“Those who say it cannot be done shouldn’t interrupt the people doing it.”
– Chinese Proverb
This is definitely one of my favourite quotes because it continues to remind me of the power of our own inner strength, despite the obstacles we might face. But what I love the most is meeting people who prove to be amazing examples of this- those individuals who, because of their own will, passion, and courage, manage to go beyond what they might normally be thought capable of doing, and then often inspire others to do the same.
Little did I know that one of these individuals, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently, would be a young teen- Ryan Morrissette. Ryan, a member of the hip hop crew Freshh, is a talented, charismatic dancer whose energy is well, … contagious, to say the least. His hard hits, quick and clean moves, and overall enthusiasm on stage definitely draw the attention of his audiences. But even off stage, Ryan seems to often be found smiling and sharing a positivity with friends and strangers alike that is truly refreshing. So when I heard that this young dancer has been dealing with a serious health condition since the age of two, I couldn’t believe it. You’d just never know that Ryan has Cystic Fibrosis if you saw him out there – the way he always seems to be giving it his all- whether on stage dancing, or co-emceeing and event, or just hanging out with his friends.
But that’s what Ryan does- he gives his utmost to this passion he has for dance, and to life in many ways, it seems. In fact, rather than letting CF stop him from pursuing his love of dance, Ryan uses dance as a way to heal his condition and to reach others out there to remind them to live life to the fullest. “I wasn’t supposed to be able to do a lot of cardiovascular exercise,” says Ryan. But if you saw him out there, training, leaping, doing flips and tricks- well, Ryan has pushed through many physical obstacles that might otherwise cause another person in his shoes to not even attempt any of it. And that kind of perseverance is extraordinary . Continue reading
(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.
“Marc was the assistant choreographer of “Jesus Christ Super Star”…. He loves dance. Not only are his choreographies and his vision incredible, but he’s also a beautiful person. He fought cancer last year and [I believe] he was able to do it because he loves life. That kind of drive… absolutely inspires me.” – Mary Antonini
This was the first introduction I had to the performer and choreographer Marc Kimelman. We hadn’t met in person, but I found it hard NOT to want to get a hold of him after hearing about his talent and accomplishments as an artist, as well as his courage, passion and strength for living. The more I read up on Marc and learned about him, the more curious and excited I was to hear details about his story, from the artist himself. I really appreciated the way Marc responded with such openness, trust and enthusiasm when asked if he would have time to share his thoughts. But what stood out to me the most was that Marc was absolutely correct in describing himself as being ‘as real as possible’, because that’s what I felt throughout the entire interview- that on the other end of that skype call was a genuine, positive spirit, an individual who shares his experiences with a creativity and depth that is truly inspiring.
Besides your obvious talent as a performer and choreographer, I think it’s really inspiring for other young guys to see a guy like you dancing from a very young age. Was it ever an issue for you growing up that you were a boy and liked to dance?
You know, it probably was an issue in terms of maybe people treated me differently, but I really didn’t have any time to think about that because it wasn’t really a choice. It was just ‘I’m going to dance’, and that’s kind of just the way it’s going to be (laughs). I put on shows for my family ever since I was four or five years old. And my dad actually put me into dance because he knew someone at a studio. I tried it and fell in love with it. It definitely got a bit more trying once I got to junior high. But once people actually SAW what I did, people’s views changed. And it became ‘cooler’ (laughs) to dance.
Do you feel that the stigma around boys dancing still exists?
Yes, I think that there still exists a negative stigma towards boys dancing. But there is something about the way the world has changed with the recent popularity of So You Think You Can Dance, and lots of dance-based movies, and shows like All the Right Moves. I think these really open people’s minds towards males dancing and they also prove that it can be a masculine thing as well. Besides, people who have the passion for dance, or anything else, shouldn’t let anything stop them from getting to class. I’m really happy to have started at a young age. And it’s exciting to see how strong and confident the up- and- coming male dancers are.
I think dancing is an amazing art and talent on its own, but I think that choreography also takes a whole other mindset. Are there places you go to, or people or experiences that you look to. for new ideas?
Well, I look to a few different places. Physically, I still love taking class. And I think that’s really important for me because it forces me to move in different ways. When I was sick, I couldn’t dance at all, for at least five months. So I took up Tai Chi because that was something that I could do. It was really low impact, it had me moving, and it became quite meditative for me, and I still do it a couple of times a week, just on my own. And so just seeking out new disciplines, new classes, and new teachers keeps the ideas fresh. And there’s usually something in there that inspires an idea or a thought, or just a different way of moving that I wouldn’t have thought of if I had just been by myself working in a studio.
In terms of creating full pieces, I usually start and end with the text. I’ll look at lyrics for whatever song I’m choreographing. That’s always something that really brings it home for me. And I will write out a piece word for word about what I want it to say. That way, if I ever get lost, or experience a kind of ‘choreographer’s block’, I’ll always go back to the text and remind myself what it is that I’m truly trying to say