Help Send Ryan to Italy!

Ryan2 - 2015
Ryan Morissette is truly an inspiration to us all. This young dancer not only
rips it up on stage when he performs, but he spends time sharing his art through teaching other kids. He also helps raise money for various charities, AND, what a powerful role model he is to guys who might want to dance but are not always encouraged to because of old gender stereotypes.
Ryan dances at a very high level, competing, training, performing, all the while battling a disease that he has had since he was a child.  But Dance, for Ryan, is healing. It is his medicine.
“I have tattooed on my arm ‘Music is my cure’ and that’s exactly how I feel when I am dancing,” says Ryan Morrissette.
[When I am dancing], “I feel like I don’t have CF. I can just be myself.”
CF is short for a fatal genetic disorder known as Cystic Fibrosis.

When Morrissette was diagnosed at age two, doctors told him he wouldn’t live past age eight but he is defying the odds as a professional hip-hop dancer and going strong now at age 20.

“I can have fun. It’s just the stage, the crowd, me. There’s no CF.”

There is no cure for the disease but his friends have started fundraising to help keep him dancing.

Cystic Fibrosis mainly affects the lungs and digestive system, filling up the organs with thick sticky mucus.

At the age of eight, Morrissette discovered hip-hop.
“When I found hip-hop it was like I could finally express myself,” he explained.

ryan3 2015

“When I’m on stage, I don’t worry about the pills I have to take, or when my physiotherapy appointment is, or when my next hospital stay will be,  It’s just me, the lights, the music, and the audience.”
That passion for dance has resulted in some pretty big accolades for the young athlete.
Morrissette was recently the winner of the inaugural Cultural Architect Award at a ceremony in Vancouver.
The award was presented by B.Brand Apparel, a company owned by dancer and choreographer Sarah Brinson.
It was an award for “people who have provided a lot to their community and promoted the profession they’re a part of, as well as exemplary achievement in something that you aren’t expected to necessarily achieve,” .

A world-champion dancer and a top 3 finalist on Canada’s Got Talent in 2012 with his dance troupe Freshh, Morrissette fit the criteria, and he is now preparing for another major step in his career.

This October, he’s heading to Italy, as an assistant captain for Team Canada to represent Canada at the World hip-hop championships!
He was one of 24 people to make the team, after successfully auditioning in Burnaby.
However, the trip itself doesn’t come free and there is a cost element involved.

The total amount needed for the trip is $5000.00 

Morrissette’s message is simple:
“Everyone can do what they want to do,” he said.
He added that too often, kids get told they can’t do something, and that’s it, they won’t do it.
Not in his case though.
“More people need to not be taken down by what other people say. Just go for it and whatever happens, happens,” he said.

Ryan 4

And Ryan has made big things happen through dance, and his positive attitude. He has reminded me that we all have a choice on how we want to live, no matter what road blocks are put in front of us.

Let’s help Ryan’s dream come true and give him back all the strength, courage, and positivity he has been sharing with all those around him.

***You can contribute through this link:

And also simply by passing the word around. Share this link. Let’s get as many people as we can helping this amazing talent and young dancer make it to Italy!  He deserves it!

A Heart to Heart With Charles Ogar

charles10“Dancing with the heart” is a phrase that has been so overused that I think it had lost the depth of its meaning for me over time, until… people like Charles Ogar came along. Charles not only reminded me of the true meaning and feeling behind those words, by the connection he creates in his dancing, but he also put a whole other twist to it as he opens up about matters of the heart in this interview.  After learning about some of the journey Charles’ heart has been taken on, – from having faith in his passions, to leaving his old career behind, to enduring heart surgery, and following a new path by trusting in where the universe is taking him- I have  a whole new appreciation for the power of the heart. Thank you Charles Ogar for opening up with such honesty and authenticity in this interview and allowing us to know a little more about the heart that lies within you as a dancer and teacher.

I know you have danced a few different dances, but what made you choose kizomba as the one you wanted to focus on and teach?

Actually, sometimes I feel like kizomba chose me.   I don’t know if there are any other full time kizomba instructors in the U.S.   It wasn’t a goal of mine.  I didn’t write it down and visualize it happening. But the more I taught, the more popular I got.  I was with Kizomba Harmony before, but then we separated at the end of 2013.  My thoughts at that time were, okay, let me take a step back from dancing.  My performance at my job back then wasn’t as good as it could have been anyway.  I was stressed because I was committing more and more time and energy to dance a lot and it was hard to juggle both the kizomba thing and my full time job.  So I was actually planning to step back from dance.  But then all of these doors of opportunity started opening up for me more and more. People were asking me to come out and travel and teach more. Continue reading

Lights. Camera. … DAUDI!

Lights, Camera, DAUDI! That’s how I think the saying should go sometimes. If you’ve ever worked with this extraordinary photographer featured here, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  It seems only natural to think about Daudi, the creator of Daudi X Photography, when talking about camera and light. Daudi is extremely creative with both. For him, photography is not just a job.  It is his art, it his passion.  He not only expresses the way he sees the world through this art, but he also brings pieces of it to us, capturing special moments and bringing out what is unique in each of his subjects. Daudi covers a range of photo types but his greatest fascination is with people.  He is probably best known for his work in the dance community. His professionalism and attention to detail in his work is impressive, as is his friendly, charismatic nature. While Daudi has spent much of his time showcasing the talent and beauty of the artists that he photographs, it is my pleasure to finally celebrate Daudi’s talent and inspiring story with all of you. Thank you Daudi for your enthusiastic and thoughtful responses.daudi

Tasleem: Why did you choose photography? What does it mean to you? 

Daudi: I love people. They have interesting faces that portray different emotions and moods. I love to capture these genuine emotions.  Photography is an art that allows me to do that.

Photography is also my creative outlet.  I create photos by first visualizing what I want the end product to look like and then I set out to make that a reality. Composition, controlling lighting, and the character I want to portray play a big role in this. Hence, photography is an art and I am a digital artist.

I still get goose bumps when I take photos. Continue reading

How Art Inspires Art- The Depths of Dance- by Linda Strathdee

DANCE1-INKOver a year ago, I had participated in a master class blues workshop in which each of us were critiqued individually about our dancing by both the instructors and the other participants.  We were then given tips on what improvements we could make and then were to dance in front of the audience again, this time keeping in mind these suggestions in order to see and feel how they could transform our dancing.

I learned so much from that workshop, but unexpectedly, one of the most memorable components of it was a dance by two student participants I had never met before- Patrick and Linda.  They didn’t do anything particularly fancy or flashy in their dance, but their connection to each other and the music was so sweet and heartfelt. They took their time with each move, just as the music was taking its time with each new lyric or instrument.  I still remember some of the fluid steps that Linda took passing over and around Patrick’s feet, and how Patrick waited for each of Linda’s steps to finish before he led her to something new.  They both listened to each other and the music, gliding so smoothly with their subtle movements.  I felt so changed by that moment, even though I couldn’t have explained why exactly at that time.blues dancing

And after over a year has passed, I can now see how much that one creative, expressive moment led to so many others in my life and perhaps in Linda’s as well.  The song they chose to dance to was “I’d Rather Go Blind,” by Etta James.  Etta’s music and voice – one piece of artistic genius in itself- led to inspiring Linda and Patrick’s dance.  Months later, I chose that song as a piece to work on with my vocal coach. It obviously had stood out in my mind just from that blues workshop, as I wasn’t familiar with it prior to that.  That vocal coach introduced me to the deep and passionate Beyonce version, which, believe it or not, was done so well that it made me more emotional than the original, especially when I went out to get the movie based on Etta James’ story- Cadillac Records- and saw the scene attached to the song.  I learned more about the infamous Etta James, I learned more about where the song’s emotion came from, and I was reminded once again about the power of art to inspire more art.

What a thrill it was to run into this same dancer Linda at a Blues event not too long ago. I introduced myself to her and shared with her what an impact her dance had on me, and how it led me to certain breakthroughs in my singing. And she shared this news with Patrick, who just last month came into town to teach and DJ in Vancouver. And guess which song they danced to? – ‘I’d Rather Go Blind,’ or course.


“I requested the song and asked him for the dance. It was lovely to come full circle again,” explained Linda.

Dance Me Free is so proud to share with all of you Linda’s thoughtful insights on what dance means to her today.  She captures here so well the overwhelming passion she has for this art form- not just its highs, but also its lows.   I would like to also thank her for sharing the TED Talk video attached below.   What an amazing reminder of the power of movement.  Thank you to our mutual dance friend Alexey for first posting this.  This video is a must see.  Again, another example of one art form – a video- inspiring another- Linda’s writing below. And the two together? Well, if nothing else, I hope they make you want to …dance :-).

“Dance has had an enormous and astonishing impact on my life, especially over the last year.  It has been joyful, terrifying, strengthening, humbling and healing.  It has been a year of growth and struggle. It has given me wings on flights to dizzying heights and the means to climb back up from unfathomable depths. I have been blessed with a wonderful ‘family of dancers’ who have accepted me and my stumbling efforts with grace, humor and encouragement on and off the dance floor. While I do not fully understand this phenomenal ongoing experience, this video expresses a lot and was actually what inspired me to share these thoughts about dance.  To my non-dancing friends, perhaps this will clarify what I have been babbling about all this time.”

                                                    -Linda Strathdee (Vancouver, BC)

Healing helped by your passions, healing helped through dance…


… And sometimes, that healing comes in the form of something that lifts your spirit, something that makes you feel alive, something you are passionate about.  Sometimes, that healing is comes in the form of Dance.  

Dance Is Life

Dance is everywhere for me
In the way I walk, In the boys playing in the streets,
In my home, in any place.
Dance is everything that you are, and is [all] around you.
It’s that. Dance is life.”-
Andy Manuel Gonzalo Varona

What an absolutely amazing short film to wake up to! – “Dance is Life.”

Watch this moving video in which a passionate professional Cuban dancer talks about what dance means to him.

What Dance Teaches Me

live to danceI have been so lucky to have some of the most inspiring teachers  come into my life.  Little did I know that Dance would be one of them.

Dance has influenced the decisions I make, the places I go, the people I meet, the perceptions I have about life, the values I cherish the most, my awareness of myself as a body and a soul, as well as how I interact with others and the world around me.

Someone recently asked me why I dance, and the first thought that came to my mind was, ironically, NOT thinking.  Dance, as I explained to this person, is one of the first places I learned not to lead (or follow) with thinking, but to feel.  With Dance, I shut off my brain, and engage, or turn on, my senses.  This is huge for someone who is constantly thinking and processing and analyzing like myself.  And wow, what it has done for my writing.  As a writer, I need to be much more in touch with my senses, and to be able to capture moments when my senses are really heightened. Dance makes me much more aware of those moments and plants the images of them deep within my memory.

Dance improves my memory. Over time, with age, and with doing less work that dance2involves memorizing or putting certain previous skills into enough practise, my memory had definitely become less reliable.  But I find that because I often need to memorize steps and repeat patterns and retain advice about technique and footwork in dance, my ability to remember has improved.

Dance teaches my muscles to remember as well.  I did not practise any particular sport when I was a child so Dance was the first place that I really was able to see the power of muscle memory. I don’t think I believed in it at first, but Dance showed me that I could trust it.

Dance has taught me to trust.  To trust in my partner, to trust in my self, but also to trust that my body knows sometimes better than my mind where it should go and what it should do.  I learn through Dance that sometimes it’s my body that can teach my mind something for a change, rather than me always having to first sort it out in my head.  My body picks up the lesson and my mind follows.  I can now put much more trust in my body’s ability to absorb and learn.  Dance has allowed me to surrender to that trust.

dance_therapyDance has given me the ability to see the beauty of surrender. Dance teaches me that surrender is not a weakness but a strength. It takes courage and depth of character to surrender. Surrender is not about giving up, but giving in.  It’s about letting go and flowing with, rather than against.  It’s not about losing but gaining.

With Dance, I gain a deeper understanding of myself and others around me.  It makes me feel for others, because it teaches me how to really feel.  It reminds me that my intuition is important, and to listen to this inner part of me. Dance allows me to belief in feelings not just facts.

The fact is that Dance allows me -no, forces me- to be present– with the music, with my partner, and with life.  Dance shows me how to be alive– to really live in that moment.  I have a tendency to reminisce on the past, to miss what I once had, or to worry about the future.  I am definitely a worrier.  But Dance has transformed my worrying into acknowledgement of what is around me- Gratitude.  Dance makes me grateful for what is, rather than fearful of what might be or sad for what might have been but was lost.

Dance allows me to get lost  -to lose myself in rhythm, connection, listening to my partner’s lead through movement rather than voice.  Dance gives me another voice, another mode of communication that can be heard through the skin, through touch and heartbeats, through gazes and breaths.

Dance teaches me to breathe.  I breathe with my partner, I breathe with the music, dance4and I inhale something that is far greater than the air around us.  It is an energy that is constantly moving, connecting, flowing and creating.  And through Dance we can tap into this energy and exhale that energy even stronger into our surroundings.

Dance energizes and inspires me.  It makes me want to get up in the morning, and drives me to be creative.  Dance reminds me that creativity is crucial to my being. We are human beings, but we are also soul beings, and our souls need nourishment in terms of arts and expression.  Dance allows my soul to express with my body what I sometimes cannot express with my words.  Dance becomes words, sentences, paragraphs. Dance tells stories, not in books or on paper, but in the space around and within me.

Dance gives me space to grow, to be unique, to interpret the way I want to interpret, and show others what I see and feel.  Dance allows me to let others into my feelings without having to say a word.

Dance grounds me.  It reminds me to feel the floor, to connect to the floor and the earth, to feel where I am rooted.  Dance reminds me of my roots- where I came from, where I want to go, but also who I really am.  Dance helps me find home.  It gives me a home in even the most foreign of places.

Dance turns foreigners into friends.  We don’t have to speak the same language or
live in the same country. I just need to be open to accepting an offer of a hand from a fellow lover of dance.

Dance teaches me acceptance and love.  It teaches me to see the beauty in all dance1people- all shapes and sizes.  It teaches me to adapt to this diversity, and learn from it.  Dance teaches me to accept myself among the diversity and helps me to carry myself with confidence.

Dance gives me something to do when I’m waiting at the bus stop or waiting for the light to change.  Dance has changed my light, making it shine brighter and deeper, so that others can feel it from across the floor. Dance connects me to my core. It centers me, fills the parts of me that were being neglected, and makes my life whole. Dance teaches me balance- of my physical body, but also between my worldly and spiritual life.  Dance teaches me the truth of who I am and allows me to experience a range of emotions.

Dance lets me feel happiness, joy and excitement, but it also allows me to feel pain, jealousy, fear and heartache and know that that is okay.  Dance gives me a place to turn when no one else understands me. Dance doesn’t judge or ask why or when or how.  Dance lets me move through it myself, at my own pace, falling, tumbling, but then rising and leaping again.  Dance accompanies me through the highs and lows.

Dance makes me high.  I crave it throughout my days.  It instantly Dance in sunriserelieves without any harmful side effects.  Dance is a natural healer.  It reminds me of the naturalness of my body, of the naturalness of intimacy and of touch.  Dance shows me that I can touch and be touched in a single moment and that the effects could last a lifetime.  Dance shows me that connection can happen even without physical touch but just by sharing energy, intention and movement.

Dance reminds me that we were meant to move and to be moved.

Dance moves me. Dance teaches me to be free.

Reminisce on VIS- Interview #5- DJ Ricky Campanelli


It was such a pleasure to find out first hand from Ricky Campanelli what makes a good DJ. He was so down to earth and approachable, and I loved his enthusiasm towards sharing his thoughts.  Find out in this interview what this grammy nominated producer and DJ is working on next, and why Vancouver is one of Rickys favorite cities!

[Note: This is the 5th and final part to a series of 5 brief interviews under the title Reminisce on VIS (Vancouver International Salsafestival). To start at the beginning, at interview #1, and to learn why and where these interviews were conducted, click here: Reminisce on VIS- a series of five brief interviews)]

I think there is this initial assumption that what makes a good DJ is their choice of music or their playlist, because that’s what we hear as dancers or an audience- is the music. But there is so much more to it I’m sure.  What do you think makes a good DJ?

What helps a lot is that before DJing at salsa events, I was a House DJ.  And so I would mix a lot and this experience helped me to read the crowd much better. When you’re mixing songs just to keep the crowd at a hype, you learn what works and what doesn’t.

What many DJs do is create a playlist.  And they just stick to that playlist. But I think what makes a good DJ is when they get to the point where feeling out what works comes by ear. Sometimes, there are thirty seconds left before the end of a song, and I still don’t have the next song ready (smiles).  And it’s not that I’m not prepared.  But I’m still reading the crowd, and I like to let it happen spontaneously.  It’s just something I feel.

That’s interesting because it reminds me of what makes a good dancer or artist in general- feeling the art, rather than just sticking to regimented steps.  So which came first for you- dancing or DJing?

I was a Dj first, and then I became a dancer.  My sister was a dance teacher. She showed me how to dance.  I didn’t like salsa at first (laughs).

So what changed that for you?  Is there a song or an artist that really inspired you?

There are a lot. But the one band that I really look up to is Sonora Poncena.  That’s the first album that my sister gave me when I started salsa, and I hated it back then.  I was used to club salsa back in the day and when I heard that album, it was kind of weird to me at first.  But the more I learned and listened, the more I got into it.  And that band ended up being the one that really got me into Salsa Dura.

You travel a lot with your DJing.  Is there a particular place that you….


Haha! I didn’t even finish the question (laughs), but I love your enthusiasm (smiles).

I thought you were going to say is there a particular place that is my favorite (laughs).  And actually, it is Vancouver.

Really? That’s awesome! Why is that?

Yes, YES! Out of all the congresses, Vancouver is my favorite, because the people are so nice. They treat you like you’re a movie star here.  And it’s a party in so many ways.  It’s not only about salsa, it’s about meeting people and having fun.

That’s so great to hear. And we love having you here.  It’s an honour for us to have you share your talent and passion with us.   


If YOU could choose anyone in the world, who would you be honored to work with and/or meet, and why?

Papo Luca- the pianist from Sonora Poncena.  Actually, my goal, for my next next album is to have a featuring with him playing in one of my songs.

Nice!  And speaking of albums, you have a new album coming out this year, right?

Yes, I’m hoping to launch it in a few months.  The album is going to be called Alma de Rumbero.  The translation is… well, ‘alma’ means soul, and ‘rumbero’ is not as easy to translate in English. It is someone that feels the music from deep within, and he or she kind of lives for that feeling.  And yeah, it’s going to be my third album. It will be out soon.

Congratulations! Can’t wait to hear it!  All the best to you with your music.  Thanks for continuing to inspire us to get out onto the dance floor and for making this final VIS Festival all the more memorable. 

Reminisce on VIS- Interview #4- Juan Matos

Juan1-208x300I was thrilled when I heard that Juan Matos was going to be part of the VIS line up!  I still remember repeatedly watching one of his videos years ago, when I was first introduced to salsa.  And even back then, I was just completely blown away by the fluidity and smoothness of his moves and his unique style. How does he do that? I kept asking myself.  In fact, it was legendary dancers like him who got me so intrigued by salsa and inspired me to want to dance. So you can only imagine the excitement I felt when Mr. Matos enthusiastically agreed to give me ten minutes of his time at VIS, even though he was just about to head out to the airport to catch his flight back home. Instead of rushing out, the hotel doors, he backtracked and followed me to the nearest couch in the hotel lobby. He put his suitcase down next to him and was so attentive and interested in my questions. To think, I almost missed him!  I was so grateful for the amazing conversation we had as well as his very down to earth and approachable nature.

[Note: This is the 4th part to a series of 5 brief interviews under the title Reminisce on VIS (Vancouver International Salsafestival). To start at the beginning, at interview #1, and to learn why and where these interviews were conducted, click here: Reminisce on VIS- a series of five brief interviews)]

Is it true that you used to sneak into clubs when you were under age to watch dancers?

Yeah.  It started in Santo Domingo. As a matter of fact, the first time I went to a club, my father took me.  I was eleven or twelve years old (laughs).  And from then on, I just started doing it more.

Sometimes kids get stubborn and don’t want to do what their parents are doing.  Did you always have an interest in dancing because of your parents?

The thing is that in Latin America, it’s not even about dancing, it’s more about the music.  We were born and raised with salsa, merengue, bachata- all those Latin rhythms.  So I think I can speak for most people that have a Latin family, even if they were born and raised in America or in another non-Latin part of the world, when I say that we always had music around. And that’s what got me into it.

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Reminisce on VIS- Interview #3- DJ Montuno

montuno8I’ve heard so much about DJ Montuno and his music, and have often been tempted to travel to Montreal to experience his art first hand. Well, thankfully, he has been travelling quite a bit, even outside of his home city, and we were lucky enough to have him join us at VIS!  It was a pleasure to find out a little about how he got into DJing and what he loves about it.

[Note: This is the 3rd part to a series of 5 brief interviews under the title Reminisce on VIS (Vancouver International Salsafestival). To start at the beginning, at interview #1, and to learn why and where these interviews were conducted, click here: Reminisce on VIS- a series of five brief interviews)]

I always wonder if people just decide to become DJs one day because of their love for music(smiles), or was there someone out there who inspired you to go into this?

I think everyone has their own reasons for DJing.  For me, it has more to do with my personality.  When I get into something, I tend to get into it all the way.  Even too much (smiles), sometimes.  And when I started dancing, I already have a little bit of a musical background, so the music was very easy for me to familiarize myself with.  And I instantly took an interest in it.  But I felt that the stuff that I was finding and researching on my own was not being reflected in the music I was hearing in the classes I was taking or the clubs I was dancing in.

I found that there’s such a vast pool of salsa and mambo and all the influences in Latin Jazz out there.  I never had the ambition to be a DJ or anything like that. But I just took it upon myself to kind of introduce people to the music that I was finding and listening to.  And people really appreciated it.  They kind of pushed me to bring that to the Montreal scene at the time.  It happened naturally, and people seemed to like what I brought at the time.

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