Starbucks, Bromley, April 2018
Kloé is the founder, choreographer and dancer of Myself UK Dance Company alongside being a member of Boy Blue Entertainment; she has presented her own work at Ladies of Hip Hop at the Alvin Ailey Theatre (NY), Alliances Urbaines in Paris, HHI in Las Vegas and Breakin Convention at Sadler's Wells. Alongside her choreographic work she has performed on Channel 4, CBBC, ITV, Sky 1 and BBC for the Queen’s Coronation and she features in the O2 Campaign Think Big adverts and films All-Stars and The Harry Hill Movie.
IA: Hi Kloe. The idea of a crew and a company. How do they act as alternate kinships and support structures? You’re part of some, a founder of others.
KD: It’s an interesting one...I feel within Hip Hop going from someone who dances because I enjoyed it to making it a career I see the difference between a crew and a company. Getting older and having to provide for myself, it’s somewhat of a struggle and still is. In Hip Hop we can have a million different crews and get booked for work...but there isn’t as many companies as crews coming together and wanting to dance. When I started my company I wanted to work towards having a set up similar to a contemporary one, providing work for dancers that is continuous and we’re not just waiting for work to come to us - which I think is very current and happens all the time within the Hip Hop scene. People not only do things for free, but because there’s not been a lot written down for people to follow. Whereas ballet, jazz and modern they have a structure that they’ve gone by and they’re top of the list in terms of Equity...there’s a lot of information on supporting yourself as an artist. As Hip Hop artists we’ve had to cross over into the contemporary Hip Hop world, or Hip Hop theatre world in order to make money...unless it’s the battle scene which is blowing up. Especially being sponsored by Red Bull and the B-Boy Champs. As fickle as it is on the money side of it, it is pretty clear. I was in it and I got into it because I felt I had a family as part of my crew. I found confidence in being able to dance around people who you feel support you, whereas as a solo dancer you just go in and do the job and sometimes there’s not enough time to find that support or bond with people. I have been privileged to have that a lot of times. But there has been times when it has been cut throat and it’s 'OK, do the job and see you later.' That’s the key difference.
IA: What are the things you put in place for your company to create that bond?
KD: I think it’s the simple things like trying to find a balance between creating bonds between people and getting people to bond with each other. Whenever I do auditions or bring new people into the company, we always play lots of games, lots of ice breakers. I’ve been brought up through going to different workshops - not just dance workshops - and I’ve tried to implement it into my dance process in order to bring people together. It’s really important when you’re on stage that you know the people you’re dancing with. Working together in pairs and groups, making sure they have time to create their own movement. But also being honest, working with your company and working with your crew, with what you’re trying to build. I’ve never been fake and said 'Oh yeah we’re going to get loads of jobs.' I’ve been optimistic and said what it is I wanted to happen but I’ve been real in terms of working hard. We all - well most of the time - we all want the same things.
IA: How do you create the right environment for people to flourish in?
KD: I don’t feel like I have it perfect, but I do feel like I’ve had good times and bad times. Hip Hop is a struggle for me, it’s getting so much bigger, there’s more people doing it and then it becomes harder to get loyal - not even loyal I wouldn’t say it like that - consistency in dancers. I think the difference that I’ve experienced is when I started it was a big thing if you danced for someone else. It was like 'Woah. OK that’s treading on thin ice.' Where as now everyone wants to eat as much as they can. I feel like back in that day when it was Honey days and Save The Last Dance and Step Up days there was more of a this is us and this is you. I don’t feel that now, I feel it’s become commercialised; I dunno if it’s the society we live in but it’s like McDonalds so quick and easy you can get it everywhere. People just want to eat from everyone. One of my choreographic teachers used to be quite strict, but now I feel he’s quite open to the times that people have other commitments and I’ve struggled with that. You want to build the dream team...but if that person has to make money - which is understandable - and they also want to build themselves, then you don’t want to hold them back. But you have that dream of wanting to build a core group and that’s something I’ve always had in my mind, no matter how small the company I have, I just want it to be strong.
IA: Does it boil down to a sense of identity? Does dancers moving between companies dilute identity?
KD: Yes. The best way I could describe it is back in the day people would rock their crew tee like it’s a gold chain. This is me. But now if you dance for five groups you’re not going to have five tees. It’s harder and it’s more unique to have a dancer who is committed to one company. Whereas back in the day it was known that you dance for that person, sick, good on you. You wouldn’t want to steal anyone’s dancers or if you did work with people it would be a collaboration, not like ‘You work for me.’ or if you did it would be...
IA: (sharp intake of breath)
KD: Right! (laughs)
IA: What do you think triggered that change?
KD: I feel like because people could make money. Afrobeat’s big now but it’s been around for years. Don’t get me wrong I love it and enjoy it, but you can make money from it as well. So everyone’s jumped on it. There’s been hype building for years. I’ve been breaking and learning funk styles but afrobeats is in now, so let me go to that class or that crew. I feel like priorities change and it shows in regards to commitment. Especially if you know everyone’s doing it. People think OK I’m going to dance for four people.
IA: Going back to the idea of kinships and self care. How do you practice it and ensure you’re in a good space to ensure everyone you teach is in a good place?
KD: I think there’s a lack of it. Not a lot of people have done it, but I feel people are starting to do it. I was very much like I’m going into Hip Hop and this is what I want to do. Ballet and other things I started I was like 'This is dry. I don’t want to do this.' I didn’t have any experience or education of it until I went to performing arts college which I started but didn’t finish...until I started taking classes with a guy called Fred Fox. He’s a personal trainer as well as specialising in popping and locking, but it wasn’t until he started teaching me I realised 'Oh I can’t just dance and go home - literally - I have to look after my body.' It was only then I started doing more about it. All these older pioneers, no one was stretching, no one was getting massages, no one was looking after their joints or eating right. Even mindfulness or taking the mental time to come away from what you’re doing. I feel like I’ve not been very good at it until the last couple of years when I’ve had to realise we do a lot with our bodies, so knowing how to look after it and what to do after practice. As we’re getting older you start to feel it more. I think it’s really important but there’s a lack of information. Maybe it is there but people aren’t attracted to go and find out...until they have that knee injury, until they break their arm and they think crap I can’t make any money. If there is an urgency then it becomes apparent, more real and is spoken about more. Especially with mental health. This is something I’m looking into at the moment because my dad committed suicide in 2012 and ever since I’ve been interested in the rate of male suicides. Especially in the UK. My dad was 42 and that was quite young. Hip Hop is such a male oriented world and most of the guys I meet rarely talk about anything other than dance. That’s something I’m keen to make more visible in the Hip Hop scene because it’s not talked about.
IA: Is that something that might manifest in a piece in the future?
KD: No. Yeah. I might make a piece, I dunno yet it’s very small seed, but I really want to work with a group of men. One because of what I’ve said and two to find out more and connect with more male dancers. When I started a crew there wasn’t enough platforms for females. There were barriers. Sometimes when I trained with breakers there was a 'Do this move, but do it sexy.' It put me off a lot of the time. We were branded as women just to be that Hip Hop girl in the video. I get it even now. It’s 2018. Come on. Girls are spinning on their head, doing triple back summies, they got power and style. I saw a project recently called Project 84...on the ITV buildings they put 84 mannequins representing real men who had committed suicide from buildings. I just thought that nobody really does that it in dance, nobody talks about that side of stuff. I’ve seen a lot of stuff about other abuse, physical abuse in relationships. It’s something I want to delve into at some point.
IA: Can you talk a little bit about the reasons behind your all female crew?
KD: I started it because I was frustrated - I got kicked out of a crew and the choreographer of the crew told everyone I’d left. It was really heart-breaking...
IA: Was that choreographer male?
KD: Yes. I was fuming. Totally upset. I was committed to the crew and wanted to do it. There was even a point when I broke my hand and we was supposed to be doing the championships in Germany. He didn’t let me do it because of my hand - which I understand - but I was ready to do the set with a broken hand. I’m one of those people that if I’m doing something I will do it even if I’m half dead. It just really hurt me. Aside from that I felt like I was trying to do a lot of things and it wasn’t surfacing. I look back at it, and I’m not just tooting the feminist horn here, I look back at it and it was hard as a female to be accepted unless you’re going to shake your bum or a crazy trick that nobody else can do. It wasn’t everyone - I had my friends and people that were supporting me - but it was hard. I wanted to start a crew with all the dope females that I knew, essentially that had become friends, who I would see in closed environments be amazing and excel, but around other people they wouldn’t. Why is that? Why won’t they go all out. When I first started dancing I was crap. I look back and I was crap, but I had confidence for days. I remember I auditioned for Boy Blue but I was giving it so much life I think that’s why I got in. I definitely didn’t get the routine right. I wanted to share that with people and push people...not in a militant way or scare them. I wanted to find that balance in my practice and have a crew that isn’t a predictable crew of let’s be feminine. I’m still questioning what feminine is because I feel like it’s still what commercially people see to be feminine. I wanted to create a crew who could do anything. That’s why we’re called ‘Myself.’ I found that it was hard to keep that uniqueness - not uniqueness - but to do what we wanted to do. When we went for things we would have to, not convert but live up to what people would expect to see. Over the first five years I felt like I had to please and impress everyone, then it got to a point where I was like I don’t care. I’m going to do what I want and if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. That was the best decision I made because after that it progressed faster and faster. Even now I’m still trying to find what I want to do, how I want to do it and get better and better at it.
IA: Who was Kloe then? Who is Kloe now as a leader?
KD: Hmm that’s hard. At 18 I was very much I’m going to do it, let’s go, let’s make it happen. I was very motivated, very ‘We’re gonna make it happen.’ No matter what it was, I wanted to give it 100% and I wanted everyone around me to get stuff quickly. I wanted everyone in the crew to be on point. I wanted everyone in the crew to be perfect straight away. Whereas now I’ve matured and I appreciate the process of things. I’ve got a patience that I don’t think I had when I first started. There’s a better process in Myself now as I don’t want to do everything but I do want to build the company. Not in a money hungry sense but to feed ourselves, to operate as a company with an annual turnover and not just be seen. We were seen for a long time because a lot of us look young in the group - as well as being female - like we’re kids or that’s a cute group of girls, not that’s an amazing company of women. That’s what I want and that’s something we’ve transitioned into and still developing. Especially as we’re coming up to our 10-year anniversary...this transitional period moving into a professional realm. I’ve found that difficult because there’s such an emphasis on community in Hip Hop which I love, but for it to grow we need to take it seriously, especially among the older dancers. Everything can’t always be community based. There has to be a balance if there’s going to be a growth. I feel like even in ballet when there’s free things, people are still getting paid, but when we do it nobody’s getting paid. It’s hard because I’m someone that wants to help people and I melt if someone tells me there’s a cause I want to help, but if you asked the Royal Opera House they would say no, we’re not doing it for free. Because it’s Hip Hop people will do things for free. There were artists - I can’t remember who, but they were big artists - who were asking people to do a video for free, if it’s Rita Ora or whoever - it wasn’t her - but if you’re 16 you’re not going to say no. They will ask the next person and the next and the next until someone will say ‘Yeah I’ll do it for free.’ That transition needs to happen and we all need to come together and have a plan to not undersell ourselves.
IA: Valuing the community and work. It’s highly specialist work and if you were an elite athlete you wouldn’t be asked to do it for free.
KD I know. But it’s hard. There’s such a fine line because when everything becomes professional...I feel scared that it’s going to lose the authenticity. It’s a very fine line.
IA: Can you talk more about authenticity?
KD: It’s the natural vibe that you create with the people in the room. Whether it’s a DJ with music, dancers inviting people onto the floor or people chilling with each other having a vibe. If you’re cyphering, you’re cyphering, if you’re battling, you’re battling and having that passion and fire to - especially if you’re battling in a healthy way - beat the other person. It’s fiery, it’s scary, it’s risky - that is authenticity. Even when you go to a party and everyone starts doing a social dance together it’s authentic. My understanding of Hip Hop - and I’m still learning from people who are from that time it was born - is that it wasn’t nice, there was oppression and things weren’t good. People were dying, no healthcare and loads of troubles that people have in everyday life. They had dance and parties to come away from that. That is authentic. When someone creates a solo about something that is passionate to them and it’s not just about how this move looks and it’s from a place of meaning instead of visual satisfaction. That’s authentic.
IA: It’s a little bit of a watershed moment with Boy Blue and Avant Garde having got into Arts Council England’s portfolio. Has that validated and professionalised them? Are they perceived differently?
KD: That’s what I find hard too. There’s a question of what is validated or professional. Professionalism is how you conduct yourself as an individual and a collective. Professional is about money, payment and salary. Professional is the level of experience you have. Professional is a structure and set up for your company. I joined Boy Blue in 2006 and it’s grown and grown and grown professionally. It annoys me that companies are validated or deemed professional when another establishment funds or endorses it...we shouldn’t have to get this person or this thing to say that in order to be professional. In Hip Hop we’re already seen as club dancers or people will message me and say can you make a routine for this video or can you do 15 minutes for this event? 15 minutes is a long time. Are you sure you want 15 minutes? Yeah just put together a "little routine.” That level of understanding is hard to put across to the other side because people think it’s not professional to dance in this style. Ballet, and contemporary are more established and seen as more professional. I don’t know if it’s because for years you’ve been able to study those styles at performing arts school or college or because it has got documentation and an archive of information. Hip Hop is down here in comparison. That’s the struggle. With Avant Garde and Boy Blue they have always in my mind been established and have a professionalism. I don’t feel like the portfolio validates that, but it’s a big responsibility to take on because a lot of people are ‘Ooh what’s going to happen now.’ Boy Blue are big. I’ve been saying for years they need to have their own building. There’s hundreds of dancers. There’s no Hip Hop or urban dance buildings and that’s why when we go to other studios - as amazing as they are - they’re not built for Hip Hop styles. It is always taken from the blueprint of a ballet studio which has nothing to do with the styles we do.
IA: You’ve mentioned a building that is built for Hip Hop in a couple of previous interviews. What would be in that space and what would be different about it?
KD: I would create enough studios. It would be lovely to have enough studios to have corporate booked studios so you have money coming in, then have community studios and then offer discounted space to artists. The majority of kids going into in Hip Hop are from deprived backgrounds and don’t have money to go and pay for a class at Pineapple or Royal Opera House. Floor wise there should be floors suitable for breakers, floors for people doing up dances, for people doing choreography and there should be a gym because people don’t realise how fit you have to be for Hip Hop. If you’re gonna break you need to build up your strength. Having a theatre space to have shows as well as having a nice big hall space to hold battles in. Somewhere that’s open until late time because there’s not many club nights. Having an education space, a library that caters to Hip Hop, urban and funk styles, even dance of the African diaspora. People can go and read after taking a class, or go on the iPad and find out more about it. A Hip Hop hub that is allowed to be itself and not a copy of another studio. I feel like Boy Blue being at the Barbican, Breakin’ Convention at Sadler’s Wells, Avant Garde at The Place they’re guests and we don’t need to be guests, we want to be ourselves. You be our guests. We need to hold our own ground. Someone rich needs to come and invest.
IA: Hip Hop is one of the multi billion dollar industries...
KD: But where is the money going? In pockets. I’m still looking into it and it’s making me being a bit inner. I was working something out. You know Move It and how much money they make? I was speaking to one of the workers and she was saying the Upper Street Events Management team don’t even see it as a big money maker; I calculated it as much as I can, ticket wise, how much people paid for the stands and they make millions…
IA Where is that going?
KD: They don’t care about dance. From what I’ve seen they don’t care and from what I know - I’ve been doing it for years - I’ve never been paid to dance at Move It and I’ve never been paid to teach at Move It. Competitions are a big thing...UDO, IDO and again I appreciate them, I go and judge for them, I’ve competed in them. But again I would love to see how money is made and if any profit is put back into the community. Even a percentage. I could never start anything like that and not put anything back, it’s just how I’ve been brought up...I guess it’s easier if you’re detached from it and you see it as a business plan. It’s the people with the business skills who don’t have an attachment who are quick to say this is good, that isn’t. We used to have a night called Throwdown in Brixton and that was one of my favourite nights because everyone would get ready for that night. Charlie, the guy that ran it, moved to a different profession and it got to a point close to when it stopped that it was dying down a bit and I feel like if there was a little bit more support or endorsement someone could have taken over from him knowing that there was support there. I get scared - even though I’m not that much older - that the way things are evolving people are just going to be in their house watching YouTube. I’ve noticed it and I was at a competition recently sitting there watching and the kids are amazing but the audience is just nothing. Nothing at all. People are so used to looking at screens and you don’t have to react. It scares me. I love Hip Hop because when you go to a show you shout your life away to the people dancing and they love that. I love that on stage, whereas in other environments it’s rude to shout and it’s not seen as respectful...until the end. It’s a nice environment to let yourself go and be free. I wouldn’t want Hip Hop to go down that route...I don’t think it will, but...
IA: We’ve spoken a bit on the theatre scene. What about the club and social dance scene? How are you in that scene?
KD: Over the past five maybe six years, I’ve moved more into the theatre and working – I wouldn’t say commercially - in a Hip Hop sense, as opposed to where I started going to clubs all the time and going to jams. As I’ve got busier - which I’m grateful for - I haven’t been able to do that all the time. I also I feel like there’s a lack of natural nights to go to, which aren’t orchestrated. The battle scene has got more money and more drive. Everyone’s got better, everyone’s sick, but you know how you can get asked to be guest dancer and you get paid to go there. That’s started to become a thing and people have got that in their minds, oh I can make a quick buck from this battle. Rather than I wanna train, I want to get better, I wanna dance with people, I think that’s a big thing. I would love to dance with more people. I would love to have more of that from events. I feel there’s a transition that a lot of people make where you’re seen as underground and then you become overground in that you’ve been booked for jobs or gone on tour or won battles or now judging. There’s two ends of the spectrum. I’ve always wanted to be swinging between both. Rather than leaving one or staying underground. But I haven’t peaked yet, I haven’t got to the highest of my ability or visibility and that’s because I’m trying to hold onto the undergroundism of the culture. But if I go back to events I’ll be called the commercial dancer. I struggle with that a lot.
IA: How do you feel you and the company are perceived?
KD: In all honesty I’m not sure. That’s something I struggle with. I’ve always been juggling me, the company and the work that I do. Our visibility could be higher. I’ve always worked alone as well. I’ve never had a team of people operating the company. I’ve asked for help and had assistants and stuff but never had a strong team. That’s something I’m looking into as well because if I did have the revenue to grow the company I feel like a team would make it more successful. But it’s also me educating myself and learning to let go.
IA: Releasing the power?
KD: That is so hard and it scares me. It scares the life out of me if I’m honest. It’s something I need to do and explore and just try. Just risk it. There’s a level and an end of level to how far you personally can go...I feel like I’ve pushed that cap as far as I can take it. I need to break the seal and try a different approach.
IA: If you look across any other business, it’s never one person doing everything.
KD: A lot of people are surprised at me 'You edit the music, you do the choreo and you do the promo?' I’m like yep. I’ve always been able to do it, not in a big-headed way, I can’t pay for that person to do it so I might as well do it myself. I’ve learnt skills from doing it and I’m grateful for pushing myself too. I’m always looking at other people who are paying other people and I’m like you might as well do that yourself I’ll show you how to do it. I was going to say I processed it all a bit backwards. I started teaching from 15 but as I taught it helped me learn. If I taught something to someone I learnt it better. Like recapping it to someone else. Teaching was something I was drawn to really quickly and a lot of people I speak to now, they’re like 'I’m going to keep working until I’m 50 and then I’m going to teach.' I’m like ‘Oh no I’ve done it the wrong way around!’
IA: There are some dancers who are great dancers, but terrible teachers; how do you share what is inside your head in a clear and transparent way?
KD: This is something I’ve always explored. I used to be really quiet and silent because I was so shy...until I was in my room. Dance helped me - and it sounds cheesy - but dance helped me come out of my shell. I had a lot bottled up and dance, movement wise, helped me to express a lot. Then having to teach rapidly built my confidence. I was so scared to talk out loud. When I started teaching I had to talk out loud otherwise nothing was going to happen and so that was a big help to me and I think it helps others. A lot of the time when I do workshops with young people, especially from secondary school onwards, I always get them to teach each other. Work out this, work out the left side and then the right side. I get them talking because most of the time they aren’t really talking to anyone and I’ve found it’s a really powerful tool.
IA: How do you transmit what’s in here (points to head and heart) to others so they have that same clarity?
KD: I try and relate it to everyday things and everyday life that people experience. I was teaching a waacking routine and I said ‘Put the scarf on, take the scarf off.’ Little things that everyone would do...and it really works. I love making people smile and getting a little laugh out of people. Especially with someone with the most miserable face. If I can get one laugh out of them by the end of the session I’m like yes! I like to wake people up. Whether it’s a beginner level or advanced level class we’re all human, we all go toilet and we’re all real. That’s my number one thing as a teacher...be real. Yesterday I taught a class at a dance school and they were all quite quiet, and I said you’re allowed to talk to me. Just getting people on your level so you’re not just pushing them is about gaining an understanding. My biggest challenge is teaching people who don’t speak English. It’s the biggest challenge but I love it, I end up doing an alternative sign language, doing moves and random sounds.
IA: Can you talk a bit more about that, about how Hip Hop translates.
KD: The music is a big thing. Because there’s tracks that I like that are in Dutch and German and I don’t know what they’re saying, but I love the vibe. It’s weird when I find out what it means, I’ll be like I knew that, I felt that. The feeling of music is the most powerful tool. Rhythmic patterns, different soundscapes, rappers flow or the singers melodic range we all relate to different things. I have a friend who is Deaf, a dancer Chris Fonseca, he teaches Hip Hop dance to people who are deaf. They feel the vibrations and they can relate to the music and understand it. I like people to feel the beat, whether I’m clapping or singing it or feeling it or whatever I’m showing them, I want them to feel it above everything. As a teacher I want to put across that feeling, because it’s that thing which is authentic, it’s natural. When Method Man started rapping on that track he was pissed off, so when you start dancing you should have that vibe, or a feeling related to that. When have you been angry? The steps are on top of that, an accessory. Feeling the Hip Hop bounce, that vibe, is the element that you want and then you can build upon it. The skills people have are amazing but the quality of it comes from that feeling. Sorry if I’ve gone off into something else.
IA: No it’s about how you transmit that idea.
KD: I’m still trying different ways. I always say to my friends I wish you could buy a projector you just put on your head and it shows inside your head on the wall, I would love it. It’s finding relationships between you and the person. I’m building a piece for Breakin’ Convention at the moment and it’s about...I’ve really found it hard to translate...it’s about everyone going about their everyday lives but everyone knows there’s trouble in the world - bombings in Syria, global warming, Trump - it’s getting worse and everyone is just going on as if nothing’s happened. It’s that kind of underlying energy. Whether you’re in a relationship and you know your partner’s cheating and you’re brushing it under the carpet. Or your mum has a mental health issue and you’re brushing it under the carpet. There’s an underlying issue. I’ve found trying to get that across is so hard. I’ve tried to get it across to the dancers with different kinds of experiences like films and documentaries.
IA: What are things that are troubling you in the scene at the moment?
KD: Troubling? With Myself I need to be more visible. It’s hard because it’s not like I’m not doing a lot - I do a lot, but I’m really bad at showing it all. I do so much more than what is on Instagram or Facebook. I’ve come from a generation where it was quite precious about your...what you create in a crew. If someone does something similar to you, you’re biting. Even if someone’s used a track before you and you use the track they’d be like 'You stole that track!' Even when I was learning from Kenrick - I’m still learning from him - but learning from him in that era that nobody put their videos up on Facebook. There wasn’t Facebook at that time! YouTube had just started but nobody was putting anything up. What you did in the rehearsal room stayed in the rehearsal room until the show. Now it’s post everything, show everything, show every part of the rehearsal process. Everyone is very exposed but in a controlled way. I struggle with that and I’m struggling with how to create that visibility. I like to pioneer the foundations of Hip Hop and what we would say old school qualities of it. Ballet would never lose first position, so why would you lose the foundations that Hip Hop is based on. Even with Myself there’s so much more I wanna learn but there’s so much pressure to be the new thing. When I do battles and I dance a lot of people are like ‘Oh I love it you’re so old school.’ I’m like ‘Great. I’m a grandma.’ That’s my struggle of being current and biting the bullet. At the moment I’m struggling to find music that I like, especially if I’m doing work that needs to be commercially led and be popular straight away. I find it hard to connect to the music that’s being brought out by supposedly Hip Hop artists. It’s not what I know as Hip Hop and I’m struggling with the transition to be current. Link is a good person at doing it and I’m trying to watch him more. Buddha Stretch and Link are pioneering, but Link is amazing at keeping the foundation and utilising what is being made now. His pioneer level is something I aspire to. I don’t wanna be a dinosaur and say 'Oh we can only do this, and we can only do that.' But I don’t want to lose that side. Money. Consistently. If I’m being honest, having work and getting work and knowing whether as a company I wanna stay current; I think there’s a difference between selling out, keeping your authenticity and waiting for the right work. But that wait will be long! If I sat down and wrote the amount of hours I’ve given to rehearsals for 10 years, I don’t know how many hours it would be. I’ve never paid myself for rehearsal time. I’ve done jobs with the company, but I’ve always put my dancers first. I always paid them first and I realise - because I’m probably an idiot - but some people I was dancing for sometimes and the choreographers are getting paid, but the dancers weren’t getting paid. It’s about looking at how I can live as well as my dancers and not cutting down hours but being a smart choreographer. In all honesty I don’t have all day to spend creating choreo or thinking about an idea. There’s life things I should prioritise. Like my well-being. There were times last year when I would sit on an idea all day, I’d be doing other things but that idea is taking up all my energy. So being able to compartmentalise and put things in certain time frames and sorting it out in that sense.
IA: Hip Hop has a codified vocabulary with familiar moves. I’m interested in the tension between respecting your heritage and trying to find your own identity?
KD: I’m still trying to find that. There’s an importance in the music you use and when I was growing up there’s certain songs in Hip Hop, rap or even pop that are utilising older songs and recycling them. Drake has one of Lauryn Hill’s songs so if I use the old track it’s still popular and I have that appeal of it being popular with the young generation going ‘That’s that Drake track.’ You’re like ‘No that’s the Lauryn Hill track.’ There’s still some education in that sense, but also the crossover of having relevance and the foundation. I think it’s also about a tree going from the roots and growing up. So not just doing a Bart Simpson, but how can you vary the Bart Simpson, how can you make a movement from it; how can you utilise movement coming the club, moves like the milly rock, even something as cheesy as the dab. I found it so hard because compared to when I was learning Hip Hop grooves they were so intricate. Now I feel they’re so easy I question where’s the substance? I’m trying to utilise both. I can’t see Hip Hop being Hip Hop without its roots. It’s like trying to grow a plant with just the leaf.
IA: Where does race and class sit in your work?
KD: That’s a hard one. I’ve always struggled as a mixed-race person. It sounds silly, but I don’t feel I’m allowed to be Black and I don’t feel like I’m allowed to be White. It sounds silly saying it. At the moment with Black Panther, African culture has been commercialised and there’s a proud and empowering sense which I love. Then it’s weird...there’s part of me that feels I want to be proud and hold that flag, but I don’t feel I’m allowed. Then there’s the whole, if I’m being real, the privileged side of being a White person. That’s my judgements of the two sides and I still feel in between, having a dad from Black heritage, and a mum from White heritage, that’s something I’ve always struggled with. Being accepted in Hip Hop - because it’s a mix of every and anyone - literally Black, White, purple, blue...everyone is from everywhere and this is where I feel I’ve had acceptance. It starts to happen when a culture becomes more visual and a trend is commercialised. Casting calls will say ‘We need a Black person with curly hair.’ What you consider a Black person to be is not what I might consider a Black person to be. You might consider a mixed-race person. It’s a sticky situation and a touchy thing to talk about. I have had people say to me ‘Oh but you’re Black so you need to represent me, you’re Black so you have to represent da da da da da.’ Then I’ll have Black people saying to me ‘But no you’ve got White in you, you’re mixed race so you’re not Black.’ Even on the White side there’ll be people walking on eggshells saying 'What are you? What do I call you?’
KD: Yeah! Thank you! Do you know what I mean? I dunno. I find it really awkward. AWKWARD. I just wanna dance. In all honestly I never look at anyone’s colour. In all honesty. I love culture. My dad was Black but he was the most cockney person ever [impersonates him] ‘You alright man, know what I mean?’
IA: EastEnders style?
KD: Exactly. He was London and I didn’t see him like that. Even having friends at school I never really thought about it in that way. I find it really hard growing up and thinking about these things...having the reality of boxes that tick you. I find it really awkward. Sorry if that isn’t a very good answer!
IA: That’s your reality and it’s ensuring that it’s documented. Why is it awkward?
KD: I have a thing about support. I don’t like the thing about...how do I put it? ‘You drink coffee, I drink coffee so I’m going to support you because we both drink coffee not because you’re a good person or because you’re doing good things.’ Just because you drink coffee I support you. I feel like that happens a lot in the creative industry, not just in dance.
IA: An old boys network?
KD: Yeah. Sometimes I think why doesn’t that person like me? Or why doesn’t that person seem interested? It’ll be random things when you find out it’s 'Oh because you’re not doing this style, or you’re not doing this thing.' Some of the reasons behind it when you start to surface them are quite sad. I’ve never thought to support someone for something other than what they’re doing or what they’re creating. I find that hard that that happens. You’re only supporting that person because they’ve bought you something. I believe in the craft and what you put in as a person. I think means a lot.
IA: You mentioned many styles that you practice? Can you talk about the difference between them and how they affect your body?
KD: I started learning breaking and that was the first style I learned. I loved it actually. I wish I’d stuck to being a breaker. I secretly want to be a B-Girl. I started learning breaking around 13/14, when I had loads of energy and was able to do it all. But when I hit puberty and grew as a woman, it became a little bit harder. Women hold a lot of weight around here ready for having babies and I feel it’s a lot harder as women...realising that was hard for me because as I started getting older and doing floor work I realised I had to work out a lot more. Not because I was getting fat just because I had to build more muscle and strength in those areas to hold them up! [laughs]. I felt like the breaking floor work and Hip Hop in general it was my knees that were being worked really hard...that comes back to me now as I realise I need to look after them. My diet has always been quite bad, up until now, the last year and a half I’ve been really thinking about what I’m eating and I’m trying to balance it out. I’ve become vegetarian and cut out all fizzy drinks. I love chocolate so it’s really hard, but I’m trying to have more of a balanced diet. My knees have been affected from locking as well - from doing knee drops and thinking that my knees are invincible.
IA: Knees of steel!
KD: Yeah! Literally. It’s funny because there was a period of time where I wore knee pads for every day of my life! Without fail and I looked like a martian because I had these really big knees...but it was my knee pads. It wasn’t until I went to a class with Fred and he did a class about well-being that I found out I had fluid in my knees. It wasn’t until he said ‘Check your knees.’ I pressed my knees and it squished - I never realised! That was from locking and floor work. When I started popping, it’s a lot of effort on your muscles, I didn’t realise how much you needed to stretch afterwards. I started becoming really stiff because my position was really big and I started sitting like this all the time...and that’s something I’m trying to fix. I think it’s nice to have a fluidity, crunch and bounce but it doesn’t look good when you’re trying to execute movements. My shoulders were tense and tight. When I’ve done waacking it’s an arm work out and you need to have such strength in your arms and your back...I feel it incorporates a lot of jazz technique and I need to work on that side of it with kicks and stuff. I started to see how other styles could fit with Hip Hop styles. Even house. If you ever wanna do cardio, house is the one! It was good for me because house is the opposite bounce to Hip Hop and it’s on the up beat. It’s the knees and legs again. One thing that has been affecting me recently is my lower back...I think that’s from locking, from being down all the time and using your hips. Breaking also affected it too.
IA: Is there anything that you want documenting that hasn’t been said so far?
KD: Oh my gosh! That’s hard. It would be nice to have a hub for Hip Hop in the UK and for it to have its own place. I feel from a young age - even to today - as Hip Hop dancers we’ve always been intruders. Like the other people, or guests and I don’t feel we need to be. We’re just as great, just as amazing, just as important and just as valuable as the other dance styles that are pioneered in this country. I really want to go to Japan and China because from what I’ve seen they really take it seriously...I don’t know how serious it is in their culture or in their communities but I feel in the UK it doesn’t go below the surface. It would be nice to have a prestige, to be looked up to and people say ‘Oh my gosh you’re a Hip Hop dancer! That is amazing.’ Not like ‘Aw that’s fun.’
IA: ‘What do you do for your real job?’
KD: Exactly! Exactly! I would love to be a part of changing that. I would love to empower more women to not feel like they have to sexy dance or be so feminine. That’s not to say that they can’t, but women should feel relaxed and not feel pressured into doing that, or feel that’s the only way they’re going to make it. For that to happen there needs to be more acceptance for women doing “masculine” movement. Not being a man, but if they want to do it, then they can do it. I’ll never forget I auditioned for the new Aladdin film and they had girls in one room, men in another. I went into the girl’s room and it was - as expected - heels and sexy which I can do, I don’t mind. I think it’s good when it’s done right but it’s not something I’m drawn to. I looked into the men’s room and I was like ‘I would have killed that routine. I would have been booked.’ I didn’t get through the girl’s room because there’s so many other factors with looks, how tall you are and I think that that is annoying because men can dance in heels and it goes viral - it literally goes crazy and have millions of views because they’re dancing in heels - and girls are just, no. I would like to change that, especially with commercial work. I want to do more commercial work as a choreographer, but not commercial as in commercial routines, I want to bring Hip Hop into that world the same way Buddha Stretch choreographed for Michael Jackson, the same way Sugar Pop and Poppin Pete worked with Michael Jackson and Chris Brown.
IA: That didn’t dilute their practice...
KD: I feel like people have done that to get into the industry and I don’t want to do that. I want to be known for pioneering in what I trained in and operating at a level where you are recognised, where you are paid well and respected. That’s not to say that I’m not respected, I am in my community and in the dance scene. I hope I am. But I am definitely not up there. That’s not to say that I can only do Hip Hop, but I would like to bring that with me, as opposed to converting to what is expected. I want strong women dancing for me that aren’t in batty riders, shorts and bras. To be honest I want to spend more time sitting down and thinking. I need to take more time. As creatives, we just do do do do do, for me I’m a workaholic and I don’t take enough time to step back. I feel like that would help my process and help others I work with.
IA What is your strongest memory of Hip Hop and dance?
KD: That’s hard! Strongest memory of Hip Hop? That is really hard because I have so many! I think it’s...I was on tour with a show called Blaze and we went to Russia. I thought Russia was going to be dead...I thought it was going to be really cold, we’d stay in the hotel and there would be nowhere to go. But Russia was one of the liveliest nights out you could ever have. We went to this club, I can’t remember what it was called, we’d just done a video for a random DJ in Russia as he was coming to watch the show every day and said ‘Please be in my video, I can’t pay you but I can give you a free bar.’ Everyone was cool, so we went, and everyone throwed down and we were drinking at this bar. Usually when they say free bar they mean prosecco and champagne. But it was everything! I don’t really drink that much, but when I do it’s the really sweet stuff like Disarono and Malibu. They had everything so we got merry and went onto another club. It was all of my dance films rolled into one. I might be wrong but J-Lo’s dancers were there and we ended up battling in the middle of the floor. Out of nowhere! It’s a blur now but I remember being on my head in the middle of the floor, and we were battling, it was literally like Step Up. ‘Step Up to The Club!’ It was all the dance films rolled into one and it’s the memory that stuck out for me. It’s not my biggest competition or anything but because it was so natural and random. You know when you don’t prepare? That’s the beauty of Hip Hop. It was like when you watch old school RnB or Hip Hop videos and everyone’s in the club in slow motion [laughs], the night was amazing. It’s something that stays with me, that feeling, especially when I create choreography because Hip Hop should feel like that. It should feel like that night where you’re out and everything’s amazing. That’s my best night, my best memory and weirdly it was in Russia!
Image - credit Hugo Glendinning