From Passion to Profession: Behind the moves with Latonya Style
Follow the tempo and move to the beat of dancehall music. Dancer and entrepreneur Latonya Style dated her dance origins all the way back to childhood. She recalled showing off her moves to Mr Wacky himself whenever he visted her home.
"My cousins from New York would attend all the street dances when they came to Jamaica and I watched in fascination as they got ready to go out on the town. So I learned that fashion played a major role in dancehall," she explained to Flair.
She also developed her appreciation for music from her father who managed a nightclub and artistes as well. This paved the way towards her destiny. By high school, she was already well on her way to artistic greatness when she auditioned for Ashe Performing Arts Group. She became a prominent member for 10 years, touring with them to the United States and teaching dance on the company's behalf in Mexico. "As a young teenager, it was a dream come true for me to start teaching," she shared.
ONE STEP AT A TIME
Once she was an adult, she took matters in her hands, making strides one step at time. She quit her nine-to-five administrative work to be a professional dancer. She opened her very own dance studio, but it was when she went on her first tour without an artiste that reality really hit home: her passion had become her profession. "I didn't have to depend on being a backup dancer anymore. I could tour on my own, do my own thing, be my own boss, teaching as far as Australia, Japan and Asia. My whole career has just been a big dream come true for me."
People love Jamaicans, even though we're just a dot on the map, she says. "I loved the fact that I was teaching young kids, they just wanted to gain experience, and parents take their children dancing seriously. I try to exchange cultures: I want to sightsee, eat their food and visit landmarks."
She has since created her very own signature dance style called Stylish Moves: a series of steps from A-Z, all compiled from high school to now. Some of the moves include Pretty Wine, Bruk Out Wine, Clap Yourself, Above Average, Dash Out, Elastic, among many others.
"When I'm in parties, listening to the music, and when I start dancing, it's a new step and a new vibe. The creative process I've found can happen anywhere at anytime, it can be while in the shower or when I wake up. I created 'vex complex' from a conversation with my friend who was arguing with her boyfriend at the time. Based on her gesticulations, I added foot movement - and that was it. You can get certified by learning these steps so you can be able to teach them. All of these steps are derived from the dancehall lifestyle."
The idea to start her business DanceJa came in 2006 when Style was in Cayman. "I wanted to have a website that would feature fresh dances from gifted dancers. I would go to dances, create dancers' bios, set up their social media pages, record and edit their promo videos, just to highlight their steps so they could connect with the world, and vice versa, via Internet. I even had the first dance awards dedicated to recognising local dancers."
From there, Dance Jamaica Academy Limited was born. The company provides the ultimate 'in dance' service, offering traditional folk, West African, ska, reggae and even soca dance classes. "We teach dance styles born out of or that are a part of Jamaica. But our main style of dance is dancehall because of its prominence in our culture." Dance Jamaica Academy Limited shares theoretical information about dancehall through lectures, engages in cultural activities, such as Patois lesson and run-a-boat sessions, cooking signature Jamaican dishes, such as ackee and salt fish and breadfruit, outside on a coal stove. "There are adventurous excursions, too, like parties and other nightlife experiences, beach or river outings, we tap into the entertainment and tourism industry so that visitors can get immersed in our culture by exploring what our beautiful country has to offer," she added.
On the local scene, they offer dance fitness and plan to start children and teen dance classes, as well as provide job opportunities for local dancers to get paid for their talent. They also have a cultural exchange programme,where they have partnered with Top Up Productions in Germany to have dancers do individual dance tours, sharing their practical knowledge of dancehall dance to different countries in Europe. Over 10 dancers, Style says, have already benefited from the tour. "I was born to dance, I didn't choose dancing, dancing chose me. And I'm happy to help others in spreading our Jamaican culture to the world."
For more information, follow @dancejamaica on Instagram.