Photos and Video by Martei Korley
Early this year, New York’s Blacka Di Danca flew to Kingston to choreograph singer Nyla’s performance at Jamaica’s Youth View Awards. While the opportunity to adapt his viral dance video for Nyla’s Major Lazer/Fuse ODG collaboration “Light It Up” to the stage at the island’s top awards show instigated the visit, the trip turned into much more. For Blacka — who’s dedicated himself to spreading dancehall worldwide as a choreographer and instructor— it was an opportunity to give back to the source of the culture that’s inspired his life’s path.
Specifically, that meant launching a community dance program which he’s dubbed LITTLE DANCA®. In what’s hoped will be the first of many such programs, Blacka is funding after-school dance time for students at St. Martin De Porres Basic School, an early-learning institution in Gordon Town, Jamaica. With his backing, students at the school will get much-needed physical exercise in an environment designed to encourage not only appreciation for Jamaica’s own musical culture, but also inspire belief in the opportunities that it can create. (Donate HERE and read on for more about that below…)
The visit was also an opportunity for Blacka to hit the street dances in Kingston with the DANCA Family’s Nelly Danca and Aliyah Ali. You can’t be a dancehall dancer and come to Jamaica, and not do road. Along with DANCA extended family Killer Bean Versatile and Kye Kye, the crew hit Magnum Wednesdays, Whappings Thursdays and Yeng Yeng Fridays, connecting with the dancehall dancer fraternity — Chi Ching Ching, Ding Dong, the Rifical Team, Get There Squad, Equanoxx Shankaz, Shelly Belly, and so much more.
Watch “Blacka Di Danca: From Foreign To Yard” here and, for more about the LITTLE DANCA® program, read on for a message from Blacka.
For the past 15 years of my life, I’ve dedicated my heart, blood, sweat and tears to loving and promoting dancehall culture – the culture of Jamaica. I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and, growing up, we knew no barriers on what qualified someone to be involved in the culture. Dancehall for my peers and I is our everything. It connects with our daily struggles that we face trying to survive and succeed in a society where financial freedom is often out of reach. Beyond being a style of dance or a genre of music, dancehall is also a lifestyle. From getting my start dancing for free in clubs in Brooklyn to becoming the first dancehall dancer to partner with the world’s largest energy drink company, in Red Bull, I’ve arrived at a point in my life where I need to give back, not just credit, the source of my inspiration. I need to play my part in helping it grow, so I’ve started a community dance program for kids in Jamaica.
When asked the question, “Why do you love dancehall?,” many people will tell you that they either love the music, the dance moves, how it makes them feel, or all of the above. As much as dancehall culture is as entertaining as it is inspiring, none of those answers sufficiently represents loving a culture. Love is not what something does for you or gives to you… it is what you do to help whatever (or whoever) makes you happy grow and succeed. I recently watched an interview with Crazy Legs from the Rock Steady Crew, in which he explained these key points, and it resonated with me on a deep level. What you do for a culture, to keep it alive — and to ensure its future at the source of the culture — is the deepest gratitude that you can show that culture.
My program is called the LITTLE DANCA® program. DANCA® itself is an acronym, which stands for “Dream And Never Cease Again.” It’s my way to inspire people to never stop dreaming. For the past four years, I’ve been talking to the principal of St. Martin De Porres basic school in Gordon Town, Jamaica about my ideas for this program, and how we can get it started. Cislyn, the principal, is a good friend and pen pal of my mother’s since the 1980s. When my mother told her that I was traveling the world teaching dancehall workshops, the need for a children’s dance program was brought to my attention.
At first, I tried to fund the program by donating a portion of my DANCA® merchandise sales profit to the school, but I knew that I needed to do more. I started brainstorming on how to get the program off the ground and, at the right time, opportunity struck. Being the first dancehall dancer to partner with Red Bull came with a lot of opportunity and press, and my first thought was “How can I use my platform to give back to Jamaica?” As that thought ate away at me, I remembered the dance program aspirations. It became evident to me what I needed to do and how, and since January of this year, every week we have 50 kids from the ages of two to six dancing after school!
The main idea of this program is to give back to the culture which has enabled me to travel and accomplish so much. Specifically, giving back in a way that allows it to continuously move forward. Giving Forward. I could have created a program that directly donated money to the dancers who create so many beautiful dance moves, but I had a better idea. Why not create a program that not only allows children to grow up learning and understanding the beautiful life lessons that dancehall can give, the social re-enforcements that it teaches, and the active lifestyle that it provides but also to create an opportunity in the education system that can allow me to hire the local street dancers to teach the children weekly, providing the dancers a steady source of income and a long-term career.
A few months ago, I visited the children of the program, and the feeling of being around them left me overwhelmingly happy. I went to the Alpha Boys School, which has a program that allows students to earn credits through heat-pressing customized T-shirts, and I had LITTLE DANCA® shirts made there. When I brought the shirts over to the kids of Gordon Town, seeing their smiling faces, feeling their high fives and the tiny “thank you”s was proof enough that I made the right decision. I taught them a mini dance class and afterwards they begged me to stay – it was such an amazing feeling. These kids need this program, not only as exercise or education, but also as inspiration to know that they can be anything they want to be in life no matter how society shuns it, because if your career is positive, progressive and not harmful, if it is a dream, then you can and should go for it! I want them to see that local street dancers can have careers — not just flying out of the country to teach, but also teaching in the school system right in their backyard. This program, for me, is another way to build more bridges, close more gaps and to break more stigmas surrounding dancehall culture and entrepreneurship in general.
I can provide but so much alone, but together with help from the global community of people who love dancehall, we can provide more dance clothes for the children, hire more dancers and pave a path for the future of what we love. Giving Forward. I’ve created a Gofundme account where I am accepting donations to help keep the program running and growing. But before you click the link here to donate, first answer these two questions:
Why do you love dancehall?
How can you help it grow?
—BLACKA DI DANCA