Archive for the ‘Dance’ Category

on making movement (& your life) your own.

We all live in shadows.

Of other people,

of expectations from others

– as well as ourselves.

As we get older these shadows become less prominent, because we begin to understand ourselves, and allow ourselves to shine just a little bit brighter.

I think understanding ourselves is one of those hard journeys that will pretty much take our entire lifetime. Really, I don’t think there is a person out there who can say “Yep, I have myself all figured out, there’s no need for soul searching here.” Some may be far closer than others, but I really don’t think anyone has it (or themselves) all figured out every single moment. And if someone claims that they do, I have a natural tendancy to believe that they simply don’t want to dig deep. Cause there’s probably more under that surface.

And I understand that tendency – I mean, it’s scary in there.

Who knows what one may find?? Deep hidden fears? Expectations? Doubts?


We usually start this journey as a teenager. Trying to learn independence while still technically under our parent’s wing, we start to express ourselves in various ways. We rebel. We challenge. We start fighting for things because we need to learn how to stand on our own two feet. This is vital to the growth of a person because this is when we start to hear our own voice.

Of course, this time in a parent’s life is hell. But they probably put their own parents through the same thing once upon a time. ;)

This voice that we begin to hear is usually extremely faint when we’re a teenager.  After growing up and being told what to do, it’s disconcerting to hear another voice deep down within. Especially if that voice is saying something very different than what others are saying.

When we did this session, Elizabeth was towards the end of her senior year in high school. She was on the cusp of a new chapter of her life.

Like anyone at that time in their lives, we look to the future as well as where we are now. Who we were is soon to be gone, as this is the point we gain independence and the power to start following our own paths. The key in following the right path, is following your own path.

Even as adults who have been out of high school for a long time, following our own paths is still a hard thing to do. Going down a well worn path by others is a far easier thing. We know what to expect, we have already seen the results. But the problem with following a path someone else has already done or dictated for you is that you own none of it.

Elizabeth is certainly someone who has grown up with dance all her life. The thing about dance — especially at a young age — is that it’s not always about self-expression. It’s about technique. It’s about looking good. It’s about doing what’s right and proper. Each move you make? It’s not necessarily your own. It’s being critiqued by your instructors, compared by your peers, and constantly being scrutinized – especially by you. The way to get out of this cycle? Is to take charge of your movement. And to take charge is to fuse yourself into every single move. Own it. Own what you love. Own what comes naturally to you. Because then only do you have power.

For Elizabeth, that seemed to be when we combined dance along with singing. Elizabeth expressed to me that she loves to sing, and has a voice identical to Taylor Swift’s (she really does). But she seemed a bit shy about it, like she wasn’t quite ready to announce that to people. After all, most people knew her as a dancer (or at least, that is how I knew of her), so to go in another direction may have felt a bit rebellious and wrong.

But at the same time, like I was saying, to own our movement, to own our lives, we must own up to the things we truly love, and not the things that other people have predetermined for us. Or — even what we have predetermined for ourselves because we think that’s what we should be doing.

I know not everyone feels this way, but I am a person who fully believes in living a life that aligns with our own heart — even if it completely goes against convention, even if others may disagree with it. As long as we are not harming others, as long as we fully understand the choices we are making, we should not be afraid to live the life that we truly want for ourselves. To me, any other life would be a life half-lived.

When we walked away from the session, Elizabeth made the comment that dance felt more like hers again. Dance should always be hers. Her life should always be hers. No one else should dictate it, ever. When you’re a teenager, or even in college, it may be harder to call your own shots because you are still under your parents rule. But that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t carve out as much of themselves in each part of their lives as possible. It could start with something as simple as owning up to what you love in life — be it dance, be it singing or be it anything else.

We weren’t put on their earth to be robots, to follow others paths, or even follow paths that others have laid out for us. Especially if those paths aren’t aligned with things that we love. Because if we don’t love these things, then why are we doing them?

This is your life —- make your own path — & own it.

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past dancers: kristine domingoshannon leith | kyle filley | mathew paul chounlamontry | melissa sanchez | tiffany kadani | emily pepper

on what life gives you, & what you make of it.

Life isn’t always fair, and this is something I think we all know and have heard time and time again over our lives. We  have dreams, aspirations, and plans, and then life throws you a curve ball.

But it’s what you do with that curve ball that matters.

Kristine is someone I’ve known for a few years now, meeting her before I started this project. Earlier this year, she sent me one of the most touching emails I have ever gotten regarding herself, and being a dancer.

She expressed to me that she wanted to be a part of this dance project and proceeded to tell me her story & why.

Her whole life, she grew up dancing. It was in her soul, it was ingrained in her. It was her world. She danced in companies, performed, & taught others. She had aspirations of being a dance instructor and choreographer. She had dreams.

But in her early twenties, she began experiencing physical problems. After collapsing in a rehearsal, ER visits and doctor’s offices, she found that she had exercise induced anaphylaxis, which is basically an allergy to physical activity. For someone who’s life revolved around physical activity, that is devastating news.

So she changed her major and proceeded to move on in her life. She found the love of her life, got married, and started a beautiful family. So many wonderful things, but there is still that part of herself. That dancer’s soul. That she couldn’t access fully anymore. On top of that, one thing she told me was that she could see that her daughter was starting to dance, and she wanted to be able to share this part of herself if her daughter decided to pursue a life of dance. And what better way than to capture it in photographs.

Something I don’t necessarily touch on very much in these blog posts is the process I go through with these dancers before, during and after these sessions. I know when I talk about this project to people, specifically dancers, they think “Oh yes! I would love to get photos of me! And headshots!” or they think “Oh, I’ve done lots of photoshoots! I totally know what to expect!” There’s nothing wrong with thinking that —- but to say it boldly, these sessions are nothing like that. Nothing like a normal dance photo session at all. Even though they may even see the photos, and realize that they are different, they don’t realize why they’re different.

The reason why is because I dig. A lot. These sessions aren’t for people who just want pretty pictures of themselves dancing. These photos aren’t photos that are to show off technique or all the training they’ve done. If anything, these photos are merely a byproduct of something else, and that something else is the entire experience of the session.

These sessions are for people who want to change their life.

That’s a bold statement, I know. How can a dance photo session change their life? There are so very many layers to it, that it’s hard to fully explain in one blog post. Plus, I much rather enjoy telling people in person anyway. But the gist of it is this. I aim to create a space. A space for dancers. To be themselves, to move. I am not here to judge. I am only here to document. And draw out. Because one thing every dancer (and person) can benefit from is being fully themselves, and not being ashamed of it. Not apologizing for it. And owning it.

During Kristine’s session, there were many layers that I believe peeled away. She grieved the fact that she could no longer dance the way she used to. It was a powerful thing, because she never really gave herself the chance to before. But once that grieving process came through and peeled away, something new came up.

& that newness — that layer, was Kristine — here & now.

She blossomed like a flower before me. It was kind of amazing to watch, actually. From my end, I saw that sadness she first had transform into something else, something more powerful. And that something was letting go of the past, the ideas we hold on to, and instead, embracing where we are now.

Once I saw that happened, the quality of her movement completely changed. She danced with purpose, embracing every extension that she felt. This was her, here and now.

On top of that, she told me afterwards that she had borderline agoraphobia, and I was FLOORED. She didn’t like going outside very much, much less running around in fields and dancing in ponds. I was like, WHAT?! She certainly had me fooled! She didn’t show it one bit. When I mentioned that to her, she told me that she told herself ahead of time that she would completely trust me and do what I asked, even if that included going into water, and grass where unknown creatures lurk!

I was amazed, first at her bravery, and secondly at how much she really trusted me. That I think is such a key point of these sessions, full trust. It’s a give and take. In photo sessions in general, there needs to be full trust on both sides, but in these sessions, it is of the upmost importance for the progression of the experience. Without it, I don’t think anything of value would be accomplished. So I am always deeply honored when I do these sessions, because I know full trust is there, and I appreciate that so much.

I was so incredibly proud of Kristine after this shoot, for so many reasons. She broke through barriers, climbed over inner walls, and embraced herself. She took the curveball life gave her and made it into a home run. I watched the whole thing unfold in front of me, through her movement, more than her words. And I’m grateful she chose to share her story with me, and transform her life.

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Sometimes when I talk to people about this project, they have commented to me: “I wish I was a dancer so I could be a part of your project!” I must say this — while I photograph mostly people who have danced most of their lives, this is not solely what this is all about and who this is for. There is a reason why I title this project the way I do. Movement from Within: a Dancer’s Soul. I fully believe there are people out there — and I also honestly believe it’s the majority of people — who feel compelled to move. To dance. For various reasons, they may not be immersed in it like others are. But it doesn’t mean they don’t want to. I say this because this is exactly what I feel. I completely understand that feeling, because I have the same one myself. That feeling, that desire to move, comes from deep within. It’s a guttural, instinctual thing. As we get older, we may squash it, and think that we are too old, and there’s no use to even try. But let me tell you, that feeling, eats at you. Because you’re not being fully yourself. You’re not letting that part of you out, that dancer’s soul that is waiting anxiously to leap out of you! And that can be destructive, and can eat at other parts of your life.

So I am here to say this. Even if you don’t feel like you are a “dancer,” know that these sessions are for you if you simply feel like you HAVE TO MOVE. When a great song comes on, you can’t help but move your feet. When you watch others dance, you are entranced. You entertain thoughts of taking classes, or maybe even have thought once in your life that you wish you knew how to “dance like that.” You have a dancer’s soul, and you have to let it out.

So let it out. Cause what can happen can only change your life for the better. :)

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past dancers: alyssa kinnearshannon leith | kyle filley | mathew paul chounlamontry | melissa sanchez | tiffany kadani | emily pepper

If you are interested in a session, please send me an email. :)

on moving to that music in your soul & showing that to the world.

Ever have those moments where you just want to break out into dance? Especially in a public place?

I often get those moments, especially in airport terminals, when I’m listening to music while I am waiting for my flight, and I just get the urge to move. Or in grocery stores, when a great song comes on, and no one is in the aisle, you might actually find me prancing down one. ;)

But the thing is, most of us (me included), usually don’t act on these impulses. We don’t want to look stupid in front of others, or get funny stares. We don’t want to draw attention to the fact that we really want to let ourselves go in that moment, and shine.

During my shoot with Alyssa, I watched her as she shared herself through movement on the Oceanside Pier. People came and went and passed by, some people stared, some people stopped to watch. Some people simply walked by without batting an eye.

Dancing in such a public place is certainly much easier when you have the excuse of doing a photoshoot. You have something to fall back on — it feels less silly to do than if you had just suddenly decided to dance on the pier for no reason in particular.

While we were dancing and taking photos, two young men came up to us, and just began asking questions. What we were doing? What was the purpose? The best answer I could give them?

Because we wanted to.

Sometimes when it comes to doing things from your soul, that’s the only answer you need. Because we want to. Because we feel compelled to. What better reason is there? Obviously doing such things is within reason — we don’t want to hurt anyone, for one thing. But does it hurt anyone to just break out into dance, especially if your soul wants it? Certainly not. If anything, it touches people.

When those moments happen, I believe they help us feel alive. Movement from within, at it’s purest form. During Alyssa’s session, I noticed that she loved to move to funkier music, but she would probably side with more ballet & contemporary/lyrical/modern styles if you asked her. I encouraged her to express and get in touch with this funkier style, which clearly wanted to come out.

Maybe she didn’t feel like she was a funky enough girl to get down with that style, but who the hell cares? If it wants to come out, it should come out. And we should let it out. Because what comes out of that is pure energy, pure soul, and a feeling of pure aliveness. And that’s what I saw in her.

So we should all let it out. That funky, or fluid, or downright crazy movement that is dying to be shown to the world. Let it out, because the worst that could happen is that people see you.

So go, be seen.

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Obviously, it’s been some time since I’ve posted any dance photos — but be prepared, because you are going to experience an explosion very soon. I have been shooting a lot of these that I haven’t shared yet, and I feel that right now I am at the cusp of something very exciting with this project. I have no idea what is on that other side, but I know it’ll be amazing.


past dancers: shannon leithkyle filley | mathew paul chounlamontry | melissa sanchez | tiffany kadani | emily pepper

////////////// on shining & letting yourself be seen.

One thing I really believe about dance is that it’s for everyone. It doesn’t matter if you can or can’t dance, your body was meant to move. In particular, move to music. Move as an expression. Get connected with your body. Why do you think clubbing is so popular? One could argue that dancing at clubs is a a courting ritual because it seems in many ways so sexual. But I don’t think that’s always the case. I think dancing to music is a really easy way to let go of any pent up emotions, and simply feel free.

& I think that everyone wants to feel free as much as they can.

Meet Shannon, a beautiful soul who discovered her love for dance only about two years ago. For nearly her entire life, she turned away from dancing, actually telling people that she didn’t dance. It wasn’t until about two years ago that she did The Artist’s Way, and realized that deep down, she actually had a dancer’s soul. & she could no longer ignore that. So she began to dance.

In many ways, Shannon is a fledgling, a baby bird. Getting to know her wings, getting to know her body in this new way. Experimenting, trying, and stretching her muscles. Often, with something this new, we will be cautious, and not let others in to our new venture. This new part of us. We don’t feel quite confident enough to let others in often because we fear their reaction. What if they ridicule us? What if I look silly or stupid? What if they don’t like it?

So we don’t let others in. We keep it to ourselves. The thing with that is that when we don’t let others in, we don’t let ourselves out. When a wall goes up to protect oneself, neither side can connect to one another.

For the first half of Shannon’s shoot, this is what we experienced. She would dance, but she would keep me out, so I couldn’t see her. It was if she was dancing in her own world, keeping it all to herself. While I understand the desire to do so, I also wanted to be included in the magic she was creating within herself. I wanted to connect, I wanted to listen to what she was saying — & I wanted to see her.

Specifically, I wanted to see her SHINE.

When I brought this up, I remember she looked at me — wide eyed. The thought of connecting to another person while dancing had never occurred to her. The thought that someone actually wanted to be included & listen to what she was saying surprised her. All art forms are born from communication & expression. Dance especially. It’s visual expression through your body.

For people with dancer’s souls, this is something that comes from deep within. And we have to let these emotions & feelings & movements out or we’ll feel stifled. It’s like not being able to talk, even though you have the vocal chords & ability to.

Dancing isn’t just about the lines that we can create, although they can be beautiful. It’s about the energy, the soul, the person deep within. You’re essentially sharing yourself with another person through the language of movement.

So I encouraged her, and reached out my hand to her. I wanted to see her, I wanted to feel her emotions, and I wanted to be there with her. More than anything, she deserved be seen, she deserved to SHINE.

Shannon is a beautiful soul and should to share herself & her spirit with the world. Not only as a photographer or a person, but as a dancer. Everyone should see her spirit through her movement, and go on that journey along with her. It deserves to be seen and it will allow her to connect with others in ways that may not be possible with simple speech or actions. This, is the power of dance.

Thank you for sharing, my lovely friend, I hope the world gets to see more of your dancer’s soul.

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The story of Shannon & I meeting & connecting is actually a special one. A couple of months ago, a stranger had told Shannon that she had a “dancer’s soul.” She wondered what that meant, so she went home to google it, and upon doing that, she found my blog & my dancer’s soul series & immediately connected with it. She sent me a lovely email, and I remember being so pleasantly surprised — I had actually been following her blog for some time. Funny how life works, doesn’t it? :) It’s as if the dance fates brought us together <3

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past dancers: kyle filleymathew paul chounlamontry | melissa sanchez | tiffany kadani | emily pepper

So thrilled to be a part of this month’s issue of Riviera San Diego magazine! The image featured is one of my favorites from my dancer’s soul shoot with Mathew Paul Chounlamontry. I am beyond thrilled that I even got a chance to say a few words about the shoot & what these dance shoots are all about — an “artist’s statement” if you will. :) I am so glad people are responding to these images — it makes me want to go out and photograph more dancers!

You can read the article online here.

/////////////////////// on expectations , becoming who you really are & moving with meaning

“You can’t perfect emotion.” — Kyle Filley

I think expectations are something we all battle with. Sometimes people will expect us to be & act a certain way, or look a certain way, or even have our plans & futures to be a certain way. Or these expectations can come from within. We expect ourselves to be perfect, to have it all together and figured out.

But that’s never the reality is it?

Kyle is a dancer who is at the brink of his future. Initially, he was going to study medicine and become a doctor, but about a year ago he decided that no, that’s not what he really wants to be — at least not right now.

Instead, he wants to pursue what he loves, and that is a career in dance.

That’s not an easy decision to make. Especially if expectation comes into play. It can be external expectations from others, or perhaps expectations that comes from ourselves. Shouldn’t we pursue something that gives us security? Shouldn’t we be selfless? Shouldn’t we do things for the greater good — or for “the long run”?

The thing is, I wholeheartedly believe that if everyone were pursuing what they truly loved, then it would be for the greater good because everyone would simply be happier & more fulfilled.

When I first found out that Kyle was going to pursue dance professionally, I was thrilled. Ecstatic, even. At the time, I barely knew him, really — I only knew of him because I would see him around our dance studio. I would really only get to see him dance at the yearly recitals. I always thought he was a lovely dancer, but it wasn’t until his final recital year as a senior that I saw everything change. When he got on stage, it was as if he was pouring himself into what he was doing — every moment, every extension had meaning for him. It was as if he was becoming who he truly was.

And that was a dancer.

I think it’s a special thing when people realize what they truly want in life, and where they want to go. Screw expectations, this a passion, a desire. Something that simple cannot be extinguished with time. I’ve seen it time and time again, even with my own self. It’s a brave, brave thing to admit it, and move towards it. Especially if you have fears about it, especially if you have doubts. Especially if you have voices in your head saying “Shouldn’t you be doing ______ instead? What will others think??”

That’s when you say: “No, this is who I am.”

Own it.

I’ve said it before, but dance is not always about technique, especially when it comes to expressing ourselves. My favorite moment during the entire session was when I asked Kyle to dance through a strong emotion — & for him that was frustration. Namely, frustration tied with expectation. During that part, I saw him moving through emotion, and the energy that was coming from him was palpable. This is one of the things I truly love about dance — when you see the other person conversing with you, through only movement & energy. Because where the energy is, that’s where the meaning is. Where the emotion is. Even when the emotion is one that isn’t pleasant to deal with, like frustration. Moving to it is often a way for us to deal with it, to express it, to put it out into the world.

Which is why I am so thrilled that Kyle is doing something that allows him to express himself through movement, which I think for many people who love dance simply need. We need to talk in another language. And that language is dance. I am also happy that he recognized what he needed to find his bliss in the world, and to keep doing it. I think too often we let expectations get in the way of us doing what we truly love, and becoming who we truly are and doing what we truly need. We let other forces dictate how we should be living our lives, when really, we should take control and say no, this is who we really are. And own it. Be proud of it. Because that is you.

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Wardrobe styling by Susan Yee

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past dancers: mathew paul chounlamontrymelissa sanchez | tiffany kadani | emily pepper