“Work It Out”- Interview With Reuben Avery

Reuben on Trumpet

I know you first as a musician – specifically as a keyboardist and trumpeter. You have been playing music since you were a child, right? 

Yes, I’ve been playing music since I was very young. I grew up on a farm and in our home there, my family had an old upright baby grand piano. When I was a toddler, I would crawl over to the piano and pound on the pedals. This would shake the sound board enough to make some noise. My mom eventually figured out that I was interested in the instrument, so she popped me in my high chair and sat me in front of the keyboard. I would happily plunk away for hours on end.

Wow! That’s amazing.  And kind of adorable (smiles).

Yeah, I think I have improved a bit since those days (smiles), but we’re not sure since we can’t find the cassette tapes that contained my recordings that were made on our small Fisher Price recorder.

Aww… haha (smiles).

I love how it seems that you chose the instrument, and your mom saw your interest in it and just encouraged it, rather than you being pushed into it. I think forcing kids to take music lessons can sometimes actually make them lose all enjoyment in it.

Yes, well I did eventually start taking piano lessons in grade 2, and was off and on with them throughout my grade school days. I always enjoyed improvising on the instrument and creating my own music…often much more than practising what was assigned to me by my various teachers. As such, piano, has always been my first love and I can still entertain myself for hours on it. I just love being able to create lush harmonies and lay creative melodies over them.

Reuben on the Keytar!

I think that is what is missing in many formal music education programs- encouraging students to improvise and create. But it’s great that you just seemed to have a knack for creating on your own. Did you do this with the trumpet as well? How did the trumpet come into your life?

I didn’t start playing trumpet until grade 5, but I stuck with it throughout high school and then studied it formally in university. Trumpet is very different than piano, but I love it too. You’ve only got one note at a time, but because it’s small and handheld, you can move around with it a lot, which I like. I love the freedom it gives me to move around the stage, and it definitely lends itself well to dance moves, choreography and all the funk music I’m into these days.

Speaking of dance, I know you are dancing a lot of hustle these days and that you took that up not too long ago   Did you take any sort of dance classes as a child as well? 

No, I didn’t take any dance lessons growing up. Between my two sisters, I was exposed to just about every dance style there is, but I never actually tried them myself. It really wasn’t until last year (2016) that I started exploring Hustle dance and taking lessons. It has been fun to learn because the footwork isn’t too complicated. I also really love the community and the fact that it’s a partner dance. I love being able to connect one-on-one with a partner and speak a language together. Dance is very synonymous to music that way.

The Phonix Live Funk Band- Reuben on trumpet

I have friends who think that because they are adults now, and don’t have a background in dance from childhood, that ‘it’s too late’ for them to just pick it up now. What are your thoughts on this? 

I would agree and disagree with your friends. Some dance styles, like breakdancing for example, are very demanding on your body. I’m no dance pro, but I feel like learning how to do a head spin when you’re over 30 and without having dance experience, may be impossible. Similarly, becoming a top ballerina in your 40’s might not work out so well either. There is a certain expectation to be youthful, for the most part, for commercialized dancing for sure.

Outside of the commercial dance world though, and I mean the “dance just for fun” world, I don’t think there’s any age limit. For me, without any previous dance experience, I’m still able to find tons of fulfillment and enjoyment learning Hustle.

What made you choose hustle dance as a new activity?

It’s really all about the community for me. It’s all about sharing what we are good at and celebrating each other’s strengths. We appreciate everyone’s uniqueness and enjoy growing together. I have to admit, I was a little intimidated by more advanced dancers when I started, but that’s just part of life. We’ll always encounter situations that make us feel insecure or “not worthy,” but at the end of the day, you have to take that step, suck it up and do it. Each time I do that at a dance, I’m building more confidence in myself for trying all kinds of things and taking bigger risks, not just in dance, but in life in general.

Reuben killin’ it on trumpet 😉

Nicely said. I also like the way that what we can learn from dance can roll over into other areas of our lives.

Yes. And there are so many dance styles out there to choose from.  Regardless of your age, I think everyone should experience dancing. Some will find more fulfillment dancing solo, and some will enjoy partner dancing more. Whatever floats your boat, dance should always allow you to express something in yourself and exercise your creativity. I believe the only way to stay truly fulfilled is to stay creating…whatever that looks like for you.

It would be a shame if your friends didn’t try dancing because they feel too old.  Who’s to say it wouldn’t allow them to be more creative, fulfilled, and just feeling better about themselves all around!

I agree. Dance can contribute so much to a person’s life.

I think the assumption from most people would be that having a background as a musician would give you a bit of an ‘advantage’ in learning dance.  What is your experience in regards to this? How has your music background impacted your learning to dance?

I think my music background has definitely made learning Hustle easier than if I hadn’t had any musical background. At first, Hustle was tricky because the footwork goes to a 3-count, when all the music goes to 4-count. As such, the dance is always syncopated and seemingly off the rhythm. That said, it’s always on beat. Meaning every step happens with the pulse of the music. At first, I would always want to start moving on the first beat and stay in line with the music. But with time, I was able to learn to just feel the beat and step with that instead.

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This one kind of speaks for itself- with Reuben’s charismatic leap for music joy in the center.

And how has dance affected your being a musician?

Dance has affected my musician life by giving me a whole new set of priorities. I have fallen in love with Hustle and want to see this dance grow everywhere. The thing I love about it is that Hustle can be danced to contemporary music, making it very accessible to anyone, really. Unlike Salsa, Tango, Foxtrot or other ballroom styles that fit with very specific music genres, Hustle can be paired with just about anything you hear on the radio these days.

As a songwriter, it has given me more focus for my direction and sound. I want to write more music for my band The Phonix, and my overarching goal is that it be good music for hustling to. The dance just makes me feel so good, and I’d love for more people to experience that too.

Your enthusiasm for this dance can really be felt in your recent song “Work it Out” –which is actually about Hustle.  It’s fantastic! I’m assuming your cowriter and the other musicians don’t dance Hustle, though. So how did they connect to this idea that I’m assuming was yours initially? 

Every song comes alive in different ways. Some with longer roads than others. “Work It Out,” took over 15 months to finally be finished. And I can’t really say that my cowriter, or anyone in the band for that matter, “connects” with the idea of the song being about Hustle, but they still like it. I worked with our lead singer, Brandon Thornhill, to create the initial versions of the track. The first set of lyrics were a typical guy sees girl in club scenario. They were alright, but both of us felt that the lyrics needed a little “something.”

Brandon Thornhill (left), Reuben Avery (right) and the rest of The Phonix team (back)

Oh, I see. So it wasn’t actually about Hustle originally? You weren’t even learning the dance yet? 

No, I wasn’t. But about 6 months after our first write, and several versions later, I started dancing hustle.

Oh, wow! I had no idea that the song had begun before your dancing experience. 

Yes, but after a few more months of playing the track live with the band and getting more tired of the song and lyrics, I decided to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the music.  This time, I was very much writing with the end goal of this being a hustle worthy track. After updating the music and being happy with the result, I turned to the lyrics and completely rewrote them about hustle. I was just loving the dance so much that I thought, “How cool if we could have a Vancouver-made Hustle anthem for our community here in Vancouver?!” I wasn’t sure it if would hit with everyone or not, but I figured I’d give it a shot.

A song about your favorite dance. Such a clever idea.  And it went over okay with your cowriter?

Brandon liked the rewrite of the lyrics as well as all the musical changes, so that was enough to put the song forward to the band to get it to the press.

The Phonix- “Work It Out” Photo Shoot- Lookin’ sharp!

I think it takes a lot of patience and understanding to recognize that these kinds of projects take a lot of time to finally come to fruition.  Some people give up because they find that long term commitment into it a little daunting. What is it that keeps you motivated to continue growing these projects?

I’ve heard it said that you have to write ten songs to get one good one. And then once you’ve got one good one, you have to rewrite it at least seven times to get it right.  I believe we were on the seventh or eighth version of the song “Work it Out” at one point. And then, on my own, I took the music from that back to the drawing board and changed almost everything except the bass line. Then I rewrote the lyrics with the Hustle theme.

With that in mind, being patient and enjoying the ride is really important. At the end of the day, with both music and dance, I think the point is just to have fun. I try not to make songwriting any different in that regard. Have fun with it. Laugh it off when you create something you think is crap. Just keep going. Even crappy songs may have ideas in them that you can harvest for a masterpiece later. Nothing is ever wasted. Be willing to suck and find partners that don’t mind sucking with you (smiles).

Brandon (left), Jackie (middle), Reuben (right)

What do you look for in songwriting partners?

With songwriting, each song involves a varying process. Everyone I have worked with has different strengths, a different timeline and different work ethic. I think with collaboration, for me, it’s just important to find partners that are excited to write. Attitude is everything to me.  Plus, I am lucky to already have such a great band to put this together with.

Are we going to be seeing more originals by you and the band in the future? 

Oh, yes! I’m working on several songs as we speak. And The Phonix has three more tracks that will be coming out at various intervals throughout the summer. So you can stay tuned though our Facebook page and all social media for those releases. Much more funky dance music is on the way!

Yay! I’m really looking forward to hearing more of your music (smiles).

I also hope to have an album together by early 2018. It’s definitely where I want to focus my musical energy right now. I want to go places with the Phonix! Europe is definitely on my radar (smiles).

 

To hear more from Reuben and The Phonix live band:

The Phonix plays at the backstage lounge every other Thursday evening. 

Their complete live show list is on their website The Phonix

“Work It Out,” plus their future releases, will be

on Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube, and iTunes 

More links to “Work It Out”:

Work It Out – On Spotify

follow “Work It Out” on Spotify

“Work It Out” on Apple Music

Note: The Phonix is also on Patreon. One of the perks they offer is access to their “Songwriter’s Vault.” Reuben has documented, in detail, every version of “Work It Out” for anyone who is curious to see exactly how the song progressed from the idea in its infancy to a recorded track.

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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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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Joan- “When I’m dancing, I am untouchable…I become a moment … that will only happen once.”

joan de los reyes.3jpgFrom 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.

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Thank you VIS for connecting us even deeper to Celia Cruz and her music!

celia_cruz“You would give up your career if you lost your voice for good, or if the impresarios stopped calling, or the audiences stopped coming. But as long as those things are there, I don’t plan to stop. There is nothing that makes me feel better than to be with my public.”- Celia Cruz

Yesterday, I was running around trying to get too many things done, in what seemed like not enough time. And then I thought, what am thinking, heading downtown from North Vancouver during rush hour traffic to go see… a movie? Really?  The cars were at a standstill and my mind was telling me to turn back and just head home.  So I started slowing down but … I missed the first turn, and then couldn’t get myself to take the second for some reason.  It was as if something kept nudging me to keep going, even though I had no space to move forward to.  But somehow, I actually managed to get over to the Van City Theatre just in time to catch the screening of the Celia Cruz movie that the Vancouver International Salsafestival (VIS) were putting on. And boy, it was so worth the traffic I had to get through to get there.

What an inspiring way to start off the week of the festival.  Not only did the screening begin with an amazing promotional video for VIS- recapping some of the highlights of VIS over the past four years- but, I was blown away by the touching details about Cruz’s life and personality that I didn’t know before. Artists of many genres were commenting on the
legacy that Celia left behind.

Celia was described as “pure breath”, “born of rhythm,” and “possessing an energy that you couldn’t help but to be drawn to” by artists such as Quincy Jones, Eddie Torres, musicians connected to the Fania All Stars, and even modern artists such as Pitbull.  The way Celia captivated her audiences not just by her music, but also by her persona- her connection to people and her songs of happiness and positivity- shown in the movie, was a great reminder of how one person can have a huge influence on millions of people of all generations.

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Thank you VIS for continuing to give Celia an audience long after her life and passing on her legacy not just as an artist but as an inspiring woman in history.  This legendary artist lives on in many hearts all over the world, and I know that after what I learned from the movie last night, her music will carry an even deeper meaning to me and all those who came out to watch it and to dance a little before and after the screening!

Looking forward to more fantastic dancing, learning, and unforgettable memories this weekend at VIS!

Check out the site for tickets and schedules and the amazing line up of instructors and performers from all over the globe!  You don’t want to miss this.  It’s the last one!

Vancouver International Salsafestival

Reminiscing on Carlos Gardel – A Tango Photo Fantasy

I decided to pull out a few of my favourite photos that I took at the Carlos Gardel Show a few years back in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

“What makes the dancing different in Argentina, compared to here?” a few people asked me when I got back from my trip. “I mean, tango is tango, right?” they often commented, “Why did you have to go all the way there to dance it?”

The best way I can explain it is to say that yes, tango could be danced anywhere.  But it’s not just about the people and the movements and the dance.  It’s also the atmosphere that surrounds you when you’re there.  I felt as if even the walls in all those high ceilinged, old buildings at the milongas in Buenos Aires whispered secrets built up over so many years and years.  And they invite you to listen-  to become a part of those generations of secrets oozing through the walls as you stand in those very same spaces where it happened.  Dancing, observing others dance, and being intoxicated by the music in the city where it all began, it is hard not to get drawn in.  Even outside, despite the litter and pollution, there is something alive in the music on the streets, and faces of the Portenos who pass by (the people born and brought up in Buenos Aires).  It’s like a silent acknowledgement that they still carry somewhere with them the energy of their ancestors- that it has never really died. And in fact, tango seems to be what has helped it live on.

It was an amazing feeling, that I think only Buenos Aires, with all its history, passion and depth of stories, could stir up inside us and around us. And all of this gets brought back out through the dancing.

These photos from the Carlos Gardel Show help me to hold onto that feeling in my memory- a memory of how a dance- the Tango- drew me to a city that should have been completely foreign to me. But instead, it made me feel so at home, alive, and inspired.  And I still miss it and think of it often, even after all this time.

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“My goal is… just to make the world dance.” -Ryan Morrissette

“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, Ryan1would 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