Dancing just comes naturally

Rather than hurt his disease, the dancing helps Ryan Morrisette battle cystic fibrosis.

Ryan Morrissette first turned to dance to escape trials of living with cystic fibrosis.

Ryan Morrissette first turned to dance to escape trials of living with cystic fibrosis.

Ryan Morrissette dances every day.

As part of the dance group Freshh, he practices the routine every day, alternating with extensive running for four hours.

Then he goes to the gym.

His routine is sandwiched by two daily doses of medication that involves nebulizers and more than 100 pills to help his cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that causes thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract.

“I naturally push myself harder because of the cystic fibrosis,” says Morrissette, 17. “But I don’t feel like I run out of breath faster than anyone else in the dance group.”

So goes the summer daily routine that Morrissette follows.

Freshh competes in the World Hip Hop Competition in Las Vegas this Saturday as the only Canadian team.

Rather than hurt his disease, the dancing helps the cystic fibrosis.

“Physical activity is good for it,” says Morrissette. “Cardio opens up your lungs. It makes you have to breathe big.”

Morrissette’s mother Teresa, co-owner of Dance FX, put him in dance lessons after he was diagnosed at age two. She thought he would move on to another type of physical activity as he grew older.

“We’ve definitely noticed a big change with the dancing,” says Morrissette’s father, Claude. “We’re hyper-sensitive to any change in Ryan. He’s really gotten stronger and healthier as a result of the dancing.”

Ryan Morrissette took to the performance art immediately, trying his feet at everything offered at Dance FX, from ballet to jazz to tap. He discovered hip hop at 10 and has focused his energy towards that dance form for the past seven years.

Besides dancing with Freshh, Morrissette also performs solo under the name B-Boy Electrick – a fitting name for someone who emanates unbridled energy and passion.

“It’s the only place I feel at home,” says Morrissette, pushing his shaggy hair away from his eyes. “When I’m dancing, I feel like I don’t have the disease. I can be me. No one gets in my way. On stage is where I’m meant to be.”

Sitting on the couch in his family’s living room, Morrissette dresses in black skinny pants and a hooded V-neck. At around 5’10”, it’s hard to imagine that the lean, healthy-looking teenager suffers from any physical ailments.

But as a young child, this was far from the case. For the first six years of his life, Morrissette was constantly in and out of the hospital, with arms that could barely lift himself.

“We were having a hard time there for a while,” says Morrissette’s father. “Especially before he was diagnosed. We just kept going to the hospital. We didn’t know what was wrong. We thought he could die any day.”

It’s a reality that Morrissette knows a little too well for a teenager. At the ages of three, five, then seven, he suffered violent bouts of pneumonia. Doctors doubted his survival after his organs began shutting down.

“The doctors didn’t think I would make it,” says Morrissette. “But my friends and family prayed and somehow I survived it. That’s where this comes from.”

He lifts his sleeve to reveal a black cross inked into the inside of his right forearm and travels about half way up. The points of the cross end in sharp blades, which has to do with the realization that friendships are a two-way road, or a double-edged sword, according to Morrissette.

He says that as a younger child, the bitterness he felt about his disease was often taken out on his friends, pushing them away.

Wrapped around the cross are squiggles to indicate pulsing electricity, a nod to the dance and music that surrounds his life.

Dance really began to engulf him at 13, when he tried out for Freshh after meeting a fellow member, called Sevrin, at a dance convention.

Coached by Cezar Tantoco – an inspiration and mentor for Morrissette – Freshh became one of the best dance groups in the country. The group has won every competition it has entered this year, including the Canadian National Hip Hop Championship and World of Dance Grand Championship.

“When you’re performing in a group, you never run out of energy,” says Morrissette. “We just feed off each other. Everyone’s energy goes into you. Like during the torch relay at the Olympics, we just kept going and going, we were so pumped.”

Through the powers of YouTube, Freshh was invited to perform at the closing ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, which involved several smaller performances throughout the two weeks.

“That was pretty awesome,” he says with a smile of residual disbelief. “I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to be at the Olympics. We were the final performance at the closing ceremonies. And after watching them score that hockey goal, it just made the performance that much better.”

Morrissette continues his solo performances as well and assumes the role of teacher this August. After Las Vegas, he begins teaching an intermediate/advanced hip hop workshop at Dance FX the first week of August. True to form, he will continue his own dance work as well.

“When he’s performing, the only word I can think of to describe it is that he looks free,” says his father. “Content. It just seems so natural.”