Before I get to the title of this blog, allow me to first get some pleasantries out the way, give you some background info and then we'll dive right in. This is my first written blog since sharing a chapter from my short story. I haven't said hello, but you must forgive me, as I am a straight to the point woman, as well as, if you've kept up with me (Keeping Up With Shy...hmmm it has a ring to it, yes?) you know I've been hella busy. If you don't know, I've started my own podcast and that has been more work than I anticipated but boy am I having so much FUN and the reward within my heart is grand. In addition to doing that, I still have a full time job (thank you Jesus) and I'm still in school (my last year. Woot woot!). I've also taken up dancing, 2-3x a week. #BUSY
Let's talk a little bit more about that. In November of 2015, I made the decision to start dancing again. I was born and raised in Jamaica and thus I grew up in the reggae, dancehall culture. I enjoyed watching my brother and uncle wine pon dem head top, wine to the floor and do the latest move and battle each other. I couldn't help but watch in awe and I would join in on the fun and mimic them as best as I could.
I'm unsure the exact count of grandchildren my grandma had but for whatever reason she never remembered our names. Well I knew she couldn't remember mines for sure! However, when I would visit her I would always dance for her and she got such a kick out of this. She in turn taught me how to sow and I would allow me to play in her precious garden (no one was allowed in her garden!). I would speak to the plants and before I knew it, hours had passed. I didn't know it then but I was totally communicating with Faeries (that's a whole other kettle of fish that I'll talk about some other time). Anyway, I was not known as Shaniquea or as June's daughter. Instead, to her, I was 'the one who always a dance fi mi.'
She herself liked to dance and even in her older age she was seen dancing the dutty wine (you can watch the video for that here). I remember once asking her about it and she laughed and said she had to show the young kids how to do it. Alrighty then grandma. Lol.
Two years ago December, I took a Jamaica-Trinidad and Tobago trip. My first stop was in JA and of course I had some items to drop off at her house. You see she had taken ill. Alzheimer's hit her really hard and my mom, being a Home Health Aide, had filled an entire suitcase with things to better assist her. When I arrived at her house, I wasn't prepared for what my eyes saw. All they saw were bones. Bones! My heart broke. This is a woman who was short yes, but thick with a very fresh mouth I may add. I barely recognized any flesh left on her and she no longer could speak, comprehend anything or move for that matter. When I walked in, she was in a fetal position, her back turned towards me. My uncle lifted her up like she weighed nothing and faced her towards myself and my dad, who had driven me there. *Deep sigh* It couldn't be helped. I broke down into tears on my dad's shoulder. It took several moments for me to collect myself and I really didn't want her to see me taking pity upon her. So, I dried my tears, sat on the bed, faced her and began speaking to her. My uncle reminded me that she doesn't remember who I am, nor does she have any comprehension of anything for that matter. I simply smiled at him and continued speaking to her. He shook his head and left the room.
My dad stayed with me and I laid my hands on her and continued speaking about everything and nothing. Her eyes kept contact with mines the entire time. Then I happened to mention that I was the granddaughter that would always dance for her and she smiled. Words cannot explain what that did to my heart and I was so glad that this moment didn't go unnoticed by my dad. I stayed for a bit longer, kissed her goodbye and then left.
She passed a few days later, while I was in transit to Trinidad.
Rewind a little further back into the past and let's stop at my freshman year of high school. I had signed up for an African Dance after school program. Man, oh man, did I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had an amazing teacher (her name is slipping me at the moment), but Mrs. Graham was the head of the program at Boys and Girls High School.
One day, after a performance, I went somewhere, I can't remember where. Probably a quick run to the library or something. Trust me it wasn't anything outrageous. When asked by my mom, why I was so late coming home, I lied and said the dance performance went late. She didn't believe me and called my teacher, who of course didn't cover for me. Well my lie cost me dance class. I was no longer able to attend. I don't know if it's a Sagittarius thing, a Jamaican parent thing, a Caribbean parent thing, or maybe it's just my mother but that was some extreme sh*t. Still to this day she's like that. It's either 'a' or 'z' and there's no in between. The punishment wasn't no dancing for a couple of weeks or a month or for the term. No, it was no dance class as long as I was under her roof. It was rather painful to hear the drums as I would exit school, or seeing the students with their African print wraps going down to the gym to practice.
Well, I was out my mother's house by the time I was 16. I did a short stint back when I was 18 years old but was only there for a few short months. Since I left, I never looked back and I am now 30. Anyway, long after leaving her roof, I didn't act upon my passion of dancing. Oh sure I would wine up in the club but I didn't return to a class. Instead I would just watch others with longing in my heart and would just admire the art. At least, until last year November.
I told this story to a coworker and she said, "so you allowed yourself to remain punished all these years?" (Shout out to Rosa, love you hunny!)*light bulb moment* *head explosion* *bomb dropped*
I had already decided to start back dancing and had signed up for a class at Cumbe in Brooklyn when I was telling her this story, but her words permanently imprinted upon my heart and mind. How many things have we ALLOWED ourselves to be punished for? I want you to take a moment and mull that over. I'll wait.
It is now time, my friends, to break free. Do not become a prisoner of/to your own self.
I signed up for Tony Yemaya's class and it was AMAZING! He taught the dance of the Orishas. I was browsing Cumbe's schedule when I noticed a dancehall class. I may be Jamaican born and breed but do not ask me about the latest dancehall moves. I was never able to keep up. It's like with every breath you take there's a new one out. But, I said let me go back to my culture for a bit. I'm going back to my roots with African dancing but let me visit my culture and God knows I love me the Trinidadian culture. Gimme some soca and this waistline will WERK!
My classmate Somaliah joined me that night and even though I felt like I had two left feet and couldn't drop to the floor I still enjoyed the instructor's high energy. After a warm-up which included going over old school and new school moves she introduced herself as Yaminah Legohn (artistic director of Art Of Legohn ) and recounted the history of dancehall, the names of the moves we did and the artist or crew who came up with the dance moves. One name she mentioned that was familiar was Blacka Di Danca. I had recently came across his Instagram page and loved his inspirational story of quitting his well paid job to follow his passion of dancing dancehall. I spent hours going through his page and liking his posts! He was on tour teaching internationally when I came across his page. Then I came across a post that his classes will resume in NYC soon. Pause! Come again? I quickly looked up how to reach him and sent him an email. This was in December. You guys know I'm a very organized person (for my new comers, welcome and take note of this fact). I already knew what my winter 2016 school schedule would be and I work M-F 9-5 so I was trying to sort out a dance schedule.
I sent him an email stating how much he has inspired me to truly take up one of my passions and asked when to expect a schedule to be out. Honestly I expected a generic email back but to my surprise he responded and had some encouraging words for me. I beamed with increased motivation.
Needless to say my ears perked up when she mentioned his name and that she has worked with him. When Blacka's class schedule came out, I was sad, as it clashed with my school schedule but Yaminah mentioned that even though that was the last class at Cumbe until they found another location, that she also teaches at EXPG NYC on Mondays at 7p. I was a day I had no class and it was right in my neighborhood. I was so I was E-X-C-I-T-E-D!
I think it was late January or maybe early Feb when during one of her classes, she let us into a little secret that she's organizing a dancehall workshop with three other popular choreographers: Tuggz who has worked with Konshens, Elephant Man and Octane, Vendela Blackout who has worked with Spice, Popcaan and Adonia and Blacka Di Dance who has worked with Rihanna, Diplo/Major Lazer and Collie Buddz. OMG! I was totally down for the event even though it was on a Sunday (I do not step foot out my apartment on a Sunday). I knew I had to come out and support and it just felt like I HAD to be there to experience this event.
Then the day finally arrived....
I was ready. I had my Shy Speaks t-shirt on, ripped tights, Jamaican flag tied to my thong string, hair twisted (I was prepping to deep condition it when I get back) with a African print head wrap to pull my hair back and to soak up the sweat I knew was coming. I had one of my usual bracelet on-the one with the Rasta colors. I was ready for battle. Not literally. I signed up to take part in the workshop and to be a spectator of the battle that came after. Keyword: spectator. I'm not ready for battle. Nor was I ready to have a mini emotional meltdown. More on that in a sec.
First up to teach the workshop was Vendela Blackout. She's from Sweden, lovely accent with a let's DO THIS, gimme ENERGY attitude. Your girl tried but I was trying to pace myself as I had 3 more teachers to make it through. Next up was Thuggz. Again, he demanded energy. I called upon my angels and said alright gimme a tips of energy and I got some and I gave it.
Blacka came during Thugzz class and I felt a shift of energy. Some knew who he is and some didn't, but I observed how there was a hush and all eyes gravitated his way. Hmmm, or maybe it was due to his radiant girlfriend Aliyah? Haha, but, there was a definitely a shift of energy. Being an energy healer and all, I felt it.
"Light It Up..."
Then it was Blacka's turn to teach. He first humbly, thanked the previous teachers and introduced the song he would be teaching a quick choreography for. Song: Light it up by Major Lazer Ft Nyla and Fuse ODG. He shared that he choose this song because whenever he's having a down day it's a song that get's him through. It lights him up if you will. The selector played the song and he danced the routine and I said, 'help me Jesus' #Complicated.
However, he broke the dance movements down based on the lyrics. One thing I was reminded of from each instructor since I started back dancing is that each movement is a piece of a story. The choreographer then pieces each movement to tell a complete story. Just as each word that you're reading right now is telling you a story and dance is no different. Each dancehall dance that comes out tells a story. Blacka reminded us that the hard CLAP in the dance 'Thunda clap' comes from the sound of actual thunder, and therefore it has to be a powerful clap when doing it. Another example is 'down di flank' which is derived from ballers (think soccer) playing ball and kicking the ball down the flank.
"Stand up like a solider baby..."
As I mentioned, he choose to match the lyrics to different dancehall moves and broke it down for us, but he didn't want us to just dance it robotically. No, he wanted us to feel it. He told us to not worry if it's exactly right. Just feel it.
"WE LIVE WHERE THE WAR IS RAGING
CHASING OUR CRAZY DREAMS
HOPING THAT THE BRIDGE WON'T CAVE IN
TONIGHT WE LET IT ALL GO FREE"
It was here, that your girl needed some puffs.
"chasing our crazy dreams..."
He showed us the dance "head concussion" where you hold your head as if you...well, had a concussion. However, he wanted us to envision our dreams. He told us to visualize the craziest dreams we have and put it into that moment. Into that movement. Into that one dance move. Don't concern ourselves with if we're doing it right just visualize it and so I did. Ahhh man, I'm tearing up again, just writing this. Bare with me. And so in that quick moment I visualized completing my books, especially my memoir and for them to be sold worldwide. I visualized myself being a motivational speaker. I visualized myself opening my massage spa and holistic center. I visualized myself educating and spreading the word more about energy healing, specifically, Reiki. I visualized my podcast listened to all over the world. Then there was a shift where I was just so grateful. I was grateful that I found a platform in which to support my fellow mates who are starting their own businesses or folks to come on the show and share their story. I remembered a message from a woman in Florida who thanked me for renewing her hope based on the story my first guest shared. Or the messages of friends being proud of me spreading the word that we should not be afraid to chase our dreams, that yes we can start our own businesses and do whatever it is we are passionate about and once you start serving a purpose, your purpose will serve you. We were not made to have jobs but to have a career. That career should consist of waking up each day doing what we love and it would therefore never feel like work. I thought of all these things in that one movement and my heart swelled.
"Hoping that the bridge won't cave in..."
Then he demonstrated a move with prayer hands. First to the left, right and bring those praying hands above your head.
"tonight we let it all go free.."
He then asked us to reminisce on our worries of the week, the month, whenever. Whether it be bills or whatever and he implored us to let all of that go free. I instantly got chills! In that moment I put a lid on the thought that I'm dreaming too big. Travel to indigenous population and teach Reiki? Why not? Meet Oprah to discuss one of my books? Why not? My podcast becoming worldwide when I've never listened to a podcast a day in my life? Why not? Hold up! Don't you already have a listener in Trinidad and AUSTRALIA Shy? Had a celebrity guests on? Ummm ya! Chick, you interviewed Yaminah yesterday! Wasn't she on your celebrity list and so is Blacka. Guess what? You're going to march your butt over to him after and ask him on the show the same way you asked Yaminah. My own studio for my podcast? Why the F not? In that moment of doing the next move of opening the prayer hands and slowly doing wrist circles down to the side I let. It. All. Go. And there was no one around to give me a bloody tissue (LOL). I wanted to bawl! No lie. Tears just flowed and I quickly wiped my eyes with the tail of my shirt and that's when I locked eyes with another dance participant who was also crying and we gave each other hug. Blacka's spirit capitulated the dancehall movements which moved us within. Mannnn, to be able to do that...*shakes head* I dunno folks. I'm just at lost for words.
Yaminah closed out the night. She went into her routine and I'm so sorry, but chillee I was pooped! When she told us to take a quick break, I went for some water and stayed outside for a bit. I needed a physical break as well as to gather myself emotionally. It was bloody intense. I've been so busy that I hardly get a chance to just breathe and in those very short moments everything came tumbling down and out. It's like, yes, I'm really doing it. The same way I'm encouraging others to chase their dreams, here is someone in front of me telling me to do the same thing but communicating it through dance.
By the time I went back inside, I missed a good bit of the routine she was teaching so I sat it out. At the end she asked all who participated in the workshop to dance a solo piece in the middle of the room and to tell a story through movements and to incorporate a dancehall move that was learned. Mind you, she was asking us to do this in front of e-v-e-r-y-o-n-e. We're talking the dj, the teachers who were also judges for the battle that was coming up next, other professional dancers, our peers and spectators. Needless to say, Shy sat her ass down and envisioned herself being invisible. It worked until this lady ratted me out. Yaminah gave me a look and I gave her back one that I hoped said 'pleaseeeeee mommy nooooooooooo.' Lol. She gave me back one that said, 'If you don't get your ass up here..." So i got my ass up. The dj cued the music and honestly I don't remember all of what I did. I know I threw some wining in, which was a shout out to my love for soca and the dancehall move I did was 'seasoning' which was created by Slip, who is a member of the Danca Family (watch video here). After which, I explained my story that I shared with you of my grandmother, me not dancing for several years and that I choose seasoning because I remembered that I had chicken home I had to season. LOL! The crowd erupted in cheer. LMBO @ self. Later that night a guy came up to me and said I made my grandmother proud. That made me smile. I sure hope so. Shucks. I'm sure I did.
Last night was a night I will never forget. I enjoyed observing each teacher's interpretation of dancehall and how they go about teaching it. I think the number one emotion I felt throughout the night was a sense of pride. Here are these wonderful people who are teaching a dance movement that originated from my country. The land of my birth. Not only here but internationally. I'm talking Europe, Asia all over the globe. INTERNATIONALLY! How can one not feel proud?
I met a lot of new people. I met the lovely Hallie of Hallie Kruger Custom Apparel and Screen Printing who made the pink tights you see Yaminah in (pic below) along with Art of Legohn shirts and may more items. We have been in class with each other a few times but we truly became more acquainted last night. One woman who was a part of the workshop and battled shared that she has lupus and that she was told that she shouldn't be dancing. HA! And again I say, HA! She was killing it! She didn't allow that diagnosis to be a death sentence. Shout out to Queen Tut! Or Alberto who was feeling down and was in the area and just happened to pass the studio and peered through the windows and walked right in. When you heard everyone's story I was just amazed and was reminded that you just never know what the person next to you is going through or has been through and that's one of the reasons for my podcast. We can all learn something from each other.
I learned something from each instructor last night, which made for an awesome experience. Big up unnu selves.
Thanks for taking the time out read my experience. Much love and nuff respect. And remember:
STAND UP LIKE A SOLDIER BABY
YEAH I KNOW YOU BUILT LIKE THAT
GUN IT LIKE HOLSTER BABY
SHOW DEM SAY YOU WICKED LIKE THAT
WE LIVE WHERE THE WAR IS RAGING
CHASING OUR CRAZY DREAMS
HOPING THAT THE BRIDGE WON'T CAVE IN
TONIGHT WE LET IT ALL GO FREE
GIMME THE TING AND MAKE ME LIGHT IT UP
Shy [Light up those dreams!]
PS: Please take a moment to listen and watch the official video here: Be sure to read the description of how the artist decided to portray the video. Very moving. Also, Blacka said yes to the interview [Update. You can find it here]. WOOT WOOT!!!