Axé and Dream Big Casting’s Dan Velez


BrittaniNoel-THP-9956_ppAxé (ah-sheh):
This is a powerful word in Capoeira that carries a kind of mystical aura. It can most closely be described as energy or life force.

Sometimes when two Capoeiristas play in a roda (circle of people), they connect with each other in a way that creates a chemistry that radiates to all their surrounding players. This electricity in the air not only heightens everyone’s game, it invigorates their spirits. When these moments occur, people will say there was really great axé. In this example, axé is easy to recognize- you can actually feel when you are witnessing a game that is firing on all cylinders.

Cut to Professora Pavao’s class: We’re working on our “balanca,” which seems to me quite simple. It’s a back and forth swing between movements, a sweeping pendulumlike motion with the arms. Easy enough. Or was it? Most of us were just swingin’ our arms back and forth, wondering (or at least I was) why we’re so focused on what looks to be a decidedly easy move. The reason, it turns out, is that most of us were doing it without “dende.” Dende quite literally is the Portuguese word for palm kernel oil used in recipes that has a very distinctive and rich taste. So when Professora was explaining that we were lacking “dende,” she meant we were lacking flavor. We weren’t expressing ourselves through the move. We weren’t putting our essence, our personality, our passion into it.

It was through a recent tragedy that I realized the true importance and magnitude of this…

As many of you might have heard- Dan Velez from Dream Big Casting at Space Station Studios- unexpectedly passed away at the end of last month. I was stunned. He was so young, so full of life. I was introduced to Dan a few years ago when he cast me in my first role in a feature film, This is Who I Am. From the initial audition, his zest for life and for the art of creating was palpable. He was so invested in the process that he actually spent a lot of time on set during the shoot. I was struggling with a scene one day and he went out of his way to give me a little private coaching session. He concluded with a genuine heart-to-heart in which he told me, “You were cast for a reason. You wouldn’t be here if we didn’t believe you could do it.” I went through a mindset shift after our exchange that helped to elevate my energy and everyone else’s. I was so impressed by Dan that I was excited to take a couple of his acting workshops at Dream Big Casting. I wanted to get more of his insight and soak in that energy. He conducted his class with personalized attention, took the time to respond thoughtfully to actor emails, and was always excited. Anytime I would see him at his casting studios, even when I was in for someone else’s session, he would pop by to say hello and have a chat. Since his passing, I’ve read countless accounts that were similar to mine, echoing that Dan exuded a love and a point of view that was infectious. He moved people in a big way. Dan was full of axé.

As I reflect on how fully Dan lived his life, I’ve become aware that I often find myself just going through the motions. Mechanically. I committed to a tough career for the sake of choosing a meaningful path, one of creation, connection, expression, and inspiration, yet the day-to-day pursuit of that can sometimes feel like a hamster wheel. A tedious, humdrum hamster wheel. Maybe it’s because I’m looking at these “simple” actions like I was looking at the “balanca.” I need to remind myself that no matter how big or small I view my task- whether cooking a meal, sending an email, having a coffee meeting or taking on an acting role- it is about finding the ways to do it all with passion, always mixing in a dash of “dende.” It is vital to take on all these moments as opportunities to engage more fully because these are the moments that make up our lives. Life is too short to wait.

I recently watched a documentary on Capoeira Brasil LA where Mestre Boneco describes axé as “what makes Capoeira breathe.” Professora Pavao elaborates, “without it, you have movement and sounds, with it you have the soul and life force of Capoeira.” Pretty powerful, right?

Want to help honor and continue Dan Velez’ legacy? Click HERE.


Are you living your life with purpose and passion? What actions are you taking to do humdrum with more pizzaz? How can you cultivate more axé in your life to enrich your experience and the experiences of those around you? I’d love to hear your thoughts!