This weeks Dancer/Choreographer shout out goes to Leah Totten. Born and raised in smalltown Aylmer Quebec, Leah moved to Toronto a year ago hoping to expand her knowledge and experience within the dance industry. When she is not traveling, Leah teaches weekly drop-in classes and choreographs for Canadian events and music artists. She has worked across North America as a teacher with artistic directorship and choreography experience in over fifty studios, schools, dance institutions and hip hop crews, including Providence (Rhode Island), Harbour Dance Centre (Vancouver) and Debbie Reynolds Dance Studio (Los Angeles). Leah was also a chosen intern for Essence Dance Company (Gigi Torres) and was featured as “Become The Next” at Boogiezone University; a professional dance intensive where she taught alongside 50 of the industry’s best. Leah recently spent a month in Europe teaching 30+ workshops in London, Nottingham, Ireland, Scotland, Poland, Hungary and Romania. This young choreographer is always looking for ways to push the envelope and explore all sides of the ever-growing hip hop culture.
Bio provided by Leah
Find out what Leah had to say in this weeks shout out…
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Leah: I fell into dancing by accident at the age of 13. I used to be a total jock and played everything from soccer, volleyball, karate to rugby and many more. I also figure skated and my coach suggested I take a dance class to help with my posture and musicality.. I fell in love with it and the rest is history!
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to? (Or your earliest memory)
Leah: The first time i ever choreographed was in Grade 6 for a show and tell day. From what I can remember it was “Dirty Pop” by Nsync… and it was pretty terrible.
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Leah: To be honest, I’m not much of a freestyler. It is something that I’ve recently really started working on.. so I’m not sure that I’m the one to be getting advice from! However, I do believe though the the more you practice and the more familiar you are with your body, your range of motion and dance vocabulary.. the easier it gets.
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Leah: For class, I usually decide to use songs that reflect how I’m feeling or represent something that I have been inspired by in real life. Even for projects which I don’t have the luxury of picking my music, I spend time just sitting, studying the the track and visualizing what I want to see come to reality. Once I’m ready to try it out, I usually need to be alone, to be chewing gum, and I always choreograph with headphones so i can hear all the hidden musicality in the song. I barely use a mirror anymore because we can get caught up in that. I just move and do what feels right.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Dance industry?
Leah: This is a tough question. I have been influenced and inspired by hundreds of different people throughout my travels in the past few years. I believe that every teacher or choreographer has a different purpose. One might be to encourage you to be the cleanest dancer you can be, while others will help you open your mind creatively through choreography and others may change your outlook on dance and art in general. Someone who has impacted me in refining my vision not only through her movement but her lifestyle, leadership ability and her business approach is Gigi Torres. I had the opportunity to work for her this summer in Los Angeles and it was an experience I will never forget.
Nikki: Name a Toronto Choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Leah: There are far too many brilliant choreographers in Toronto to name and it is an absolute honour to work with any of them 🙂
Nikki: Name one of your favorite artists to work with and why? (Could be another Dancer, recording artist etc.)
Leah: I am not the type to single anyone out, and there truly are so many amazing people I’ve worked with. The beauty about dance is that we are all connected and united, regardless of where you live in the world. I was blessed to work with some phenomenal people throughout my tour in Europe in November and December. It is not an artist.. however, I can name my favorite place to work in Toronto: RightFoot Dance Studio. There is an amazing group of people there with such a supportive atmosphere and I feel so blessed to call that my Toronto home.
Nikki: Are you currently working on any projects?
Leah: Sometimes I feel like I have a little too much on the go haha! I have about 2-3 major shows per month booked already, alongside more North American and European workshop tours. There’s lots of traveling coming up in the next few months again, and I will be working with Chonique Sneed and Lisette Bustamante next month in NYC. Lastly, I will also be launching a company and an urban clothing line later this year.
Nikki: Qualities you think Toronto Dancers possess?
Leah: Everywhere I go, people always talk about this “Toronto swag” that we apparently have! I prefer to think that we have alot of heart, are ready to work hard and are strong individuals. I am so happy to call Toronto my new home!
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Leah: The number one thing that I would like to pass on is that (as cliche as it may sound), you truly CAN accomplish anything you set your mind to if you work hard enough. It is definitely not easy and you will face challenges along the way, but it is ultimately worth it. The most urgent question is: How bad do you want it? I still have so much to learn and I don’t particularly feel deserving of being featured beside so many amazing dancers, teachers and choreographers on this post… However, I have been blessed with opportunities that I once thought were completely unattainable and even impossible, which means that you can make it happen too! In sum: 1) Figure out what you want to do/accomplish 2) Put it out into the universe (talk about it, write it down etc) 3) Map out what steps you need to take in order to make it happen 4) Go for it full force! Anything is possible 🙂
THANK YOU LEAH FOR SHARING YOUR LOVE AND PASSION WITH T.D.O.T. XO