By Juliette Chero

Photo Credit: Sorcha Augustine

She emerged in the midst of the studio swaying in her floral print dress as her Cuban-American hips and feet naturally spoke their native language. Her introduction captivated the minds of the guests, as she welcomed us into her world. Leymis Bolaños Wilmott, Founder/Artistic Director of Sarasota Contemporary Dance blessed us by sharing her journey from childhood to her newly acquired  “home” at the Voice and Visibility Salon Event on January 23rd.
           “When I dance I get to move my hips, my shoulders, and share a little bit about my culture” Leymis said. As the journey of the night continued, Leymis opened up about her parents’ story. She shared they were a part of “Operation: Pedro Pan”, when 14,000 unaccompanied minors came from Cuba to Miami in 1960-1962. “There was something amazing about the children that came, because at a very young age they had to preserve their culture, their language, the food.” For Leymis, this meant her childhood as a first-generation immigrant prided itself in her parents’ deeply rooted Cuban History. Throughout the night, Leymis often credited her parents for making her the woman she is today. She recounted childhood memories of her mother taking her to her first pub

Photo Credit: Barbara Williams

lic school dance audition and fighting for them to give her daughter a chance after she got denied because she didn’t fit the typical image of a dancer. Her mother’s persuasion paid off and they took a chance on the Latina girl that wore a tank top, cheerleading trunks and a messy bun to her first ballet audition.

Leymis was never able to attend a dance studio growing up because her parents couldn’t afford it. She received all her training through the public school system, and lessons at home dancing with her dad. “My dad was my first dance teacher, you’ve got to give credit where credit is due.” Ironically, Leymis now dances with her dad in the new Sarasota Contemporary Dance studio they just opened in the Rosemary District of Sarasota after 13 seasons of productions. They of course dance Salsa. This new studio space is no small feat for a leader in the Arts focused non-profit world raising two small kids. Since the public school system paved the way for her dance career, Leymis feels passionate about bringing dance to public schools, making sure everyone can get some exposure. Sarasota Contemporary Dance offers programs in several schools in Sarasota and Manatee County. They work with clients of all ages taking dance classes at the studio. She keeps unity as a guiding philosophy to her work, and makes sure that dance continues to bring people together no matter their culture, age, or limitation.

Photo Credit: Barbara Williams

    “Dance builds community, and it’s my calling, my family, my purpose, my community.” Building Community-that’s exactly what kind of magic happened in the Voice and Visibility studio last Wednesday. Without hesitation, Cuban Jazz compliments of Celia Cruz and Buena Vista Social Club began to permeate everyone’s bodies, and whether it was a foot tap or a full salsa turn, nobody in that room stayed seated. Leymis had everyone following her steps while allowing their natural flow to kick in. The guests consisted of  many powerful, diverse, women like Leymis who briefly shared their journeys earlier in the night. Some intertwined and others worlds apart but as the music got louder, these differences faded away and only the rhythm of each song mattered. That night everyone was a dancer. We learned to speak another type of language. A language that Leymis is so fluent in, and intimately shared with us. “When I dance its pure joy. I tell stories of past and future. Movement is how I speak, movement is how I push… Dance can look like so many different things: it can be walking, it can be speaking with my hands like I do because you know I’m Cubana Americana, and it can be stillness, there’s power in stillness.”

Sarasota Contemporary Dance, Photo Credit: Sorcha Augustine

Thank you Leymis for your gift of Dance, Community Building, and Leadership! We are thankful to have you in the Voice and Visibility Women’s Network!

See Photos from Leymis’ presentation captured by Daniel Perales here.

We premiered our second Multicultural Art Exhibit, “The Journey” this month and showcased the art of two talented local artists: Karen Arango and Maxine Lang. Below they share their inspirations:

“The images I submitted for this exhibit in some way represent my journey as a photographer along with the experiences, and stories I have encountered. I realized that a lot of my work is of women or about women, and I believe that is because I am always looking for the femininity in my life since I was raised by a single mother.”
-Karen Arango

Hope, by Karen Arango



“My process is very intuitive, so I did not begin with the me-too movement in mind. “Breaking Silence” began with nothing in mind… Making some marks on the canvas, painting to music. As the layers grew, I began to see the marks that would form the painting- a breast, a face, etc. I continued from there, using a 1950’s women’s medical encyclopedia as collage pieces for the face. As I reflected on the woman’s body diagrams, I thought about how society has viewed and treated women from then (1950) to now. “Breaking Silence” was born.
-Maxine Lang


Breaking Silence, by Maxine Lang



We are off to a strong start in 2019 Elevating Voices, Expanding Networks, and preparing for the expansion of the Voice and Visibility Women’s Network! We are producing 4 more Voice and Visibility Salon Activation Events this Winter/Spring in our Burns Court Studio (Vickie Oldham 2/20, Vanessa Opstal 3/20, Tomeika Hunter Koski 4/24, Umbreen Khalidi-Majeed 5/17). We’ve begun filming for the Voice and Visibility Video Series that will bring you more stories of women in the community in collaboration with some rock star filmmakers!  In the coming weeks, we’ll announce a larger, very exciting Voice and Visibility Women’s Event that is going to Elevate our Investing in Women Platform to a whole new level. Our phenomenal network of diverse, professional women come from the non profit, arts, business/corporate and entrepreneurship sectors. They are multi-generational, and they inspire me. The connections and collaborations are just getting started. Themes of women seeking access to increased economic, professional and leadership opportunities, wellness resources and FUN continue to inform our path! 

I’m pleased to introduce Ashley and Juliette, who have joined my team, and get things done!

Ashley Salmons, SRP, LLC Production Coordinator (left), Juliette Chero, SRP, LLC Intern (right)



I leave you with this question from the incredible poet Mary Oliver:

I plan to Dance, and work towards building a more inclusive Community!

Here’s to Progress,

We’d like to thank our local sponsors:


*To inquire about event and media production sponsorship opportunities, please contact: Ashley@shannonrohrerphillips.com

Recommended Posts