a hero.

“I’ve been using my vulnerable part and my dancing to [thank] those that have been supporting me,” Alejandro said. “Not only through my dance, but supporting me in fighting in trial against him, giving me the confidence to say something to him and to just keep going.

“Maybe it’ll be a ripple effect and more people will start coming out. More people will start protecting themselves by using their voice.”

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11 Responses to “Dancer uses her craft as a healing mechanism”

  1. Her Mom on October 17th, 2018 1:37 am

    Her story, her choreo and her voice are powerful! So very proud of my baby as she inspires women to be strong, to fight back and to be heard! I am her mother, she is my HERO❤️

  2. Mary on October 17th, 2018 7:48 pm

    I’ve known this family for 29 years and they are good people who put family first. I’m sorry you had to go thru all that you went thru but I know you have the love and support of an amazing family. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. Bess Long on October 18th, 2018 3:11 pm

    I am so proud of you Amy. You stay strong and remember you are loved. I have know you since you were an itty bitty I have always supported you with your fundraisers and I still support you. I”m so sorry to hear this has happened to you. Remember you have a strong family that are always there for you. Your mom and dad are super people. Thank you for sharing your story. <3

  4. Bri on October 20th, 2018 12:41 pm

    This is such a powerful story showing that assault doesn’t always look the same as what people think. It’s so important for women to speak out whenever they have been violated, physically, emotionally, or psychologically. (But it’s a personal choice so it’s ok if they don’t too). Amy, you are so strong and your family will heal. Sometimes it just takes time. You are resilient and beautiful.

  5. Moore family on October 20th, 2018 7:00 pm

    Amy sweetheart IAM so sorry honey that you have to deal with this pain I have been through something as a young girl by my own father who you expect to be your protector but mine wasn’t he was pathetic but I now have a dad that is my dad so sweety be strong and brave put this pathetic piece of shit where he belongs you have a loving family who will support and love you as for your sister I can’t believe she is do oing this to all of you who lovedher so very much IAM so sorry that your neice can’t be with you but teach her to use her voice and to tell if anyone is hurting her show the world how strong you are honey and know we are here for you always we have known your wonderful family since you and my Brittany ran the pre School class and you and Brittany cheerleader with our group we love you sweetheart as we do your family and if there is anything we can do to help you and your family heal we are here as your dad and mom were for us and still gives us support after looking my husband they support our children by telling them how proud there dad is of them and how he still walks beside them we love your family as we do you stay strong sweety and put this pile of shit away so he can get his just earned for what he has done . Women staying strong for each other. We love you sweety!!

  6. Carrie Callaway on October 27th, 2018 9:10 pm

    My dearest Amy! You are the strongest woman I know! I am so very proud of you! I would love to come and watch you perform soon. Keep using your voice, my hero! I am here for you if you need anything!
    Carrie Callaway

  7. Lilibeth on October 28th, 2018 9:45 am

    It took STRENGTH to finally do something about the situation. It took COURAGE to tell your story. You did both, so you should be very PROUD of yourself. Continue to be CONFIDENT and don’t let what he did to you get in the way of your hopes and dreams. Always remember the he’s a loser, you’re a WINNER. Lastly, you have our LOVE and SUPPORT always!

  8. Anonymous on October 28th, 2018 3:30 pm

    There are quite a few things wrong with this article.

    The Hornet should consider firing their fact checker if they have one. While this information is public record and people have spread this story like wildfire via word of mouth and social media, it is another thing to publish this and use the names of people (especially a minor child) who are not legally involved in this ongoing matter.

    The title of this article is incredibly misleading. A quick overview of her allegations then anecdotes about how dancing has gotten her through would have been so much more uplifting and inspiring. It may be viewed as therapeutic for Amy to put out an article like this, but it’s also a shame that she deemed it necessary to drag others through the mud as well, especially the sister and niece she claims to love and miss so much. This sort of behavior is likely why her sister longer in her life.

    To those who join Amy and her family in bashing Alyssa, understand that you are pushing Alyssa further away. Just like Amy’s mother, Alyssa must do what is in her daughter’s best interests. No one is questioning Amy’s mother, but many question Alyssa’s. Two of her children were affected by all of this. It is not right to expect Alyssa to break up the family that she created. It is not right to judge her decisions. Unless you have been in the difficult situation that Alyssa was in or you know her and her husband, your opinion is worthless. In all of this, it should be understood that Alyssa’s daughter comes first for her, no one else.

    For the record, Alyssa did not abandon her family; she chose her family.

  9. Her Mom on October 28th, 2018 3:55 pm

    Thank you everyone for your continued love and support! Not sure why some of your comments do not appear.

  10. Lisa Van Zwol on October 29th, 2018 1:13 pm

    Amy! You are my HERO! You are a very strong young woman and it took a great deal of courage to tell your story. Love you!!

  11. Anonymous on November 5th, 2018 11:34 pm

    To the anonymous comment, your opinion is acknowledged but that’s only your opinion. It is wrong to drag the writer for giving a survivor a platform to speak about what happened to her. The writer let Amy have a voice, one that she didn’t always have. The byline is not misleading because she does use dance as a healing mechanism. She used to speak when she couldn’t speak and chose a song that represented something much bigger than herself. Amy, also chose her family. She spoke to speak up because of her family. No one should have to keep this kind of secret from their family when it is causing them harm and mental damage.

    I’m sure the reporter checked their facts. I’m sure all reporters for The Hornet do. It is public records, meaning they can publish Russell’s name. In fact, people should know exactly what he did.

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