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.
I 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.
“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
(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.
“Dance and Hip Hop have been my constant saving graces. Dance is the best way I can communicate. Hip Hop is the language that my soul speaks. The marriage of the two on the dance floor is where I feel most “myself”.
In my recent exploration of expressive art therapy, I have discovered even more about dance and movement and its ability to heal. Before I even knew what this therapy was, I was already doing it, without even realizing it. Spending countless hours alone in the studio in my own thoughts, I was expressing- through dance- what I cannot say in words.
The dance floor is my diary, my confessional, my haven.”
– Joan de los Reyes
“Dance- there are so many strengths to it, beyond the superficial, that people don’t know about. I think that dance is such an internal thing. I think it feeds the soul in such a way that it stems from this passion but also from our experiences. And the things that we’ve gone through, the things that we have on our minds, are pushed out and energized into the world through a movement. Sometimes I watch people perform, and you can tell they’ve really BEEN somewhere. And I don’t know where that somewhere is, and I don’t always NEED to know where that somewhere is. But you connect to those people because you can see how much their dancing is driven by something really deep and rich and powerful.”
– Marc Kimelman
(from her song Right to Be Wrong)
There could be so many things that Joss Stone is referring to here, but I’d like to say that it’s a perfect description of what a good dance, no, a great dance, makes me feel. I just had a few recently, after a very long time of being without that feeling. And even though it’s been a few days, the memory of them still makes me feel like I’m flying.
“Chaotic, kizomba may seem to the spectator, just like the Chaos Theory is to those who don’t understand life’s intricate connection. Chaos is the domain where instability is the rule, the absence of predictable patterns and connections. But the elements of existence, things that some people view as chaos actually follow the inconspicuous laws of the universe…the function of music, in this case kizomba is to release us from the tyranny of conscious thought, to release the self, the seemingly isolated solid individual into the connective vibration of the heart. Dancing kizomba with the feet might be magnificent, but dancing with the heart is an enlightening spiritual experience.