The Story of ComMotion

ComMotion was founded in 2018 by a cancer survivor and disabled veteran who found health and happiness through learning to dance and wanted to give that same opportunity to others in need. The organization has been steadily growing and since 2018 has taught hundreds of movement programs for more than 35,000 people of all ages and abilities, including military veterans, cancer survivors, seniors, kids, and people with disabilities. We have had students from preschool age to over 100 years old, and with a wide range of physical and cognitive abilities.

ComMotion is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in North Carolina.
We teach in-person and online classes across the country.

Commotion word cloud 2 7Feb2022

Presentations & Speaking Engagements


  • Presenters, NC Assistive Technology Program AT For All webinar, May 2024


  • Presenters, American Therapeutic Recreation Association (ATRA) Town Hall, November 2023
  • Lecturer, Universidad Mayor de San Andres (UMSA) College of Kinesiology & Physical Therapy and College of Medicine, La Paz, Bolivia, September 2023
  • Keynote Speaker, Upper Coastal Plain Area Agency on Aging 2023 Aging Conference, June 2023
  • Presenters, Upper Coastal Plain Area Agency on Aging
    Regional Aging Advisory Committee, May 2023
  • Presenters, Barton College Dementia Caregivers Conference, March 2023


  • Co-Host, Adaptive Dance Series for All, June 2022
  • Workshop Presenter, NC Center for Afterschool Programs Synergy Conference, April 2022
  • Webinar Presenter, Kennedy Center School and Community Programs Department, April 2022
  • Presenter, Alumni TIES “Shaping Our Future Together: Grassroots Mobilization and Authentic Community Engagement”, March 2022
  • Webinar Presenter, Engaging Virtual Learners as a Teaching Artist, March 2022
  • Presenter, See Me at the Smithsonian, February 2022


  • Workshop Presenter, 2021 Blaze Sports National Parasport Conference, October 2021
  • Workshop Presenter, 2021 Move United Education Conference, May 2021
  • Co-Host, Adaptive Dance Series for All, May 2021
  • Presenter, Lung Cancer Initiative of North Carolina, May 2021
  • Featured Presenter, Young Leaders of the Americas Initiative Closing Forum, April 2021
  • Master Class, NC Central University, April 2021
  • Presenter, Greenville Area Parkinson Society, April 2021


  • Presenter, Hearts Need Art, December 2020
  • Speaker, 2020 Caregivers Summit, October 2020
  • Presenter, National Organization of Arts & Health Annual Conference, October 2020
  • Featured workshop, Duke Cancer Institute Survivorship Day 2020
  • Guest Lecturers, Clemson University Recreation Therapy Department, April 2020
  • Panelist, Accessibility Training for Volunteers, Arts Access & Pinecone, March 2020


  • Dance and Movement for Everyone workshop, 2019 BlazeSports Institute Adaptive Sports & Recreation Southeast Conference
  • Featured speaker, Eisai
  • Presenter, Chatham County Senior Center Veteran’s Day 2019
  • Dance and Movement for Everyone workshop, Caregiver Summit Wake/Raleigh 2019
  • Demonstration, United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County Gala 2019
  • Featured speaker, “I Am” 2019 – Conversations that inspire women, Tryon Fine Arts Center
  • Presenter, Duke Cancer Center and UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center Survivor Days
  • Featured speaker, Wake County Health Department 2019
  • Keynote speaker, 2019 NC Extension Service Conference
  • 2019 Accessible Dance Workshop Panelist, Arts Access and Axis Dance Company


Dance and movement have been proven in numerous studies to have a variety of health and wellness benefits:

Key Staff


Andre Avila

Artistic Director

My passion is to make dance and integrative arts programs accessible to everyone. I am the owner of Rhythm Journey NC and an instructor for Wake Tech, the American Dance Festival's Parkinson's Movement Initiative, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Duke University.  I am certified to teach the American Dance Wheels Foundation Wheel One Bronze wheelchair ballroom syllabus, a National Exercise Trainers Association Pilates Mat Instructor and Senior Fitness Specialist, a Certified Adaptive Sports Coach, and a Dance for PD Stanley J. Wertheimer Fellow, and I have received special training in audio description for the visually impaired.  As the Artistic Director of ComMotion, my focus is to create adaptive and inclusive programs designed to improve the well-being of the participants. My journey with the arts started in my birthplace of Bogotá, Colombia where my ballet, jazz, and tap training began at the age of eight. Later, I expanded my repertoire to include South American folkdance and traditional Latin social dances. Training in rhythm and smooth ballroom dance began when I moved to the US in 2003. Since that time, I have taught and competed professionally with studios in Las Vegas, New York, Massachusetts, and North Carolina, specializing in rhythm and smooth ballroom with additional proficiencies in Argentine Tango, West Coast Swing, Hustle, Kizomba, and Flamenco.

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Rachel Ehtesham

Instructor & Operations Staff

Rachel fell in love with ballroom during a high school swing dance class. Her dance training continued at UNC-Chapel Hill, where she also received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. Rachel taught at A Step to Gold International Ballroom for 5 years. As an instructor for ComMotion since 2016, she loves seeing the joy that dancing brings to the lives of new dancers.

Sloka Iyengar

Sloka Iyengar, PhD

Instructor & Operations Staff

Sloka is Neuroscientist & Dance Instructor, International science consultant, scientist & project manager.  She is an award-winning Bharatanatyam practitioner & performer with 20+ years of performing & teaching. She works in mental health & substance abuse areas (including the use of arts & dance to promote positive mental health), aging & palliative care & neurological disorders.


Mariana Occhiuzzi

Operations Staff

Mariana Occhiuzzi is a Musician, Artist in Health & Educator. Originally from Argentina, she currently resides in Chile. She earned a Graduate Certificate in Arts in Medicine from the University of Florida. She has a wide range of experience including facilitation of music & arts in hospitals for patients, families, & health workers, and design & development of workshops for healthcare workers. She is part of the Interdisciplinary Research Lab of the Center of Arts in Medicine.

Sandi Painter Headshot

Sandi Painter, LCSW


Sandi Painter has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 2009. She has over 25 years of experience working in high volume human service environments, including 13 years as a therapist in women’s health clinics. Her therapy approach is primarily based in Bowen Family Systems Theory, and also uses cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness practices. As a young adult, she learned to dance by participating in a community based African Caribbean dance company for almost 10 years, and found it therapeutic and fun! She enjoys participating in and sharing the gift of music and dance when given the opportunity. When she is not working, she enjoys traveling and spending time with her family, friends, and in nature.

Sarah Town

Sarah Town, PhD

Instructor & Operations Staff

Sarah is a musician, dancer, educator, and passionate advocate for inclusion, empowerment, and community building through music and movement. She is an avid participant in and researcher of Latin dance communities, particularly surrounding Cuban popular and social dance, and has earned the title of Instrutora within the Grupo Senzala de Capoeira. She holds a PhD in Musicology and Graduate Certificate in Latin American Studies from Princeton University and has decades of experience as an arts educator along with numerous publications and presentations for diverse audiences to her name. Sarah is thrilled to join ComMotion in their work to make movement activities healing and accessible for diverse populations and to build community through cultural exchange.

Monica Matthews

Monica Matthews


My name is Monica and I love many kinds of dancing. I have been clogging for over 20 years. I also enjoy many different folk dances such as contra dancing, square dancing, scottish dancing, english dancing and social ballroom and partner dancing. My favorite way to exercise is to music so I am happy to share easily accessible musical dance exercise classes to a variety of abilities and ages. I have a background in elementary and special education.

Professional Affiliations

Community Partner