Death Brings Life to Life

Death Brings Life to Life

In Loving Memory of Julia Franco November 7, 1957- August 25, 2014

© grier cooper, 2014

This week I lost one of my best friends. Julia had been in my life for twenty years. This is the first time I’ve had a friend die and felt the surge of feelings in the aftershock. On the one hand I miss my friend dearly—she was family to me—and yet I feel her all around me. In the days since her death we’ve had piles of friends come to visit, share stories and help support one another. We’ve talked about the way that death brings life to life…how life feels all the more precious after someone passes away.

These types of gatherings were the most important thing to her, really what she lived for, and when I see “her people” I am reminded of her because we have become connected through her. I am certain that we carry our loved ones in our hearts after they are gone. They remain alive in our memories, our dreams, and the subtle ways they have influenced the people we are today.

When I went to bed the night of her death I asked for a sign that she was okay. I thought this might come in a dream but the moment I closed my eyes I saw her quite clearly in my mind and heard her voice say my name the way she said it when she was feeling extra happy.  I like to think that even though I can’t call her on the phone anymore I can still talk to her.

Science tells us that energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It has to go somewhere. Today I feel my friend’s love in the hearts of those who survived her, the explosion of color in my garden, the breeze blowing in the back door.



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The One Habit You Can’t Live Without

The One Habit You Can’t Live Without

I’ve noticed that my days work better when I begin with exercise. Maybe it’s a leftover habit from my time as a professional dancer (all those years of morning class) but there’s something about getting out there and getting my body moving that jump-starts my brain. An old boss once said he could always tell if I hadn’t gone to ballet class that day because there was a marked difference in my energy level.

photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira

These days I’m training for my first 5k (something I’d never thought I would do but my daughter talked me into it) so my morning routine is a run along the shoreline. When I run I feel connected to everything around me: crashing waves, birds swooping by, the blue (or grey) sky overhead. In those moments there is simply life and the sound of my breath.

When the sweat starts to flow I feel the cobwebs in the corners of my brain being swept away. Clearing out those corners makes room for something new. Those endorphins start flowing, creative juices start brewing, thoughts become looser. Something inside takes flight each time I push myself to run.

The feeling of a clear head and power coursing through my body is a freedom unlike any other.

Just like after the end of a ballet class, the post-exercise feeling is scrumptious; warm, yummy and rosy, like everything is right with the world. I remember this feeling on the days when I have to fight against laziness or the I-don’t-wannas. Once I overcome inertia and start moving it all starts flowing again.

Moving, breathing, sweating, this is how I connect to my Higher Power and my creative process. This has been true since my first grand jeté and it’s one habit I don’t ever plan on changing.


The latest neuroscience suggests exercise does more to bolster thinking than thinking does.

How exercise makes your brain grow.

Award-winning neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki discusses exercise and the brain at TEDxOrlando:


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Interview with Jhe Russell aka Rawzen

Interview with Jhe Russell aka Rawzen

There are many facets to Jhe Russell. Throughout his professional dance career he appeared  worldwide with a number of top dance companies, including the UK’s Northern Ballet, Bejart Ballet Lausanne, Boston Ballet, The National Ballet of Canada, Dance Theater of Harlem, Bucharest Opera and North Carolina Dance Theatre. Today he is making a name for himself as a Hip Hop recording artist and choreographer.

1. How did you get started in ballet?

When I was six I was fascinated by Super Man. I wanted to fly like him so I would wear my blanket as a cape and imagine that I could float across the sky. Later on I saw a commercial for Boston Ballet’s Don Quixote and I watched Rudolf Nureyev on the screen. I saw him jumping with no wires attached to him and I asked my mom to take me to see him dance. When I saw Nureyev dance with Boston Ballet I knew at that point that I wanted to fly through the grace of ballet.

2. When did you feel like you had reached the pinnacle of your career? Can you describe a favorite moment in dance?

The pinnacle of my career was when I got the chance to dance the lead role of Basilio in Don Quixote with The National Ballet of Canada. Don Quixote was the first ballet I saw and it was my dream to dance the lead role in that ballet.

3. You went from ballet to beatz. How you get involved with music? What was it that lead you to start creating music?

Hip Hop music was the canvas of my life outside of ballet. I was always mesmerized by the personality that oozed out of the art emceeing. An emcee stands for master of ceremonies and the most powerful aspect of the emcee is the creativity put into their lyrics. I was inspired by groups like Public Enemy, Krs-One, Run DMC, U.T.F.O and L.L. Cool J. I wrote my first rhyme when I was in grade eight but I found my true voice in Hip Hop from the art of freestyle rhyming. Freestyle rhyme is the ability to recite an unwritten rhyme at any given moment. When I was in the National Ballet School of Canada, my ability to freestyle brought me closer to the other students who were not familiar with Hip Hop culture. Unity, peace and having fun are the most important aspects of Hip Hop culture and those are the energies I like to project when I am emceeing.

4. “Tribute to Maurice Béjart” is one of your most popular videos and you were a dancer in his company. Why did you choose to make this song? Why Maurice Béjart?

The reason I chose Maurice Bejart for my musical tribute was because Maurice Bejart was all about bringing cultures together through dance. In the classical ballet world, dancers of a darker complexion tend to struggle for their place but at Bejart Ballet you see every race represented at the highest technical level. The hook of the Bejart tribute goes “We want more war but we need more peace, we want more dance but we need Maurice”. War in this case, stands for everything that has to do with ignorance. Racism, Religion, Money and natural resources are some of the issues that we go to war over every day. Unity and appreciating all cultures through music and dance can heal this world that is saturated with misogyny, homophobia, racism, greed and violence. Maurice’s name is used in my song to represent change and the continuation of pushing boundaries.

5. You have officially retired from dancing professionally. Can you share what the process of transitioning into new career pursuits has been like for you?

I am still trying to figure out my next move after retiring. I am currently looking to teach and choreograph for companies and schools. I have been blessed to have people around me who have helped me tremendously during my transition.

Tony 1730 – Jhe’s unique choreographic tribute to Tony Fabre and Nelson Mandela danced by Clelia Mercier

6. What is your vision for the future?

My vision for the future is to first appreciate every moment happening in this moment. I would like to one day have my own company where I can choreograph and showcase my Hip Hop music. Teaching workshops where I can educate young people through the art of rhyme and dance is also something I would like to accomplish.

You can help Jhe’s dream of having his own company come true by voting for his piece Tony1730, which has been selected for a choreography competition here.

7. What advice would you give to today’s young dancers?

My advice to young dancers is to never forget your ancestors. It is important to know who came before you in order to see after you. Use youtube to study the legends who did or are still doing what it is you want to do. Remember that technique is not the spirit of dance but that your personality is the spirit of dance. Dance was a form of celebration for the gods in ancient times and the spiritual power given to movement that is truly free is untouchable no matter what color, gender or size you are. Always remember that whoever you idolize is no different from you. Be humble and grateful for every opportunity you get. Make sure you form your own opinions because it is very easy to be influenced by other people’s perspectives. Absorb the energy that is being given outside of the world of dance so that you can become the physical voice of real life issues. Hip Hop means to be two things, Hip means to be aware and Hop means forming a movement that expresses your awareness. Be true Hip Hop and move with the knowledge that surrounds you and educate the ignorant.


Follow Jhe on Twitter:

Rawzen on

Download Rawzen’s Albums:
Harriet Tubman’s Attic –
Highly Focused –
The Poetic Variations (as Cum Laude The Anomaly) –

Rawzen on SoundCloud:


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Book Giveaway: “the impossible knife of memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson

Book Giveaway: “the impossible knife of memory” by Laurie Halse Anderson

If you are reading this there’s a good chance you are an avid reader and therefore, often in search of good books. Few things excite me more than finding a really superb book, one that really speaks to me. In turn, I love sharing that information with others, either through word-of-mouth or sites like Goodreads. This week on the blog I’ve decided to take things to the next level and do my first ever book giveaway.

What we have up for grabs is the impossible knife of memory by Laurie Halse Anderson. If you already know and love her work, then you’re in luck because this is her best yet. I’m very excited to share this book with the lucky winner. For anyone not in the know, her work has earned numerous national and state awards, as well as international recognition. Two of her books, Speak and Chains, were National Book Award finalists. Laurie was honored with the 2009 Margaret A. Edwards Award given by YALSA division of the American Library Association. She’s also an incredible speaker (as you’ll see if you check out the videos I posted below).

About the book:

For the past five years, Hayley Kincaid and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.


a Rafflecopter giveaway

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