… 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 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.
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 involves 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 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, and 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 people- 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 relieves 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.
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.
I 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.
I’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.
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 “African 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 maybe 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.
Kizomba. What is it, and why are more people talking about it? The word itself seems to stir up a whole range of reactions from those who have never danced it. Some of my favorites are:
“Oh, is it related to Zumba?”
“You’re referring to that NEW dance, right?”
“Yeah, I think I’ve seen it and it reminds me of high school dancing. Not much to it.”
“Oh, I can’t do THAT, being glued to a partner that way?”
“It looks so simple.”
I laugh, not just at the reactions, but at how I can relate to them because, before I started learning kizomba myself, I’m sure some of those thoughts ran through my head as well. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that there is so much more to the dance than what it appears to be from the outside. In fact, all of those perceptions above disintegrate when the magic of the true kizomba takes a hold of you. The small, subtle movements, as well as the close connection, require a control and sensitivity, as well as a trust and surrender that are not as easily attained as one might think. And as far as the “newness” of the dance, tell that to the kizombeiros and kizombeiras, as they are properly referred to, who have grown up with the dance in their families for years! What makes it ‘new’ to us is our lack of familiarity with the dance in this part of the world. But to the dancers in areas of Angola, West Africa, where the dance originated, as well in Portugal, where kizomba later spread, kizomba has a history. It is not just this dance that we have come to have a fascination for most recently. It goes back much further with roots from dances that a lot of us here have never even heard of.
That must have been why it didn’t sit right with me one day when I heard an organizer of a dance studio refer to kizomba as simply ‘African tango’. A couple had walked into the studio inquiring as to what was going on that night. And after seeing a sign for a kizomba social, they asked, “What is kizomba?” Of course, I understood that the organizer was trying to give the couple something that they were more familiar with to relate to, in order to picture this ‘mystery’ dance in their mind. And having danced some tango myself, I could see some of the tango nuances that were often used by kizombeiros in the dance. But I also knew kizomba was not tango and that not all kizomba dances had tango elements in them. I definitely did not have all the answers. In fact, I had very few. But knowing how kizomba had affected me very deeply in such a short period of time, I felt like it deserved to be recognized for what it truly is. Kizomba made me feel so alive, in a way that was different to anything else I had experienced before. So I knew it had to have a life blood of its own, an identity, a history, and an essence that was individual. I was touched that kizomba had invited me in, embraced me, welcomed me with open arms and heart, without even having known me. And so, I felt I owed it to kizomba, to get to know it, not for what it might resemble, or what people might guess it to be. But for what it really is. I wanted to learn its story, and help share it, because with every dance, I could hear it whispering that it had a story worth telling. And the whispering just seemed to get louder the further I was drawn in.
But in order to tell the story accurately, I needed to find someone who had years of experience in it, someone who had a deep understanding of kizomba and who knew it well. And sure enough, not long after I made this decision, I was given the opportunity to go to Seattle to meet such a person- Mr. Eddy Vents. Not only did I come out of Eddy’s class with an even greater excitement for kizomba music and movements, but I learned so much about the origins of the dance and what makes kizomba unique and so addictive.
(Interview #2 of 5. To read interview #1- Giana and Nery- click here)
I walked into James’ and Alex’s cha cha workshop a little low in energy. I was tired and wasn’t sure I would make it through the class. But it turned out to be one of my favourite workshops because Alex and James were so fun. In fact, the combination of the music they chose, the playful choreography they put together for us, and their own charisma, made me forget about my sluggishness earlier. Instead, I found myself laughing and enjoying myself all the way through, and I also left reenergized!
I really enjoyed your cha cha workshop today. Is it one of your favorite dances? You seem to have a lot of fun with it.
James: More and more now, it almost seems like we prefer cha cha over salsa (smiles). And it helps that because of our cha cha performance, we are getting asked to do more and more cha cha workshops. You can play with the timing a little more. You can put your own routines together for it in a way that can be a bit more interesting and more unique than the regular old patterns. But really, we like both.
Alex: But the energy does often seem to be much higher in cha cha workshops. It’s fun. You can have a laugh with it. Cha cha is very loose. As long as you feel it, you can do whatever you want in it, really.
Alex: Yes, first time in Vancouver and first time in Canada.
Oh, wow! And you both met in Dubai but you are from different countries, right?
James: Yeah, I’m from the UK and Alex is from Belgium. But we both met in Dubai. Alex has been in Dubai for about sixteen years. I’ve been there twelve years, almost thirteen years.
I keep hearing of people who go to Dubai and then either don’t leave or at least don’t want to leave (laughs), like Cheyenne.
James: It is a hard place to live. But I think a lot of people actually leave, and then they realize they miss it too much and they go back.
And what is the scene like in Dubai for dancing, for salsa?
James: It’s getting stronger now. It’s been going since about ’98. It’s definitely the stronger city in the Middle East, for salsa. I think we’ve been lucky as well. We’ve had quite a few good dancers and DJs who moved to Dubai and lived there for a period of time. And that helps to improve the level of the dancers that are there, because you get to dance with much better dancers and learn from them.
Alex: I think a lot of people from the Dubai salsa scene started travelling and seeing the level outside and around the world. And they began understanding that if they were to stay where they were, in their comfort zone, they wouldn’t improve or learn more. So by travelling, it kind of opened their eyes. And it challenged everyone to go up in their level.
It’s been four months since The Vancouver International Salsafestival (VIS) 2013. And I still smile an extra big smile whenever I run into one of the team members or even just think about the great time I had over that weekend in March. Keeping in touch with some of the out of town guests and instructors that I met over the course of the festival weekend also brings back good feelings of the time we shared. I know I made some amazing new friends and connections through VIS, and also gathered memories that I will carry with me for a long time.
In particular, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to speak to some of the artists personally, asking them questions about what inspired them, and what drives them to continue in their various art forms.
I am excited to share with you some of their words, in a series of short interviews that were conducted over during the VIS 2013 festivities. Each interview will be presented under the larger title ‘Reminisce on VIS.’ Thank you so much to each of the interviewees for the time and thoughtfulness you put into your responses.
It is with great pleasure that I introduce the first of the series of five interviews:
INTERVIEW 1: Giana Montoya (of Shiva Latina), and Nery Garcia (of Elegant Rumba)- from Fort Myers, Florida.
How I made it to the 9am workshop on the Friday morning of VIS, I have no idea. But I’m so glad I did. Acro- Yoga with Nery and Giana was not just a yoga or dance class, but a lesson in balance – physical and inner- and how to use this to make our connection with our surroundings more meaningful. If only we could wake up to this kind of learning every morning!
How did the yoga become a part of your dancing?
Giana: I’ve been a yoga practitioner for eleven years now. I started yoga when I was sixteen, which is about the same time that I started salsa. But I danced many years before that. My degree is in dance and theatre. But yeah, my whole family is really into yoga. My dad is also a yoga teacher. I got him into it.
Giana: I’ve had a lot of injuries. And I’ve had a lot of surgeries. Yoga has been the only thing that’s allowed me to keep going and to do everything I want to because of the way it can rehab my body and also heal some of the emotional scars that go along with injuries.
Nery: Very often, some of us guys come to these dance workshops to learn moves, and all we want to do that same night is pull out those moves. And I was like that before. But now that yoga has become such a big part of my life, and I’ve gotten in touch with this whole ‘meta’* feel (*Sanskrit for ‘loving kindness’) that we talked about in the workshop, I’ve learned to appreciate the fact that dancing is not just about the moves. It’s actually about the connection that you’re having with your partner at that moment.
So for me, yoga has opened up my eyes a lot- my heart and my eyes, actually. And my dancing has gotten even better in the sense that in general, I’m just caring more about my partner than just what moves I can pull on her. And this makes for a better dance for both of us. So my advice to the guys is to get involved in yoga. It’s going to really open you up to a better feel to your dancing.