dance it out

I have a favourite phrase. ● When in doubt, dance.

I've never really sat down and reflected on what dance means to me or how it makes me feel; and what better way to start than on here. It's been a year and a half since I started filming myself dance, and about 10 months since I built up the courage to actually share me, dancing, with actual humans - including my family, friends and colleagues. It's been an eye-opening process and I wanted to capture some of the memories that led me to this very point in time.

📣 Huge caveat before you all read on: I am not a dancer. I don't dance as a profession, and I am not planning to either. However, there is no denying that it is a huge part of my life, my personality, and my identity now - which just gets stronger the more I do it. Dance is something that started off as something on a long list of things I did outside of school, but now has become something I literally cannot function without. I am not the best dancer, but I am also not the worst, I just do my own thing.

The coolest kids in a tent at a Folk festival. 
At least I don't look as bored as babes on the right. She just don't give a f*ck.

👯 Jazz, Ballet & Tap. When I first arrived in the UK, my English was pretty limited (OK, non-existent but I still think "where is the toilet?" counts as knowing some English). I'm not sure where my parents got the idea but a few months into living here, I was thrown into dance classes - the classic trio of jazz, ballet and tap, taught by Ms Sue Paddock, who I remember being quite old and grouchy (in retrospect, she was probably 20-something and just tired and grouchy from teaching 5-18 year olds how to dance). I loved these classes - I got to wear pink, and wear tutus, and prance around a massive room with lots of new pals who didn't seem to care that I didn't speak English. All I had to do was watch, follow the teacher, and stay in time with the rest of the girls. This would be the first time I would experience my ability to "switch off and zone out" - but I won't have fully registered it. I loved the discipline of it too - especially in ballet: the movements were precise, being in sync was vital, and the discipline felt familiar. What I lacked in school (too relaxed), I could get in this dance class (strict instructions) - it was quite a big shift from school life in Madagascar to the UK, but more on this in future posts. The added bonus of going to Ms Paddock's dance classes was that I met one of my best pals (and second ever pal made here): Ellie. We ended up going to classes together, hanging out off stage during shows, and just doing general prancing around together. This continued until I was about 15; one year into points, I stopped - GCSEs were more important, and A-Levels were coming up, and I had to get into a good University... ideally Oxbridge... and then the three year no-dance-just-studies-lockdown began.

Can you spot me? I'm pretty hard to miss, giant child. 
LOLz. And yes, I was in the right class, and yes, we are all the same age. I just really really liked drinking milk (take note parents HA).

💂 English Traditional Dance. I grew up in a house filled with music: from all over the world, but also from the English Folk scene. This meant, as well as listening to the Spice Girls or Hanson and going to their concerts, I also went to Folk festivals around the UK with my parents. One of which was Sidmouth Folk Festival - a week of folky-fun by the beach. Because pops-chops had to work, this meant finding some form of entertainment for me while the adults were "busy". Enter: folk band camp and joining a teen morris crew. Not only was I the only brown-person-in-the-village, I was also a female performing a dance that is traditionally done by the men-folk. Awkward. But also extremely hilarious, when you look back at the photos - oh sweet young innocence.

💘 Traditional Malagasy dance. Growing up, I also watched my mum perform pretty regularly, and I always loved watching her and my aunt dance on stage. I may have mentioned once that I was interested in learning about Malagasy dance, and suddenly I found myself learning traditional dance styles from all over Madagascar in our living room in London. I dressed up, I learnt the history, and I did my thing. But it didn't quite stick - enter the "trying to fit in" syndrome kicking in again. Now that I am older, I do sometimes think about re-learning. My relationship with dance has moved on so much since this - I have a very different mindset now to my teenage self, and it would be an interesting challenge to find out if I could incorporate Malagasy dance into my style.

The only brown girl in the village, and living my best life. #blessed

Bollywood. The secondary school I went to in North London opened up its Sixth Form to teens from other schools in the area (grades depending, standard). This meant a lot of new people joined in my last two years of secondary school - some of whom were from an Asian background, including a lovely group of girls who ended up asking me if I'd like to join their Bollywood show for a school event. Lured in by the beautiful pictures of saris, I obviously said yes. My Bollywood phase was fun, but it was pretty short lived - a fun experience all the same.

👀 Breakdance. Getting into University was a massive eye-opener. I wasn't overwhelmed by the classes, or the number of unfamiliar faces. I was more overwhelmed by the level of choice in the outside-of-class activities: ranging from language societies, to religious and race societies, to all sorts of sports societies. There literally was something for everyone. Obviously, I wanted to checkout the dance societies (there were heaps) but I decided to attend the open session for one in particular: breakdance. I don't really know why, seeing as I didn't really know anything about it, but that didn't matter - because I turned up and was instantly sold: the music was amazing. It just made me want to jump about. Of all the societies I went to open sessions for, the breakdance society had the most interesting and fun bunch of people (to me anyway). My decision was pretty much made on the spot. In my first year of University, I attended every open session, every class, every social event. In my second year, I was encouraged (forced, haha) to apply for a position on the society's Exec team (so that I would have another reason to commit). Low and behold, I became the Social Exec for WKBD (Warwick Breakdance Society) - jokes. This basically meant I got to train, dance, and organise social events for the society. I had a lot of fun over this time - I also met my-ex through the society (he was voted President - I aim high, clearly, LOLs) who I ended up being in a long-term relationship with throughout University. My breakdance crew, within about a year, became my close University family. We travelled to other parts of the UK to participate in battles (I hated this beyond anything), we organised hip hop events on campus, and had some pretty epic nights out. But something was always not quite... connecting. I could do some of the main moves - I loved top rock - but I also struggled strength and style wise. It just didn't sit as comfortably with me as it seemed to with others. I remember saying this to Nadia (one of the Exec, and an incredible B-Girl - now dancing professionally) one day and she just looked at me and said: just train harder. But I didn't want to... so I started fading off a little bit, despite the crew trying to push and get me involved. I still did shows and still joined in but I wasn't massively loving it. Then one day, Nadia had a great idea - to invite some amazing hip hop dancers to our sessions so that as a crew we could 1) learn something new and 2) incorporate or get some inspiration from another style to bring into our breakdancing. I wish I could remember who taught that day, but I just remember this girl who was incredibly... funky. After the showcase, I headed straight for her direction and I asked whether she taught and where - her response was: sometimes at Pineapple Dance studios in London but I travel quite a lot - but Jimmy Williams, who's a legend in Locking, teaches there regularly so you should check it out. From that moment, I knew I had to turn up at Pineapple and find out what on earth Locking was and whether it could be the one.

That time I thought I was catwoman. 
Oh, and a b-girl. Oh young innocence and hope, bless.

💅 Bellydance. Throughout University, a heavy proportion of my free time and my report-back conversations with my parents involved the Breakdancing society (no surprises there). One particular conversation stuck out: it was with my mum. She'd come over to visit me and find out what "this English University thing" is all about. I walked her around campus, showed her the main sites and student areas, and introduced her to some of my WKBD friends. Towards the end of her trip, we were chatting about how I was getting on, and she suddenly said: you've become quite boy-ish. This was a fair comment - being part of the breakdance crowd did make me all streets and tings (LOLz), but I was a little taken aback. Mum then asked whether I wanted to try something a bit more feminine to balance the dance styles out. No joke - the day after she left, I told a couple of friends on my course, and my pal Cassie suddenly said "how about coming to our next Bellydance society class?". This was beyond past my happy zone, but I could hear mum's words in my head and I just thought: f*ck it, I'll do it. All of a sudden, my second year at University became a juggling act of two dance styles and society commitments. I performed with one crew, then the other, then back again. It was quite tiring, haha. There is an annual dance show at Warwick Uni called Pizazz which I ended up performing in for both societies - running from one costume change to another, and trying not to get overwhelmed by it all. By the end of my second year, I had semi-successfully learnt how to bellydance - and best of all: I foolishly agreed to be part of the Bellydance Society yearly calendar, which once released I bought a couple of copies: one for mum ("look mum, proof I'm a lady"), and one for the LOLz innit. 

Outdoor performances never looked so jingly. 
So, obviously I hid in the back. Standard chat.

🙋 Locking. In my final year of University I reduced my dance time drastically, because I wanted to focus on studying (I wasn't going to be a professional dancer, not that skilled people). I stopped bellydancing, and I didn't apply to be on the Exec of WKBD. This meant less time dancing during each term, which meant I craved it out of term. Enter: Pineapple Dance studios. I started attending the odd Locking class with Jimmy Williams, Calvin, and also explored other dance styles through open days - like Hip Hop with Super Malcolm and Bly. Jimmy and Calvin pretty much sold Locking to me, Jimmy especially. I was hooked. After graduating, I decided to try and commit to regular Locking classes. Saturday, Monday and Wednesday were the classes back then - I tried to go when I could. And... every time, I would hide in the back. It was flipping hard!! And beyond intimidating. I tried to invite other pals to come with me - and succeeded a few times: thank you JG, Fede, and Rai - but they dropped off like flies due to other commitments. When I started my first "proper job" my attendance dropped off again, and I would go every now and then (maybe once every couple of months) - basically, de-prioritised it. My ex used to try and get me to go to class because he knew I loved it and he loved how much I enjoyed it - but workaholic-Cathia was too tired and didn't care enough. The sporadic attendance went on for about 2 years. Then, my heart got broken and my long-term BF ended our relationship. I was broken. But I also ended up having a lot of free time (winning: the first time in 4 and a bit years, haha). Uncle B and Aunty G suggested I try dance again - and that was my biggest turning point. I can remember turning up to class and just dancing it out. The next week, I turned up again. And the next. And the next. Soon, it became a regular thing - I just stopped thinking about anything and just robotically turned up every Saturday and Monday. I didn't talk to anyone, I just walked in, danced, walked out. About two years ago, I started feeling more comfortable in this dance style - I understood the basic moves, but I wanted to push myself and work out how I could add my own style to it all. I inched forwards a bit more so I could see Jimmy more clearly... and also to face what I looked like in the mirror when I did the moves: did I actually do the moves like Jimmy did? Six months later, a beautiful soul-sister called Anitra turned up to class and I could tell she loooooved dancing. We became pals. I noticed that although she was new to class, she filmed herself at the end of every class when we were drilling the routine. Enter another huge turning point: I decided to start filming myself too. It was weird. It made me uncomfortable. But it also served an incredible purpose: outside of class, the videos showed me that I could kind of... do it. The more I filmed, the more I tried harder and the better my concentration was. But these videos were only for me, to show myself I could do it so hopefully I would believe it. Then, a few pals started asking why I didn't post them (oh peer pressure, you beautiful thing). In all honesty, I didn't want anyone to judge me and see me fail. But I made a compromise, and decided to post snippets of videos on my Instagram Stories (15 second videos that last for 24 hours only). After a few months of doing this, I finally worked up the courage to post an actual video on my Instafeed. A lot of pals were really surprised I danced, or did these classes - but gave me the encouragement to keep filming. Filming for yourself is one thing (cringe), and filming for actual viewers is a complete other (cringe). But it's given me the healthy pressure to try my best each time I walk into class, even if I'm really tired and feeling down. Result: my Locking got better by yonks in one year, versus the previous 5 years combined. It's completely transformed my relationship with dance, and with myself. I am now part of a Locking family, I have funk brothers and funk soul-sisters who all religiously turn up no matter what's going on in our lives, and slowly but surely I am beginning to feel more comfortable in this funky-skin of mine. 

"While you sleep, we creep." 
When I say creep, I mean we prance around a room and get weird. (- official definition)

House. About a year ago, I decided to try out a House class at Pineapple. I can't actually remember who suggested I try it but off I went. I haven't stopped going since that first try. I've had different friends join me and drop out, but my girl HayHay stuck in there with me and now, I also love House. I'm not very good at it yet but it is so much fun. Marko, who teaches us, has the most contagious happy dance-y vibes which has me hooked. I haven't really filmed myself regularly in this class yet, but when the time is right guys, I will share the momentous occasion with you all. 

💪 The Rest. Once hooked into dance, you're hooked for life. I end up attending random classes just in the hope that I'll find something else I love. Hellooo Waacking, Dancehall, Commercial Hip Hop, and Pantsula. I definitely don't want to do too much, but I do know that I want to keep building on my dance knowledge and style. It's the one thing that I feel I've chosen and committed to out of my own drive and pleasure. It's empowering, it's my healer, and it's definitely been my constant (though I haven't really appreciated or noticed that until writing this). I can't imagine life without dance - it's had the ability to carry me through a lot. It's taken a lot of time and a lot of you-can-do-it mantras, but I'm excited to find out what's next in store for me.

Standard "I'm in da club" face. 
We all have our signature moves, mine involves closing my eyes.

💃 So, why do I dance? I have no idea. It just happens. But if I were to pick three reasons:

  • It always cheers me up. Whatever mood I'm in, but particularly when I'm down or just don't want to give a sh1t about anything or anyone, then moving my body is my go-to medicine.
  • It's the best way to get to know me, because I can express myself more clearly. That sounds ridiculous given I've just written a bunch of words about it but I genuinely feel like when my body moves, it can express how I feel better than anything else - you can tell through my movements if I'm sad, hyper, shy, angry, frustrated, or just feeling random.
  • It makes me happy when someone else wants to dance because I dance. If I can get just one person to start dancing, have a laugh getting weird with me, or just get moving and grooving in their own way, then that gives me the best feeling :-)

Maybe see you all in class next week? LOLz.

🙆 See y'all soon! 


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