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No work permits limits local dancers ... while overseas acts run with the profits

Published:Sunday | August 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMKimberley Small
Latonya Style
Latonya Style
French dancer and choreographer, Laure Courtellemont
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LATONYA STYLE, the owner and manager of DanceJa Studio in Liguanea, has been a prominent figure on the Jamaican dance scene, playing the role of unofficial ambassador of dancehall through structured dance and cultural workshops targeting Europeans and Americans.

"I was the first person to take dancehall to Australia," she says.

This year will be the third year Style and a group of her dancers take to the island nation for a dancehall tour.

Melbourne, Sydney, Tasmania, Perth, and Adelaide are some of the places Style names as destinations on the DanceJa Australian tour.

Style told The Sunday Gleaner that she was invited as expert judge for Australia's first Dancehall Queen competition, an experience she relayed as mind-blowing.

Taiwan, Honk Kong, Macau, and some cities in Japan are some of the Asian destinations Style has visited to share her craft.

But she believes that there are others who capitalise on the business of dancehall culture without first-hand knowledge of, or experience of the culture.

 

EMBRACING HERITAGE

 

Style names the award-winning choreographer Tanesha Scott as an example. Born Canadian with Jamaican parentage, Scott embraces the Jamaican heritage to a high degree, including dancehall moves in her choreography, an inclusion that has become her identifier.

Scott is known particularly for her work with international stars Sean Paul, Rihanna, and Beyonce.

Another such case with even more disconnect can be found with French dancer and choreographer Laure Courtellemont - who was recently featured in The Sunday Gleaner.

On an episode of the Emmy Award-winning FOX television series So You Think You Can Dance, Courtellemont choreographed the show's first dancehall routine in 13 seasons.

Similarly, Dancehall Funk is a regular class held at the world-renowned Debbie Allen Studio in Los Angeles. It was founded by Lorenzo Hanna Jr, of Bahamian parentage, and Dionne Renee, of Jamaican parentage. They wrote to The Sunday Gleaner, telling how they were heavily influenced by their family's culture.

"Dancehall is not just a dance style to us and never was. It was very common in our family growing up because our parents are from the Caribbean," they wrote. "We were part of a dance company in Miami, Florida, and the dance company's style was called Fusion of Funk."

For a few years, the pair trained in many dance styles, but eventually decided to stay true to their roots and bring "the authentic dancehall vibes" to the group. In 1998, they branched off with their own idea of dancehall funk, a move they believed made "perfect sense".

 

RISE OF DANCEHALL FUNK

 

Dancehall funk was introduced to the Debbie Reynolds Studio by subteachers Dionne RenÈe and Lorenzo Hanna, some time in early 2009. Over time, they became instructors because of a rise in demand to teach a class regularly.

Since its opening in 1979 by its namesake (who was also an actress, singer, and humanitarian), the studio has attracted many celebrities like Lucille Ball, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Usher. Instructors from the studio have also choreographed for the likes of Missy Elliot, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and Beyonce.

Such accomplishments and opportunities are what Style believes ought to be afforded Jamaican dancers and choreographers as the direct source of the dance style.

As travelled as Style may be, she is frustrated with the limitations on entering the mainstream market. In particular, Style highlighted dancers' difficulty in attaining visas in order to work in the United States. She identifies this as the primary hindrance in making a true impact on the international pop market.

"Who do we blame?" Style remarked when The Sunday Gleaner asked how she felt about foreigners leading the charge in developing and popularising the dancehall culture worldwide.

"We nuh have nuh visa," she quipped. "One dancer had a 10-year visa den go do a workshop ... lose dem visa! They don't care about dancehall enough. But if [the foreigners] have a better way, we can't complain," she said.

entertainment@gleanerjm.com