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.

How did it finally become full time?

I got fired from my job in mid May, but I already had three weeks of travel booked up for dance and teaching in June, and another three weeks in July.  I finally told myself, okay, let’s go ahead and go into this full time.  If the universe is trying to give me a message, I’m going to go with it. So I started promoting myself more and more.  And then my schedule got booked for the rest of the year.  And now I’m booking dates for 2015 in September! It’s really a blessing.  So when you ask WHY kizomba,  I really couldn’t give you a particular answer.  But I just know that I went out each day and did my best and I tried to be as authentic as I could be with every workshop I taught. I see myself as just passing along the inspiration that was passed to me. And people really resonate with that.

What do you think stands out about kizomba for you from other dances?kiz 1

I really like the musicality and the sensuality of it, and that it is such a smooth, calm and collected dance form. I always kind of had this hint of sensuality in my dancing even before kizomba anyway.  For example, with my bachata, I wasn’t afraid to do body rolls and that kind of thing. So kizomba just kind of clicked with my natural flow, I guess you could say. But I didn’t really learn the dance to teach it. I never taught any dance, or anything for that matter, before kizomba.

Were you a natural right from the start? (smiles)

I remember the first time I saw kizomba. I was sitting at a social watching my friend Eric dance kizomba with Jorjet and I was trying to count the steps as he danced.  I kept starting on the ‘one’, and I would follow his movement, but then the pattern would change.  I couldn’t figure out the pattern because it never looked the same each time I watched him.

A month or so later, the first USA bachata and kizomba festival took place in Houston, Texas.  And those classes were my first real introduction to kizomba.   I sucked at it at the beginning, as with anything that you start new.  But the more and more I got involved with it, the more I started to realize that the counts really don’t dictate your direction in this dance.  You can really be musical with it.  And then I started to dance and learn more and more of it.

kiz5Was there a moment or time when it really clicked for you that this was your passion?

In December of 2012, I flew to Spain to go to my first all kizomba festival.  And that’s where I kind of fell in love with the dance. I got to see everybody’s style and all the socials and afro house. There were guys there dancing semba, carrying the girls, lifting them up, and doing all kinds of crazy acrobatic kind of moves.  It was insane.  Really impressive.  It was just a brand new world that really appealed to me.

And then, when I came back to the U.S, there were workshops starting to be offered here and there.  Different instructors came in from all over.  And I was trying to go to every single one of those events because I wanted to learn more and more.

What do you think really helped motivate you to start growing this even more, and teaching internationally?

Actually, I think Vancouver was one of the places that really allowed me to start to believe that it is possible to do this, FULL time.

Yay! (laughs) And you’re coming back! We are so excited! June 5-7th, right? charles van4

Yes! I am excited as well.

Because that month in April, last year, I was in Louisiana, I was in Monterrey, and then I was in Vancouver with you guys out there, and the turnout was awesome, the people were awesome, and the socials were awesome.  Yeah, that was the tipping stone that started making me believe that it was possible to do this full time.  And from there, I just started to get booked more and more, and make more connections, and people were excited and seemed to resonate with my approach to teaching kizomba.

So now you’re travelling and doing what you love for work, which is great. But I imagine it must also be tiring. What do you do to rest and recuperate in between dancing from city to city, literally? (smiles)

Charles- I read this book about two months ago called The Miracle Morning- by Hal Elrod.  It is based on the idea of taking advantage of your mornings and making them YOURS. The author reminds you that as soon as you wake up, but before you start answering facebook messages and emails and posts, you need to start your day off on the right foot.  You need to get your mind right for the rest of the day.

The book recommends using what they refer to as ‘Life Savers’.   The book uses the word ‘Savers’ from this phrase as an acronym for the steps that you would go through in the morning to do this.

S’ stands for Silence.  So it is recommended that you spend however much time you feel comfortable meditating in silence without anybody talking to you.  Just quieting the mind.   This is helpful to me because my mind can get pretty flustered as I often think about everything all at once.

‘A’ is for Affirmations.  So you kind of put out to the universe what you’re trying to accomplish – your goals, or what you’re striving towards to help you bekiz4come a better version of yourself.

The ‘V’ is for Visualization.  So you can kind of start to visualize or pretend that you’re in the place, or you are the person, that you are working towards becoming.

‘E’ is for Exercise. So I usually do 50 push-ups and 50 sit-ups just to kind of get the blood flowing, to get rid of the groggy feeling we can often still have even later in the day if we don’t do something about it.

The’ R’ is for Reading.  So you take five or ten minutes, or whatever time you feel comfortable with, reading a book.  And just keeping those fresh thoughts coming into your brain helps out a lot.

And then the last ‘S’ is for Scribe.  So you have a little daily journal.  And you can set up whatever template that you want to record things that you are grateful for, especially experiences from the day before, just to recap them. You can go back and reread them to remind yourself of them later as well.

Interesting. I have never heard of that book.  I’ll have to check it out sometime.

Yes. It’s great. It makes a difference.   If you don’t have that down time every day, it’s easy to get wrapped up in everything and exhaust yourself or lose focus.  And for me, if I don’t take those steps, you can definitely tell. My dance partner can tell if I meditated or not in the morning (laughs).

The phrase “dancing with your heart” is used by many people.  And we often make cute little heart shapes with our hands in dancing pictures after workshops and in group photos to show we want to share the love.  But I feel like you really live those words more truly than many others.  First, because of your decision to just follow what the universe was telling you and really pursue this career in dance wholeheartedly, pun intended (smiles).    But also that you have actually had heart surgery, which I don’t think a lot of people know about.  I mean, your heart has literally been opened up, if you don’t mind me saying. So what happened?

Yes, that was in August of 2009.  Well, the fever of the infection I had started around May. So that was over five years ago.   I remember having just a normal fever at first.  But it was strange, because before then, I would hardly ever get sick.  Or if I was ever sick, it would only last about twenty four hours and then I would be over it.  But this time it was really different, and I kept having fevers and fevers and fevers, and night sweats, really bad night sweats.  I kept going to my physician, and they kept running blood tests to figure out what was going on. They couldn’t figure it out at first.  It was all just kind of crazy.  But then finally, I had to have open heart surgery in August of that year.  They had to replace my aortic heart valve.heart surgery charles

Wow! And you’re so young.  How did this affect your life and your perspective on life?

It gave me a new sense of gratitude, because when I was sick, there were times when I couldn’t even get up and take a shower, or go to use the restroom, on my own.  There were parts of the infection, since it was in my heart, that had gotten into my bloodstream and traveled to different parts of my body. So there was a part of it that had reached my brain, which affected my coordination.  So it was hard for me to even grasp a spoon and feed myself.  I couldn’t run or walk or dance after the surgery.

Before I got sick, I was stressed or I wasn’t happy because I wasn’t earning the money I wanted to earn, I wasn’t driving the car I wanted to drive, I wasn’t in the place I wanted to be in.  But going through the surgery and not being well for that long helped me forget about all the exterior things and let me be grateful that I have two arms, two legs, and that I can get up and use the restroom and feed myself.  Because until you go through something like that, you take all those little things for granted.  When you get knocked down, to the point where you can’t do those things and you’re completely dependent upon somebody else, that brings a whole new sense of gratitude to you.

Were you already dancing before the infection and surgery?

Yes, before the surgery and the fever, I was dancing. But I hadn’t been introduced to kizomba yet.  I was just dancing salsa and bachata.  But I couldn’t dance from about May until around November.  I couldn’t dance because my body just wasn’t in any condition to.

So yeah, “dancing with your heart” definitely has a personal meaning to me because of what I went through with my heart.  That’s why I chose the slogan – ‘Dance with your heart and let it shine’.  What I went through with my heart also inspired my logo.  It’s a heart, with a musical clef inside the heart.  Music has always been something that’s been close to me, through my musical days in dancing, and also playing different instruments as well.  Music is definitely something that’s in my heart.  And then I put the wings on the outside of the heart because I feel that that music and dance have given me the freedom to grow as a person and touch the lives of other people.

charles8How has dance, in particular, helped you grow?

Dance has helped my self esteem and my self confidence.  It has allowed me to meet new
people and travel the world.  The first time I got into dance was when I was 21.  And I went through a phase of depression.  I used to always feel awkward and like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t know what I wanted to do in life. And salsa definitely opened up a door for me since it was my first dance. I met new people and started travelling and it helped me forget about the worries and the bills.  Dancing really helped me let loose and have fun and be in the present moment.

Dance Me Free is about the power of Dance to heal.  Did Dance play a part in your healing after the surgery?

After the surgery, I was definitely itching to get back on the dance floor to help my recovery.  I actually took a couple of Zumba classes that were low impact and I did on my own.   I wanted to get my heart rate up and get my feet back to moving to music on a dance floor, but in a way that I could feel comfortable, without over exerting myself.   I couldn’t go out to the socials and dance for hours and hours like I normally did.  My muscles atrophied through the whole ordeal prior to the surgery.  So when I finished the heart surgery, I couldn’t run.  The spark in my muscles wasn’t there.  So dancing helped to wake up my muscles again to help me with the recovery.

How do you think this ordeal with your heart has affected your dancing now? Or do you think it has?

In every dance since the heart surgery, I would definitely say that I’m more perceptive and aware of connection.

I do believe that’s one of the reasons I really connected with kizomba.    It’s hard to put it into words.  But having that openness with your heart to actually receive somebody and let them in, and really truly connect with them on the dance floor, makes a huge difference.  . It’s about being inviting, being OPEN and not being afraid, not putting up a wall. And I’m not sure if I’d be able to do that if I didn’t go through the heart surgery.

Kizomba has such a strong foundation in connection, I mean the pillars of the dance are kiz2
connection.  It’s not something that you always see.  It’s something that needs to be felt.  So I think I’m able to open up my heart more and internalize it a lot easier because I am more open to the feeling.

If you’ve danced with me, you definitely know what I mean.

Well, maybe you could describe your dancing through an analogy, since you like analogies so much (smiles).  If you could describe yourself as a dancer in terms of a musical instrument, which instrument would you be?

Well, people typically say that I’m a really smooth dancer.  And I actually have some moves that I’m going to be coming up with that are called the ‘Silky Smooth Groove’.  And that’s what I try to create on the dance floor –that smoothness- because kizomba is such a slow dance, so it fits.  So if I had to choose a musical instrument that really embodied my style, or at least my personality on the dance floor, I guess I would say a SAXAPHONE.

If you take a look at it, it’s very curvaceous.  It’s not rigid. It has smooth edges.  And it’s also typically golden and shiny so it has a very nice presentation.  Plus, typically, it makes a very smooth, calm sound.  Also, it’s one of my favorite instruments to play.
Yeah, I would definitely be a saxophone.  (smiles)

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.

Have you always been into photography?Daudi3

Since I was a kid, I had a camera with me most of the time. I just loved taking photos. I was fascinated by capturing images.  So I kept up the photography from then on as a hobby.  It was not until my freshman year at university, however, that I bought my first professional DSLR, a Nikon 35mm Classic. In my bag was a 50mm, a 200mm Zoom, 3X Tele converter, and a flash. All my pocket money at university was from my photography work. I shot lots of portraits and campus parties at that time.

 What distinguishes your photos or approach to photography from others?

daudi5Photography is a language of light. Every photographer out there has their preferences or style of shooting and using light – whether it be by using light shaping tools or natural light. My preference is to use light shapers to curve out my image. I use light to illuminate, and shadows to add definition to an image.  The majority of my subjects are people. By shaping and controlling light, I intend to highlight and direct the viewer’s eye to the area of interest.  My mentality is that in every shoot I do, I am looking for the ‘cover shot’, and there can only be one cover shot. So in any given environment, I am looking for that angle, that background that best highlights my subject.  I aim to remove the clutter that will compete with my subject in the photo. When I have my camera in hand, I get excited. I try to make my subject feel relaxed so they can give me their best. This will show up in the photos.

So if someone is camera shy, how do you get them to relax for the camera?daudi14

Having a huge lens pointed at you is not easy to deal with, especially if you are not used to it. In that instant, one realizes that they are being exposed. The natural tendency is to become shy instantly. So I like to get the subject involved with me, not with the camera. I have a conversation with him or her, and I make sure to learn something about them in this way. What are their interests, what are their hobbies? You will be surprised how one all of a sudden jumps out of the shy shell and their eyes light up as they tell you about what moves them. This creates trust, and they show you the side of them you ideally should capture. The best photos are the uninterrupted ones, those without pauses.  If I encounter a very shy person, I will set up my camera on a tripod, engage the subject, and keep snapping when I see the photo moment, but without having the camera up to my eye. This seems to completely relax the person being photographed and saves us from getting a bunch of shots of those nervous smiles we don’t want. The other trick I use is to role-play. I get my subject to pick a character and act it out.

Any particular photo experiences stand out in your head because of the subject or something about the outcome of the photos that you didn’t expect?

I have lots of rich experiences to list here. However, there are some people who are ‘natural’ in front of the camera. Two such talents are the little daughters of one of our local salsa dancers- Shalini. These girls understand how to play for the camera! My other favorite talent is Magna Gopal. I can never get tired of doing shoots with her. We have done so many character roles and she pulls them off impressively each time. I also love shooting action performances since the actors are in their element and aren’t paying so much attention to me but are just doing what they do best.  Adolfo Indacochea, Charlene Rose, Alien Ramirez, Terry & Cecil, and Eddie Torres are among so many of my favorite talents who give me so many amazing photo moments! Also, Kristi Foster stands out to me for her amazing flexibility and gravity defying leaps. My camera was loving that!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Have you ever found yourself on the other end of the camera in a photo shoot, and if so, how did that experience help you with taking your own photos of others?daudi2

Yes, I have. Every photographer needs to be in front of the lens to gain an understanding of how your subject feels . It gives one an appreciation of how to communicate with the client and helps you as the photographer better understand how to get the subject to give you what you need. To get that expression you want from your talent, you don’t just simply ask for it.  You get them to produce it through a variety of tricks including telling them jokes, giving them praise and sometimes, even by shocking or surprising them. Most importantly, make your talent feel relaxed so they can open up honestly with their expressions. I do take lots of selfies to show my potential clients that photography is indeed fun.

Who are your mentors as far as photography goes?

My mentor is Valentin Behrenger! I have also learned a lot from Joe McNally and Calvin Hollywood. These guys do magic with their cameras and the digital dark room! I took Behrenger on a tour of Vancouver. That was an amazing time!

Do you have any photo fantasies?  Haha! I mean, is there something you’ve always wanted to try with your photographdaudi4y that you haven’t yet done?

Well, besides dancing and photography, my other hobbies are sky diving, snowboarding and travelling.  So I would LOVE to do a sky diving shoot mid air. I would also love to get into travel photography, so I have this idea of doing a shoot of our mutual salsa friend Cheyenne who now lives in Dubai. It would be great to go out in the Dubai desert and get shots of Cheyenne dressed as the character from the movie “The Mummy”.  Haha!

Sounds fun! I want to see that! 

How has photography influenced the way you look at things in your world outside of the lens?daudi13

I don’t know how to turn off the photographer in me.  As I said earlier, I like shooting people
because I find people interesting. One will have interesting eyes, another will have very captivating facial expressions. Some have well sculptured facial features that can capture light in interesting ways. Everyone is unique and fascinating. When I look at people, I keep visualizing how I can bring out what is amazing in them – how I can bring out their special feature. Sometimes I sit by a roadside and just enjoy watching people walk by in their natural in-the-moment expressions. Point a camera at someone and they go into ‘pause mode’, trying to smile and pose.  But that takes away that natural look. So as someone always behind the lens, I tend to be aware of my body language and I try to relax since I am always studying others. Because of photography, I always see the photo moments in the motions of people around me. Half the time I kick myself for not capturing such beautiful moments that pass me by because I am not carrying my camera with me!

But most of the time, my camera and I are inseparable.

“Working with Daudi is effortless. When he has a vision for a shot, he comes completely prepared. At the same time, he’s also very open to suggestions by his models and can often take a simple idea and really make it something special.  Daudi’s desire to create and capture a beautiful moment is inspiring.”- Magna Gopal

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.

Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Kizom-what? – Part 2

Kizom-what?– Part 2 –Interview with Eddy Vents- discussing Kizomba Dancing (continued) To view Part 1, click here

Tasleem: At the end of Part 1 of this interview, you talked about the importance of the connection in this dance.  Because it IS more about that connection and energy, it’s really hard to describe kizomba to someone else.  Often, I hear it being described in terms of other dances. The description “Afrieddy vents2can tango” has come up a few times, and I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that.

Eddy: I think people describe kizomba that way because they need to refer to the dance with something that is more familiar.  If I explained kizomba to you by talking about the other dances it’s connected to or came out of, you probably won’t know what I’m talking about, because you’ve never seen those dances.  So ‘African tango’ makes it easy for people on this side of the world, who have not experienced those African dances, to imagine the dance using something they already know.

It just bothered me when I heard someone refer to kizomba that way, because I thought well, I’m sure that kizomba has its own history and is its own dance, and by calling it something else, I feel like we are denying it that history. And the more we do that, the more I wonder when WILL we ever then make an effort to learn about it as its own dance?  I mean, I know this is taking it a little far, but if tango was not well known to people, but kizomba was, and tango was described as Argentine kizomba, I wonder how tango dancers and the history of tango would suffer, or how it would make the people who came from those roots feel.

You are right. Kizomba is not tango, it is kizomba, and it has its own roots. But maybeeddy vents4 people think it’s easier to understand if it is explained by using things we already know.  But you have a good point, because if you go deep into Africa, it is difficult for you to see tango flavor in the kizomba there.  Because the kind of communication you have here- internet and all that- where everything comes so fast, we don’t have that.  We don’t mix those other dances into kizomba so easily like that. For us, we don’t have schools for dance that way. We dance the way we see people dancing around us. It doesn’t mean that kizomba cannot have some tango flavor put into it. Probably in America, you’re going to see a lot of kizomba teachers with tango moves, things they’ve learned from the internet and from their other dance backgrounds. But they are adding that to the kizomba dance. Kizomba is a subtle dance, not flashy. It is for the two people dancing it. It is not for show. It is a social dance. So many times, people add tango and other elements to it to make it more showy for performances and youtube videos. But that is not the dance itself.  So to say that every time you learn kizomba you will see tango is really going far.

Continue reading