“My goal is
just to make
the whole world
~ Ryan Morisette
What sparked your interest in bellydance?
I saw my first bellydancer at age 14. It was at a goddess fair in Langley. Being a Bohemian hippy teen, I was super inspired and wanted to learn how to dance like those women. I had studied ballet for several years and then jazz dance, and bellydance was something totally different and up my alley.
I had also been fascinated by Egypt since I was little, and the music seemed to touch a chord deep inside me. I started to look around White Rock, where I grew up, for classes. And I came across a teacher named Nahida who had danced in Egypt. I started taking her classes in 1995, and the rest is history!
Was dance and performance part of your upbringing?
I was a natural performer since pretty much from the time I could walk. My parents and younger sisters don’t dance, but my father loves to perform and be on stage. He was often organizing lip sync contests at his work where he was the lead singer, and was quite addicted to karaoke for a while! My paternal grandmother was a dancer and danced pretty much up to her death at 85. I definitely take after her. She was one of the brightest sparks I ever knew.
“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.
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.
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.
“I started dancing, as a bboy first. Back then, in 1984, there was no Youtube, nothing like that. We would just see something on commercials or on TV – some breakdancing moves- and dancing looked like a positive way for us to channel our energy.
That’s how we got started, and maybe also because we thought it would help us get the girls at first (laughs). But later, you realize there is so much more to it. And when you get into dancing so deep, it becomes your passion.
I love dance, but it is the pioneers of Hip Hop who really inspire me. Crazy Legs, The Rock Steady Crew, and all the others who, despite the criticism they faced from everyone that didn’t believe in hip hop and breakdancing at the time, just kept going with it.
If it wasn’t for those guys who paved the way for us, those artists who constructed the highway for us, we wouldn’t be enjoying what we enjoy right now.”
-Cezar Tantoko- dancer, coach and choreographer
Creator of Fresh Groove Productions
(To begin at Part 1 – “Dancing has really taken me to a place of healing that I never imagined“- click here)
What has stood out to me about your dancing is that it is much deeper than just steps. You have that heart and passion for it….
SOUL! It’s called SOUL, baby! (smiles).
Yes, exactly (laughs)! So did you grow up with lots of music and dancing in your family? Where did that SOUL (smiles) come from?
Well, yes, we did listen to A LOT of music. And my sister –Irene Otero- and my brother – Ismael Otero – are six and seven years older than me. So imagine, when I was seven, they were in their teens. What do you think they were blasting? – Music EVERYWHERE. They were really into breakdancing and all that crazy stuff. And with the dancing, well, my brother and sister used to battle- in breakdancing battles, on the street. And THEY WERE BAD ASS! My sister was a beast! Don’t mess with her. Don’t even try (laughs). The way she is now in salsa is the way she was then in breakdancing, and of course, my brother too. They were the best. And I was the little sister. And so for me, oh my God, that was all normal to me (smiles). It was what I grew up with.
So at a certain point, did you start taking formal classes in any type of dance at all?
I’ve never taken formal dance classes except for learning salsa from my brother. My brother learned from Luis Zegarra, ‘cause Luis lived upstairs from us and we grew up with him. And then my brother decided to start doing his own thing. And I would just go hang out, ‘cause salsa was not my thing, in the beginning. But I learned the basics, and I caught on very quickly. Within the first three months, I was winning competitions with my brother. It was unbelievable- me and my brother were on a rampage, taking over the WORLD, just winning competitions, street-style. No rehearsals. None of that stuff. It felt like it was in us already.
But it’s not until NOW that I notice that I had a talent. The way I look at my videos now, I never looked at them like that before. So I’m kind of looking at them with different eyes now.
Wow. That must be interesting for you.
It is. It is. And I’m in awe, because I never realized I had talent then. I was grateful that people enjoyed watching me. But I never understood why. I just enjoyed dancing. You know, I never did it for attention. I’m gonna be honest, my intentions were NEVER to be in the public eye because I AM a private person. And I am a little shy, believe it or not (smiles).
And I’m learning about myself through all this stuff that I’m going through now with the MS. I didn’t really know that I had impacted so many people. And it makes me feel good right now. It makes me feel amazing to see so many people write me- oh my God- so many emails! And it’s too much for me to even respond to. That’s why I like that I’m even doing this interview, because people will also get to know me a little better through this. Up until now, they know me for my name, but they don’t know my story or who I really am.
“I got inspired to dance because of my brother. Him and his friends- they had a dance group and they didn’t really have a place to practise, so they practised in our garage. I’d sit down and just watch them and thought it was really cool. And then I’d find myself in the mirror, trying to bust a move or two myself (smiles).
But yeah, why dance? As you mature, as you grow up in this environment, what people don’t really understand is that Dance is an art. Like in a painting, people paint how they feel, right? Well, in dance, your choreography, or just how you freestyle, could depend on your emotions, how you feel inside too. Dance also builds your self- confidence. You become more confident in what you do, in dance, and in other parts of your life too.
And even if we can inspire just one person to take a dance class or something, well, that’s all we ever really wanted to do as a team, I think. It’s not always really about winning competitions or being high class dancers. It’s just about showing that we do honestly care about a lot of people out there. And we hope that what we do can help them in the future.”
– Gabriel Galedo – Age 14- member of The Freshh Crew