Curtis Campbell, Gleaner Writer
Kingston-based dance group/school DanceJA, recently crowned a Dance King and a Dance Queen courtesy of a new dance competition held in Kingston called the International Dancehall Championships.
The competition was a collaboration with local companies DanceJA and Dancers of Jamaica. According to Maria Hitchins, a member of Dancers of Jamaica, the competition aims to reclaim Jamaica's dance culture/dancing in the dancehall.
The winners of this year's competition were Matthew Richards, leader of popular dance group Shady Squad and Imenella Von Muhamed, a Somalian-born Swedish resident. Both dancers are now dancehall's newest ambassadors and are set to represent the dancing community internationally.
Dance's crowned king, Matthew 'Shady Squad' Richards, was in high spirits after the competition. "Entering the first year of this competition was important to me, as I wanted to be listed among the first of a new movement. Having just returned from Russia and New York, I know first-hand the importance of what it means to represent for dancehall and my country," he said.
The dancer now has a new accolade to add to his list of accomplishments after being crowned World Reggae Dance Champion in 2010 and 2011 by the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, and being placed second in the Dancin' Dynamites competition in 2006. Matthew and the Shady Squad dance group have also won the Youth View Award's Favourite Dance Group title twice.
The newly crowned dancing queen, Imenella, says she was intimidated by the rough dancehall audience. However, she overcame her fears to snatch victory from her talented competitors.
"I was a bit scared at first because in Sweden, dancehall's dance genre is a big deal and I even competed in the finals against my dance teacher Melpo who is also from Sweden, so to know that I have won is a great feeling, and I will go home and spread the word about this championship," she said.
The competition is comprised of 20 contestants drawn from Jamaica, Sweden, Japan, Russia, France and the United States.
Judging was handled by Tamara Thomas, Neila Ebanks and Tippa, all teachers at Edna Manley's School of Dance.
Organisers of the competition, Maria Hitchins and Latonya Styles, said they were satisfied with the quality of talent displayed by the competitors during the course of the competition.
"We are already receiving growing overseas interests from potential participants for next year," Styles revealed.
Maria Hitchins also hinted that a follow-up dancing competition was in the making, but outlined that it was too early to reveal certain details of that project to the public just yet.