“It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.”
At first, the thought of how my life has drastically changed in the last few weeks shocked and scared me. I just kept asking myself “Why is everything happening at once”? Then my manager, Decio, and I held a reasoning, in which we realized that all of the seeds we had sown through dirt, sweat and blood were finally starting to flourish. After a year and a half, and five tours that have taken me through Europe, Russia, UK and South America, good and bad decisions… it’s all starting to come together. And I’m ready!
Right now I’m on my fifth world tour teaching dancehall workshops in recently former communist and Soviet countries—places filled with people that have never been to the Caribbean, heard of dancehall, or even met or seen a black person a day in their entire lives. I’ve been to countries where I spent the whole night in the club taking photos with every partygoer, not because they know who I am, but because I am Black. “Can I take a photo with you please? I’ve never met a Black person. Do you know Jay-Z?” Really. Those interactions make me realize why spreading dancehall and Caribbean culture around the world has been the greatest decision I’ve made in my life.
The past few weeks have truly been life changing. I recently returned to Europe from teaching dancehall workshops for one week in Argentina, my first time in South America. I then flew to Siberia, for my second visit to that country, to teach several hundred people with Adam Sevani and Madd Chadd from the Step Up movie series.
For weeks, I’d received videos and photos of the crazy promotion behind the event, called “Siberian Dance Vertex.” We were being advertised in television commercials and movie theater previews throughout Siberia, written up in multiple magazines, featured in billboards. I was the only one representing dancehall for the weekend, and I was proud to be introducing it to hundreds of people.
I met up with Adam and Chadd in the airport in Moscow, where we all had a layover together before flying to Krasnoyarsk, Siberia. We got to know each other fast—both are very humble and cool people. During the flight, the PA system announced, “the outside temperature in Krasnoyarsk is 35 degrees… BELOW.” None of us were ready for what was about to happen. I did not realize that you literally couldn’t comfortably breathe outside in minus 35 degrees. I took one breath and coughed and gasped for air! It was an experience which, breath after breath, cough after cough, made me realize where I was: Siberia. But then I also realized why… for dance! Through every experience, every flight and every class, I always take a second to appreciate the opportunity to travel around the world spreading dancehall culture and uniting people together. It’s not about one dancer, one dance crew or just dancehall. It’s about spreading love through dancehall, and changing the world through dance… one person and one country at a time.
A private van that took us to meet the organizers of the event, A Nice Day Dance Center, who provided us with full-length down coats. After a quick nap, it was time to open the event, and I was up first. After some stretches, I was ready to open up the biggest weekend in Siberia and the biggest weekend of my life. I made my first class an introduction to dancehall, going through a series of steps, history, knowledge, and explanation of dancehall. After 90 minutes of craziness on the stage, it was over! I was completely exhausted but completely fulfilled spiritually with the result. I had a young man approach me and tell me that he never danced dancehall a day in his life, but after my class he will! And that right there is the goal: To take dancehall to the world and introduce it into peoples’ lives.
I did a short interview for Siberian national news with sweat dripping down my forehead and then watched Adam’s class. He’s not only an amazing dancer but also a great teacher. His style is so raw and full of so much love and groove that my respect for him grew. It was his first time in Siberia and I was happy that his impact was loved. Madd Chadd, the human robot, is known for his amazingly realistic robotic style of dance. When Chadd dances, it is as if a robot is attempting to be human, and not the other way around. He’s a master of his craft, and the best at his style. His level of teaching and explanation of each body movement was unlike I’ve ever seen before. He broke down every movement and really gave people the dictionary they needed to work on their robotic styles. After 90 minutes of the robotic apocalypse, Chadd ended his class in an epic dance cypher to the 80’s hit, “Siberian Nights.” He looked at me smiling ear-to-ear because I begged him to play it the morning at the hotel. I didn’t realize he planned all along to play it. He even called me out and I did ‘The Worm’ for the students. The first day of classes was a huge success.
Later that night, Chadd and I performed at a club, where we were escorted by private security because there were hundreds, maybe a thousand, people there waiting for pictures and autographs, so we had to be protected. Fans took pictures of everything we did. When we stood doing nothing, talked between ourselves or even danced, we could look out the corner of our eyes and see our fans recording every moment. It was new to me, but flattering because they appreciate what we came with, just our pure talent from our hearts.
My manager Decio was a big help during my classes. It was our first official trip together as a team after a year and a half of tours. He DJed for me when I needed it, posted live feeds and photos of my workshops and sold and promoted my DANCA hats, which quickly sold out. One video that he posted on his Instagram even caught the attention of Jamaican entertainer Ding Dong, who re-posted the video of hundreds of people doing his popular dance “Syvah.” When I teach, I teach everyone’s steps because dancehall is a collective, it is about everyone involved who loves it, respects it, helped grow it and helps to spread it positively. I taught, and then Chadd and Adam taught after me. We had a photograph session with all the students where they all were so nice to us. They greeted us with smiles, tears, and hugs as we took photos. It’s really so nice to be appreciated for what you do, especially when it’s something you love. After our photograph session, Chadd taught his last class, and then I was up next to end the weekend with my class.
I prepared a very special choreography for Siberia, which I’d been working on for months. If you’ve followed my travels here on LargeUp, you know that I’ve had the opportunity to perform with Major Lazer and choreograph their “Lose Yourself” video. I was introduced to EDM through working with the group, and started to fall in love with it. Diplo’s “Revolution” quickly became an infatuation of mine. I played it for all of my friends while I was in Europe and told them all that I was going to prepare something special for Siberia. I worked on it piece by piece for a while and finished it moments before I taught it. When I played the song on stage, the crowd went crazy. They already were acquainted with the lyrics—turned out it was a perfect choice. The crowd grew more excited as I taught the routine, piece by piece, and everyone backstage was recording every second with their phones.
At one point during the routine, something in my heart told me to do something a little bit different. So I searched through the crowd and pointed at a young girl with a pink DANCA hat on. I told her “I’m going to make you the star of my show.” She blushed and hid behind friends with her hands over her face shaking her head “no.” I put her on the spot in front of hundreds of people, but something told me to do it. I gave her a short choreography to perform solo and I told her to add some freestyle in it. When I told the students to do it one last time together, something very special happened, and the energy changed in the room… even the engineers knew it because for the first time during any of the classes they put on multi-color lights and smoke on the stage. WATCH!
And that happened! A great moment in dance! That is how we ended the weekend!
After one final dinner together, we autographed a banner together—“Blacka Di Danca”, “Robo Di Danca” and “Sevani Di Danca” — recognizing the bond we made during our time that weekend. It was funny but also powerful because it showed that dance connects people from different backgrounds without words, but just through feeling. I flew to Brussels where I will continue the last few weeks of my 2-month tour. I’ll be ending my tour in Italy and Austria over the next week. I can easily say this weekend was the best and most powerful weekend in my career and life. Over the week, my social following skyrocketed and fanbase grew tremendously. It proved that with love and hard work, everything and anything is possible.
“It takes years of hard work to become an overnight success.” Never forget that everything great takes a great amount of time to build, and then a great amount of time to manifest. Even in business, profit is only expected after the second year, and that’s a best case scenario. For everyone that has a dream to follow, be willing to invest all of your time and everything you have into your dream, but also be willing to invest your emotions because times will be really great and really bad. But in the long run, it will all be worth it! It’s only the beginning!