Photos by Martei Korley
Words by Blacka Di Danca
New York-based choreographer and LargeUp dance columnist Blacka Di Danca travels the world spreading the gospel of dancehall through classes and appearances at top studios and clubs from Latin America to Siberia. For Blacka, who’s choreographed videos for Major Lazer and Spice, been featured in videos by A$AP Rocky, Shaggy and Davido, and hit the stage with Skrillex, Diplo, Kiesza and Collie Buddz, it’s not just about teaching steps, but serving as an ambassador for the culture. He’s introduced people to the ethos and history of dancehall in places where the genre has only previously been experienced via computer screen.
Earlier this year, Blacka returned to the source of dancehall — Jamaica — on a mission to give back to the culture that’s shaped his life’s path. After connecting with singer Nyla for a performance at Jamaica’s Youth View Awards, Blacka and his DANCA Fanily hit the street dances in Kingston and visited St. Martin De Porres School in Gordon Town to launch LITTLE DANCA, an afterschool dance program for kids. Watch the webisode “Blacka Di Danca: From Foreign To Yard” on LargeUp TV here, and follow Blacka’s journey in photographs below.
Out of all my trips to Jamaica, this was my favorite because I came with my DANCA Family, Aliyah and Nelly. And we met up with two of our members who actually live in Jamaica: Killer Bean, who’s a leader of a crew called Sopreme Blazzaz, and Kye Kye, who’s part of a crew called Ghetto Legacy.
Here we are at Dance Xpressionz studio in Kingston with Nyla, rehearsing the choreography from the “Light It Up” viral YouTube video. I create a lot of dance videos online, and one of the most popular ones I’ve done was for “Light It Up” by Major Lazer, Fuse ODG and Nyla. Nyla and her team actually reached out to me to perform the song at the Youth View Awards. That’s a huge opportunity. That’s something that never happens for dancers or choreographers.
After going over our steps at Dance Xpressionz, we went over to the National Indoor Sports Complex for tech rehearsals.
This is the tech rehearsal on stage with Nyla and the DANCA Family for the YVAs. Nyla is one of the most talented and most humble artists I’ve worked with. Her songs inspire me daily.
It’s always great to be in Kingston, a very vibrant city that’s always alive, anytime, day or night.
At night, we had to hit the street dances. You can’t go to to Jamaica and not hit the street parties. That’s the mecca of dancehall, that’s where these dances that we do are coming from. That’s where those dances that you see in your favorite music videos are coming from.
Ding Dong is extremely important to dancehall, he’s changed the dancehall game and kept dancing alive since the passing of Bogle. His transition from a dancer to an artist is an inspiration and an example to all dancers on how to continue driving for success. He also created one of the most popular street dances in Jamaica right now, Yeng Yeng Fridays, at Ravers Corner in Nannyville.
Ravers Clavers x DANCA Family link-up! Ding Dong’s Ravers Clavers is one of the most significant dance crews in Jamaica, so it was a great highlight to connect our respective crews together.
As a dancer who grew up dancing at parties in Brooklyn, coming to Kingston I had to roll out and bust a few steps in the middle of the dancefloor.
Nelly DANCA, my best friend and a veteran member of DANCA family. It was amazing being able to share this experience with her in Jamaica, her birthplace. The name DANCA Family was her idea.
This was an on-the-spot photo shoot at Danny’s Marina, a fish spot near the airport. Before I went vegan, I had to find one of the best snapper spots on the island.
Nelly and Aliyah at Danny’s Marina. We were eating ‘spoil pot.’ When the scotch bonnet pepper is brown or purple, they call it ‘spoil pot’ — if you use too much, the entire pot is spoiled. And that mixed with the fish was definitely one of my best experiences.
Backstage at the Youth View Awards, we ran into Mr. Lexx — big dancehall artist from long time!
Here’s the Danca Family before our performance with Nyla at the YVAs.
Nyla was a former member of popular dancehall group Brick and Lace and now a successful solo artist, with her song “Light It Up” by Major Lazer featuring Fuse ODG going platinum in the USA. I was honored and proud to share the stage with her. She has a very bright career ahead of her.
Celebrating after a successful performance!
We wanted to make T-shirts for the Little DANCA program, and we thought the best place to do it was the Alpha Boys School in Kingston. Students at the school get extra credit learning how to screen print. I’ve gotten other offers for T-shirt donations but it’s not about getting free shirts for the program. It’s about spending money in Jamaica to support dancehall, both financially and culturally.
Nelly Danca, feeling right at home in Jamaica.
We hit so many parties while we were in Kingston — Nipples Tuesdays, Magnum Wednesdays, Whappings Thursdays, Yeng Yeng Fridays. I can’t even remember them all, it was such a blur.
Every single night when you go the street dances, you run into these dancers who are worldwide influential creatives. I ran into Chi Ching Ching, Ding Dong, the Rifical Team, Get There Squad, Equanoxx Shankaz, and also dancers from overseas. This photo was really about dancehall unity. It’s so beautiful how dancehall can bring together people from within the culture and different groups of people from all over, all for one music and one feeling.
In Jamaica, every street dance is a fashion show, too.
Males command a lot of attention in dancehall but women take it to another level, showing off their flexibility and acrobatics in the parties. These two were ready to bruk out.
Nelly DANCA is the center of attention everywhere she goes.
This was in Gordon Town, St. Andrew, Jamaica, home of the St. Martin de Porres Basic School, where I launched the Little DANCA Program.
This is Cislyn McLeish, the principal of the school. She’s been my mom’s pen pal longer than I’ve been born — for over 30 years! We were talking about starting a dance program for over four years. The parents of the kids in the school were requesting it, and I was glad to help out with donations to provide whatever the money could provide. Eventually, the opportunity arose to fund that dance program they wanted so badly. I was more than glad to, as I was looking for a way to use dance to give back to Jamaica.
After we got to the school, we gave all the kids —it’s 50 kids we’re funding twice a week every week — the T-shirts that we had gotten made at the Alpha Boys School.
The program is for kids ages two to six, and they were overwhelmed with happiness. I taught them different street dances — Rock Di World, Breadfruit, and my own dance, Good Vibes. Breadfruit, created by Kool Kid, was their favorite.
This is the first generation of kids from the Little DANCA Program, kids that are laying the foundation for a brighter future of dancehall. We plan to start many programs just like this in communities in the West Indies and around the world.
I’ve taught dancehall workshops to thousands of students around the world but creating a program that even two can benefit from is really the defining moment of my life. These kids are at an age where learning is very important, and to add dancehall to that learning experience is one of my life dreams come true.
In Halfway Tree, reflecting on the full picture of where determination and passion can take you… One day you can go from the thought of changing your own life to the action of changing the lives of others.