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

Choosing Music Over Meds

One man’s quest to retrain his brain- through movement and dance-to overcome a severe movement disorder. Federico Bitti suffers from dystonia, a disease that affects a person’s ability to control their muscles. He is using a new therapy involving neuroplasticity, and specific exercises to retrain the brain, which for Mr. Bitti, includes …DANCE!

It’s stories like these that keep Dance Me Free growing and remind me why the site was born in the first place. There is proof, all over the globe, of how Dance and Music really do heal. You’ve got to watch this one! Incredible! What an inspiration.

And Dance, you’ve done it again!

La Época Interview- Part 2

Part 2- Josué Joseph- On Family, Freedom and Inspiration

(Click here to read La Época Interview Part 1- Josué Joseph- On Faith, Music and Talent)

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In Part 1 of this interview, you talked about growing up with the influence of your father- the great bassist Alfonso Panamá. You mentioned how he was always practising and surrounding you with music, making it just a part of your everyday life.   But did you ever go through that stage of NOT wanting to be a musician BECAUSE your father was one?  Often, kids try to purposely get away from doing what their parents did.  Did you ever go through that or was it always just something that you wanted to do?

I feel like I’m in that movie Slumdog Millionaire, because every answer that I give you comes from a story (laughs).  So here’s another one:

When I was growing up, my parents did not force any of us to study music.  But when I was four years old, we moved to a new house. And in this new house, there was a piano already there.  So music just came to us.  Taking piano lessons was just normal. My brother did it, my other brother did it, and it passed down to me. It became something that I thought was just something you do.

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La Época Interview- Part 1

Josué JosephOn Faith, Music and Talent

Dance Me Free is all about the power of Dance- and the Arts – to move, inspire and heal. What an honour it is to feature an individual who understands and embodies this concept through a variety of artistic disciplines. Josué Joseph is an award- winning musician, composer, film producer, dancer and international instructor. He is an all around inspiration.  It has been a pleasure to get to know more about what drives this artist, and I am thrilled to be able to share his insights and passion for the arts in this in-depth, two-part interview.

Thank you, Josué, for your openness and authenticity. I am grateful to have met you and I know you will continue to inspire people wherever you go.  

(Click here to view the full Interview Introduction)

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Why the name La Época?

The idea came to me immediately after the death of Tito Puente.  I was talking to my father- Alfonso Panamá –who is a legendary bassist of the Palladium. After talking to him, and to Johnny Pacheco, Celia Cruz, Cachao (another famous bassist), and to some other well-known musicians and dancers, I noticed that no one else had created a film which put all of these legends together,  to document their legacies.  And my concept was different from other films that were done about the Palladium.  I didn’t want my film to be about the Palladium.  I wanted it to be about “the time” of the Palladium, and to allow people to see the musicians that supported the major orchestras.  For example, Tito Puente and Celia Cruz were in other films about the Palladium.  But Tito Puente and Celia Cruz were individuals, they weren’t an entire orchestra.  So who were the musicians who made these individuals?  That’s what I wanted to focus on.

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New Photo Feature- Marilou and Alessandra Quaglia!

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“When I dance, I forget the bad times and I feel free.“- Marilou

Dance Me Free has been on a bit of a hiatus over the past few months. But we are so happy to be back, not just with some new and exciting interviews, videos and events, but also with an outstanding young dancer as our new photo feature for this season!

All the way from Provence, France, the beautiful Marilou caught my attention with her stunning features, her passionate poses and the way she makes dancing look so effortless and freeing. Continue reading

Help Send Ryan to Italy!

DANCING WITH CYSTIC FIBROSIS
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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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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. Continue reading

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 #5- DJ Ricky Campanelli

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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)]

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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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