… 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 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.
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.
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.
From the moment I met Joan at Danzaire Studio, I noticed a unique energy about her. At first, it seemed like a kind of quiet, friendly, charisma on the outside. But the more that we talked, the more I understood that there was an even bigger and ‘louder’ depth of character looming inside of her. And boy was I right. I soon learned that there was remarkable story of strength and resilience behind Joan and her dancing, a story of courage and inspiration that I am so honoured to be able to feature in the form of an interview here on Dance Me Free.
“The way I got into dance was through watching movies and TV shows. I’d see all the mainstream dancing and I thought it was really cool. So I started dancing and training. And sure, it sucks sometimes when I make plans with my friends from school and then I remember I can’t hang out with them because I have dance practice. But then, once I come to dance, well, I kind of forget about those other plans because dance is so much fun.
The feeling I get from dancing, well, I can’t really explain it. It’s always different. I could be happy, I could be sad. But each time I dance, it makes me feel really good about myself. It just makes my day. And in our crew, we get to share that feeling with each other, as a family. It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. Because even though we’ve reached a high level, there are others out there who are better than us. And we don’t want to just stay at the same level. We want to get better too and be good role models. ”
– Justin Nicolas – Age 15- member of The Freshh Crew
Part 1: “Dancing has really taken me to a place of healing that I never imagined.”- Yesenia Peralta
Yesenia Peralta has always been one of those dancers who really stood out to me because of her flavor and natural movement both in her social dancing and stage performances. But her talent as a dancer has come to mean even more to me after getting to know Yesenia on a more personal level over the past few months. Through an in-depth interview with Yesenia, first conducted in July of this year,* I learned what a strong, courageous and fun loving woman lies within this dancer, this individual. Most of all, I was touched and deeply inspired by the passion for living that Yesenia shows off the dance floor as much as, if not more than, she has demonstrated in her years on the dance floor.
It is an honor to help her, through this interview, to share for the first time Yesenia’s story about her recent diagnosis with Multiple Sclerosis (MS,) and how it has affected her perspective and growth in many areas of her life. Thank you, Yesenia, for trusting me to help send your message out to all the people out there who want to know how you’re doing. I know you will continue to inspire others with your positivity and charisma wherever you go. You have definitely had a huge impact on my life from just a few months of knowing you.
*Note: This interview was conducted on July 23rd, 2012; therefore, any reference to time and location is reflective of Yesenia’s experiences up to that date.
Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me, Yesenia, especially with everything you’re going through right now.
That’s okay, girl. Like I wrote to you, la gente estan pendiente (laughs)
(Translation: the people are waiting, they are waiting to find out what is happening with me)
People know I’m sick but they don’t understand what’s going on and what my mission is in my head. But this is my moment to talk a little more personally about myself. And even though you might be asking me questions about dance here, this interview is still different than others in the past. Every interview I’ve ever done before has always been about ‘what’s next’. People are always concentrating on what is GOING to come- “Oh, when is your school going to be opening up? When is your dance company going to perform?” they always ask. It’s always about what I am GOING to be doing.
But this time, it’s a little different, you know? This is the first time I’m doing an interview since I’ve been diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. And, to be honest, at first, I wasn’t interested in talking on a personal level to anyone. Three weeks ago, I would not have done this interview. A month ago, I would not have done this interview because I hadn’t found ‘my place’ yet, you know? (*see reference note at the start of the interview)
(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.
Part 3: “EVERYONE- the world- is helping me through this. You guys are my strength.”- Yesenia Peralta
I found out about your health condition when your brother sent me an invite to the fundraiser that was put on for you earlier this year. I was shocked. I had no idea you were even suffering through anything, let alone multiple sclerosis. How did the diagnosis come about for you?
In 2007, I had tingling in my arms and my legs. And the tingling got worse. I went to Singapore with my brother, but I wasn’t being very social there, and I wasn’t dancing as much as I used to. I didn’t know why, but I just wasn’t feeling good. When I came back from Singapore, it got worse. It went from my hands to my arms and to my legs. The tingling got so bad that I couldn’t unbuckle my belt, I couldn’t brush my hair, and I couldn’t write the receipts for my students. Eventually, I couldn’t teach!
I had to go to three different hospitals before I got admitted because nobody could figure out what was going on. So I finally get admitted and they released me five days later, without telling me what was wrong, because they said they didn’t know. And because I didn’t have insurance, they couldn’t continue to just keep me there. So they let me go. And then little by little, I got better, so I just thought, “Oh, it’s gone. All right. Back to work!” I opened up another school and didn’t think twice about what had happened.
Then, in 2010, I get this feeling again- tingling, numbness, and all that stuff. And then finally, I got diagnosed in August of that year. But when we finally saw the paperwork from 2007, it said ‘possible Multiple Sclerosis’ on it! 2007! Why couldn’t the doctors have just mentioned that word to me then? But no, they didn’t. And that’s how I found out three years later.