Dance teacher moves from practical to theory - Latonya Styles writes first book
Dancers who document their work on paper are continuously trying to teach a language that is not easily written, dance instructor and choreography Latonya Dillon, or Latonya Style, as she is known in professional circles, tells The Gleaner. “Some have ventured into creating visual documentation through instructional videos and recording dance choreographies that are shared on their social media pages and YouTube, effectively reaching wide audiences,” she states, adding that there are many mediums that are untapped or explored less than others.
Latonya Style says there is a market for physical books for educators in the field, especially where documenting dancehall becomes the focus and it gave birth to her first booklet, Stylish Moves in 2013 and the original edition was revised in 2016. Four volumes were printed and went on sale at US$10 each, US$35 for all four.
Long Overdue Dream
“I always wanted an official book, but due to lack of resources and knowledge about publishing I had to find an easy way to document and make it available for my supporters and it was necessary to have merchandise for sale while on my annual dancehall tours around the world. Each year, offering a new edition as a build up to my long overdue dream of being an author,” she said.
She has been teaching dance since high school, giving her more than 25 years of experience in creating and executing lesson plans locally and internationally. A former member of The Ashe Company, Latonya Style’s resume makes her one of Jamaica’s in-demand teachers of popular culture through dance.
“I have taken into consideration that not many people who love physical activities like to read, myself included, but I always wanted to find a creative and tangible way to present my dance moves to dancehall enthusiasts and supporters of the Stylish Move brand,” Latonya Style said. “And then I became inspired by Rice & Peas: The Dance Issue created by a Jamaican illustrator Robin Clare living in Sydney, Australia. She featured me in that zine and I saw the work she could do to make step-by-step illustrations of dance moves,” she continued.
Now, much of her dancehall expertise is available to the wider public, as she has published, with the help of Clare, the complete Stylish Moves Guide and Activity Book. Launched in May 2020, the book is available for purchase online in both paperback and hard cover versions and the author says it is perfect for all those dance teachers in need of a go-to resource. “Robin has helped put together the first dancehall how-to manual, in other words, dance on paper by translating dance moves into written descriptions and illustrated images that actually look like me. I also tried to make the book more appealing with pictures and activities, even a colouring challenge, instead of a book that is just filled with words.”
Some of the moves include Pretty Wine, Bruk Out Wine, Clap Yourself, Above Average, Dash Out and Elastic. The book also highlights other Jamaican dance professionals – past dancehall queen competition winners, dance move creators, in addition to female recording artistes, images of previous tours and classes and activities such as word search puzzles by Latonya Style and pictures to colour. She said, “Female empowerment is a must [so] the book is not all about me and my style but other females in the industry worthy of recognition; some who have inspired me over the years which I take great pleasure in including them in my book such as Dancehall Queen Carlene Smith. Giving credit where it is due.”
A Serious Profession
Latonya Style said that there is still the misconception that dance is not a real profession and is not widely accepted. She emphasised, however, that serious dancers and teachers of the art form not only study the practical, but theory as well. “And for those interested in dancehall culture, the history or story behind the creation of steps from the date of origin to the name of the inventor is just as important,” she added.
At her dance studio, located at 22 Barbican Road in Liguanea since the summer of 2013, Latonya Style has offered not only lessons in dance, but lectures on local culture, the role of females in dancehall, and her signature ‘Chat Patwah’ Jamaican language sessions. Though business has decreased tremendously since the pandemic, the dancer-turned-author anticipates that the book will attract new markets as she is in the early stages of planning a book launch.
“Dancers don’t necessarily have to strive to make books, but they should definitely strive to document their work. My mind is already at work conceptualising another unique book idea. We are definitely lacking in the documentation of Jamaican dance or factual dancehall dance and culture information. Lots of opinions in the air, but there are not many credible sources,” she said.