Interview with Bellydancer Ashley Rhianne

Ashley3What 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.

You have been traveling a lot.  Is it usually for dance that you travel? Ashley1

I have traveled a lot in my life and have seen so many amazing sites.  But I started getting a bit lost and aimless when I was traveling for traveling sake.  So I usually only travel for dance now.  Incorporating dance into my trips has really been exciting for me.  Going to train in different cities and countries is my new passion.  I get to meet dancers from all over the world, train with international instructors and see new places.  It’s the best!  I keep saying I need a non-dance holiday but that doesn’t seem to happen! 

How do you decide where to go?

I train with a few Egyptian teachers, namely Randa Kamel, Tito Seif, and Mohamed Shahin, so traveling to where they are teaching is my priority. I used to take individual workshops with teachers from all over. But I realized that it is really important to choose teachers to study with intensely so that they can help you grow and change your dance more.  Randa Kamel has been the biggest influence in my dance, and I make sure to train with her at least four times a year. This often means going to Egypt.  In 2016, I was lucky to go to Egypt twice, as well as to New York, Toronto, and Miami.  2017 is looking very similar!

What were some of the highlights of your most recent trip?

A highlight from my last trip to Cairo in February was being selected as a finalist in the competition there.  The level was really high, and it was a huge honor to have been selected to compete with a live band.  Dancing to a live band in Egypt is about as amazing and scary as it gets!  Another highlight was being able to study with Randa Kamel and Tito Seif for a week.  We were dancing five hours a day.  This immersion helps so much in developing Ashley2my dance, and I feel like I grew a lot in this course.

Sometimes you invite drummers to your classes to drum live for your students.  How does this contribute to your class?

I am fortunate to have met drummer Tim Gerwing right when I started performing.  I was a “baby” dancer and he was a “baby” percussionist. We decided to jam one day and we have worked together ever since.

Having Tim in class allows my students to listen to the rhythm in a skeletal sense – just the drum alone. It helps get the rhythm in their body and understand the feel of the rhythm. We encourage the students to really feel the sounds and shapes from the tabla. Rhythm is the backbone of Egyptian dance, and each rhythm has its own set of technique, emotions, and culture.  So it is important to understand how to dance authentically to the rhythms.

I LOVE the fact that Tim can accompany me when I am teaching – if I need something slower, or with a very pronounced rhythm, he can do that on a dime.  When you have a live musician, you need to interact with them, connect and inspire each other. This is something very valuable, and the earlier you learn it, the easier it will become over time.

Bellydance seems like a very difficult dance to teach to others. Yet you manage to have a good balance between being able to teach the technique as well as the more abstract aspects of this dance.  Were there teachers or influences that were great role models to you in this regard?Ashley5- By Daudi

Wow! That is a huge compliment.  I adore teaching and I am so happy that you had that experience in my class!  I have to honestly say that I didn’t come into my own as a teacher for several years after starting teaching.  I felt that I was regurgitating movements and teaching structure from my instructors.  I wasn’t defined enough in my own dance; therefore, I didn’t know how to translate what I was doing to my students. It took a lot of personal acceptance and confidence to start teaching the way that I danced!

What do you think helped you develop this?

Working on my physiotherapy assistant diploma, and learning how to teach exercise and therapeutic classes, was very helpful for my teaching style.  I was able to adopt what I was doing in school and work, and apply it to my own classes.  I also talked to, and continue to talk to, other dance teachers. You learn so much from others, and realize that you are not alone in your experiences.  I brainstormed with people and asked a lot of questions. I also analyzed video and online material to get alternate examples of explanations, and to grow my ideas.

You seem really invested in your students, which is a beautiful quality to have as a teacher.  Where did this come from?

Ashley4- by DaudiI really love working with people, and I want to see everyone succeed so much in my classes.  So I try to provide as much information as I can, balanced with a strong dose of acceptance and humour.  Dance can be very frustrating if you feel that you can’t get a movement. We have all been there!  So I want to try to limit that kind of discouraging experience as much as possible. The frustration can start to limit our personal perception of what we can do.  Dance is supposed to make you feel good at the end of the day, so I want that to be the strongest take-home feeling.  I am now studying to be a pilates instructor, and I feel that my background in teaching will serve me well in this field.  I have learned a lot from both my physiotherapy work and also my work as a dance teacher.

Randa Kamel has also been a great role model for me in how to approach teaching.  She focuses a lot on the muscular movements, but also on the feeling and energy of the movement. This is equally important in these oriental dances.  I try to embody this in my classes, and remind my students to really feel the move- both in a physical sense but also in an emotional sense.  Dance is more than just the movement of our bodies. There is a feeling to it.

What do you think is one of the benefits of this particular dance for your students?

There is something very magnetic about the movements and the music – very addicting!  But in all honesty, I think this dance allows for a lot of personal expression and self confidence.  I have personally witnessed many of my students come into class for the first time, quiet and shy and hiding in the back of the class. And then, over a period of a few weeks, they are suddenly moving up to the front the class, talking with their classmates and literally transforming in front of my eyes!  It is amazing to see.

What made you choose bellydance as your dance of focus? 

Bellydance just makes sense to my body and spirit.  After years of ballet and jazz, which I Ashley6loved, this dance form spoke to my heart in a very different way.  Learning oriental dance was not, and still isn’t easy to learn. But the dance is so feminine, strong and emotional.  Oriental dance also embraces women of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds.  Through the music, we can each individually express our own stories and emotions, and this is something so powerful!  There is so much intrigue and draw to watching someone perform this dance.

The beauty of the dance is that you can let your life experiences spill out into your dance and you are all the better for this.  Dance has been there for me in some of the most joyous times in my life as well as in the darkest times.  And I hope it continues to always be there.

For more information about Ashley and her classes, please visit

Ashley Dance at http://www.ashleydance.com

Help Send Ryan to Italy!

DANCING WITH CYSTIC FIBROSIS
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.”

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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.

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Healing helped by your passions, healing helped through dance…

healing

… 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.  

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.

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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.

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Props to the Pioneers – by Cezar Tantoko

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Cezar Tantoco“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

Interview with Yesenia Peralta- Part 2

Part 2: “Learning about the history of salsa- how can you not be moved?  I mean, it’s like yesenia1planting a seed in your soul!”  – Yesenia Peralta

(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 yesenia2brother 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.

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The Art of Dance- by Gabriel Galedo

Gabe 5“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

Photo Feature #2- Nicole Chan, Carlos Molina, and Elina Sumichan

It is my pleasure to share a special photo feature this month involving three fellow dancers and friends from our very own Vancouver dance community!  

Carlos Molina and Nicole Chan are captured here in a beautiful moment of dance by photographer and dancer Elina Sumichan.  The photo was taken at a recent event in Vancouver called Kizomba Temptation.  Thank you Elina for hosting and organizing such a magical night, and special thanks to Nelda Sumichan for providing us with such an elegant, intimate venue in which to get our Kizomba dance on!  It definitely proved to be a great night of mingling, music, and fun memories.   I am thrilled to be able to share one of those moments here as Elina’s shot of Carlos and Nicole will be our new header photo for this season. 

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