I’ve heard so much about DJ Montuno and his music, and have often been tempted to travel to Montreal to experience his art first hand. Well, thankfully, he has been travelling quite a bit, even outside of his home city, and we were lucky enough to have him join us at VIS! It was a pleasure to find out a little about how he got into DJing and what he loves about it.
(Interview #2 of 5. To read interview #1- Giana and Nery- click here)
I walked into James’ and Alex’s cha cha workshop a little low in energy. I was tired and wasn’t sure I would make it through the class. But it turned out to be one of my favourite workshops because Alex and James were so fun. In fact, the combination of the music they chose, the playful choreography they put together for us, and their own charisma, made me forget about my sluggishness earlier. Instead, I found myself laughing and enjoying myself all the way through, and I also left reenergized!
I really enjoyed your cha cha workshop today. Is it one of your favorite dances? You seem to have a lot of fun with it.
James: More and more now, it almost seems like we prefer cha cha over salsa (smiles). And it helps that because of our cha cha performance, we are getting asked to do more and more cha cha workshops. You can play with the timing a little more. You can put your own routines together for it in a way that can be a bit more interesting and more unique than the regular old patterns. But really, we like both.
Alex: But the energy does often seem to be much higher in cha cha workshops. It’s fun. You can have a laugh with it. Cha cha is very loose. As long as you feel it, you can do whatever you want in it, really.
“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.
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!
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.
(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.
“When a dancer comes onstage, he is not just a blank slate that the choreographer has written on. Behind him he has all the decisions he has made in life… Each time, he has chosen, and in what he is onstage, you see the result of those choices. You are looking at the person he is, and the person who, at this point, he cannot help but be… Exceptional dancers, in my experience, are also exceptional people, people with an attitude toward life, a kind of quest, and an internal quality. They know who they are, and they show this to you, willingly.”
– Mikhail Baryshnikov