Java Lounge, Birmingham, June 2018
Shanelle started her professional training at Wolverhampton University in 2006 where she graduated and gained a BA Hons in Dance Practice and Performance in 2009. She has trained in variety of dance styles including Hip Hop, waacking, vogue, and salsa. Shanelle has worked with Uchenna Dance, Faith Drama, Rosie Kay Dance Company, Protein Dance and Ace Dance and Music. In 2015 Shanelle earned a place with international dance company RichFam - founded and directed by Rob Rich, in Los Angeles.
IA: Hey Shanelle. Can you talk about crews as a family, as a safe space, and your experience of those alternate kinship roles?
SC: When I first started you could say I started pretty much for the crew. Back in the 90s we didn’t have much like crews, they weren’t really established. You had to establish your crew by your routines or your teacher. I had these two girls called Debbie and Shanella (oh my god), it was the 90s where you had cycling shorts and T-shirts like Mariah Carey dancers. They were two dancers I really looked up to at the time - they were sisters who had their own community troupe where they’d book a hall and just rehearse for shows and stuff. So my first crew experience you could say was with community dance. I was part of school doing calypso dancing, and I did really well. Then I came back about two years later and joined that original crew, but it had changed, something about it had changed.
IA: The energy or...?
SC: Not only the energy, but with that community crew it’s hard to maintain because there’s no income. I don’t remember paying much for it...I think it was like £3 or £2...but when you think of trying to do that on a regular basis...so when I came back I think the girls who set it up had gone on to do other things, so we set up a small community thing from there. And then that sort of dismantled. But we were all really young, and we were trying to make something work without our adults, without our parents to guide us. From there I remember, especially in Birmingham, things started to pick up a bit. More people started to do their own small independent crew community based things. I joined a crew called Precision and they trained at New Town community centre...the hood...and I was there for about a year. Then I left and joined a group called Creative and that was run by a woman called Tanya. All the crews I’ve joined have been very female oriented.
IA: Was that a conscious choice?
SC: No. No. I think it’s just at the time the women were far more active. It was mostly women who were doing the majority of the crew based, community outreach work. I joined another one years later called CRC and that was run by Chantel, Rochelle and…Cherrelle! But they were three girls that had a definite idea and a definite identity. Like you mention the name CRC in Birmingham now and people still know about it. Like I was walking around the street the other day and someone was like ‘Oh you were in CRC!’
IA: What was it about them that was so distinguishing?
SC: CRC were creating real change. Looking back they did so much. I think we were trend setters at the time. We’ve all gone on to do different things but we’re all still making changes within the community. Cherrelle, she’s been on many different BBC programmes, acting, she does more acting now. She was in Harry Potter the West End show. She played...oh what’s her name…is it Rose? She played one of the main characters. You have Chantel who runs a sort of mentoring...mentorship spoken thing. And Rochelle I think she has her own podcast in London. And then from that you have members of the group who have gone on to be huge. Like David Banks. He’s an amazing artist who used to be in CRC. Everybody who was in the crew have gone on to do many, many amazing things. But we don’t have that sort of thing anymore. It’s all about money now. Even with crews. The crews that are training are doing great but I’ve noticed more of a business...whereas back then it was more about community and building your identity through your routines, and how you carry yourself. I’ve noticed it’s changed a lot.
IA: With CRC what’s the strongest memory of that time for you?
SC: I think for me it’s just how we were. How we carried ourselves. I remember going to loads of competitions and people being like ‘Oh my god, you’re CRC.’ I remember when I was younger and looking at CRC and thinking I wanna be part of that crew. I remember thinking they want it. There were many crews around who was doing the same thing but there was just this energy to us that was really supportive.
IA: You went to Jamaica for a bit. Can you talk about that?
SC: Yeah it was strict. Discipline wise, at the time when I went in the 90s, schooling wise you’d get beaten if you didn’t know certain things...
IA: Physically beaten?
SC: Like hit on the hand, hit on the back, hit on the head, it was just normal. Training wise it was a bit more strict. I can’t remember my teacher’s name, I just see her face. I just remember going over and over, over and over and over stuff, to the point we’d be sweating - obviously in the head and she’d be like AGAIN!! It was intense. I enjoyed it.
IA: One of the things I see in Hip Hop is that idea of self-care and mental health isn’t very prevalent in the community. I’m interested to hear your experience of self care and your experiences of how you ensure you are the best you can be?
SC: Training wise I think it’s important to delve into other things. So, say if I’m rehearsing for a show, I like to go away and take a different class and do something totally different. Digest what I’ve learned in the day. I think it’s nice to escape. I think if you dive into just one thing you become stagnant. I think that’s why I dive into so many different styles and I’ve not really stuck to one thing. It keeps my mind fresh. At one time I found myself stuck, when I was doing one style. It wasn’t until I went to uni and started to learn all the different styles with different artists, that I realised there was more I had to learn. Just doing different things and different styles helps me stay sane.
IA: What are you doing at the moment? If you’re doing one style professionally, where are you being fed elsewhere.
SC: I do yoga. I try and take as many different classes. My friend Matthew, he’s a contemporary artist, his mind and his visions are insane and I delve into his world. Running. I love to go running.
IA: What does running do for you?
SC: It keeps my mind at ease. It makes me forget. It’s steady. It’s consistent. It keeps my mind shush, shush, shush. Running and I do insanity class. Hot yoga and insanity class. Different classes throughout the week and running. That’s my escapes.
IA: Where did you get your education and training? Where do you continue to get it?
SC: Oh wow.
IA: I think there’s a formative education period in everyone’s life...
SC: I started at Wolverhampton University. Practically it was one of those universities where you’d go to train to be a professional dancer. But what I noticed when I was there, was when I wasn’t getting what I needed in class, I would go and take classes elsewhere. So, I was part of CRC, I was learning salsa, I was training to be a salsa dancer, I was part of a company with a woman called Melanie Carpenter, and I was her assistant for a time while I was at uni. I used to do a lot of social dancing in the clubs, salsa dancing at the clubs. From there I continued my training from going to class but also going to Los Angeles, that’s where my mind went (makes explosion sound effects)...
IA: What were you seeking in LA? Why were you drawn to it?
SC: I’ve always been drawn to it. It’s always been a space where when I went I felt like I could thrive. There’s something there that makes you work harder. The mentality there is work hard or go home. And they play no games. You’re in class next to kids who are 14, and it’s one of those places and it’s like ‘I’ve got work to do.’ When I first went in 2008 we went for two weeks and I looked at my friend and it was like two weeks is not enough. So, when we went next we went for two months. And when we were out there my teacher - my idol - he passed away. And even though it was a sad time, everyone just…I’ve never experienced anything like it. Everybody in the dance scene was just…on. Training in LA helped. I think if you’re stuck in one place you just get used to how the system works in one particular part, but the minute you travel and see how other people are training, and see you need to pick up. I need to focus, I need to work ten times harder. It plays at an advantage and disadvantage, because when you’re here you’re like ‘What the heck am I doing here?’ When you go there its like 'I’ve got work to do.' So you’re stuck in this roller coaster of I’ve got work to do but there’s not enough classes. It’s a battle with yourself and your training. For me going to LA has been a big part of that training. I haven’t been to NY but I heard that it's basically the same.
IA: Do you have an affinity for the West Coast?
SC: Yeah I love the West. I think it’s the weather and the atmosphere as well. The studios have so much happening. Each month they have an event called Carnival and another one called Club Jetty and they have competitions. And the studios I mean David Reynolds, Edge these studios that are just…
IA: When you’re out there are you looking for particular styles?
SC: No I think it's more teachers actually. I always say this, sometimes it's not about me going to a class and learning the actual style sometimes it's learning how to teach, and how teachers are teaching. There’s certain ways teachers teach that I’m like ‘Oh I never really thought of that.’ A mentor, one of the teachers, sometimes he doesn’t play the music until about 15 minutes before the class is about to finish. Because he’s like ‘I want you to know the steps, I want you to know the counts and the musicality.’ Some teachers don’t teach that. Some teachers expect you to know the movement based on the music. But no it’s the teachers, the people, there’s some incredible teachers, yeah, really really good. I’d recommend anyone for training and that’s across all styles, LA is the place.
IA: Who would you say are your OG’s then?
SC: Oh god I knew this would be a question. My OGs!! Hmmm. I have so many. Famous ones or?
IA: The people who are influential to your journey.
SC: Michael Jackson. Aunty Janet, Janet Jackson too. I’m trying to think of...Fatima Robinson who is an amazing choreographer. She choreographed a lot for Aaliyah. She also choreographed for Michael Jackson with Remember The Time. Paula Abdul. Paula Abdul she’s just ahhhh...
IA: Why’s she so good?
SC: I love her style and her cross references between jazz, tap – even though I don’t know tap, just rhythms. And even Hip Hop. She's just an excellent dancer, an excellent visual artist and an artist in her own right. I watch some of her old stuff and she’s amazing. Paula Abdul. Laurieann Gibson. I met her once, and it freaked me out. I did a Pulse tour. I don’t know if you know. Brain Friedman used to be on the panel, Laurieann Gibson, Tyce Diorio, Janet Jackson’s choreographer loads, there’s like loads on the panel. They used to do an international tour once every two years. And they used to do a massive weekend convention where they’d do loads of workshops. And Laurieann she’s – she has her own TV programme at the moment I can’t remember what it's called. She can read your entire life just by one dance. An incredible teacher and educator. The way she’s able to get dancers to be at their best, amazing. I met her once, she picked me out to do this choreo, and I was like OMG Laurieann Gibson. And she was speaking to me after and she was so lovely. But she’s amazing. Who else is there, I feel like I’m missing people. Tovaris Wilson. Janet Jackson’s choreographer, who is absolutely amazing, he’s in his 40s but he’s technically genius. Freidman...who else…Who else is there? There’s loads. Vicki (Igbokwe). Love Vicki. Rob Rich. Rosie Kay is excellent. Kenrick (H2O Sandy).
IA: Uncle Ken
SC: Oh my gosh I call him Master. I’m not in his presence too often but the minute I am I feel like I have to be on my best behaviour.
IA: What does Kenrick mean to the community?
SC: You speak to him and he’s just got this energy where it’s no nonsense. An excellent teacher and educator. He’s been in the game for so long. Consistent with his dance, I respect him so much. Jonzi D, Benji Reid…who else? I feel like I’m missing so many people.
IA: That’s plenty
SC: If I’ve missed any I’m sorry guys! I’ve noticed as well a lot of my mentors have been female as well. So you could say females have been…my mum, because she’s been my number 1! My mum.
IA: Some of those people, you mentioned Debbie, she knows how to get the best out of you.
IA: As a dancer you’ve experienced hundreds of choreographers.
SC: Yes I have.
IA: What is it that someone either does or says to you that makes you want to raise your game. I’m interested in how do they motivate and inspire you?
SC: I think for me it's just about being able to connect. I went to an interview the other day and I can’t remember where she was from, was it Ballet British Columbia maybe? We had a meeting, and she said it's not about being sensational, it’s about being sincere. I think the moment a choreographer is sincere you’re able to be open and be free and it becomes not about the steps but how you feel and how you move. Someone else brought up this point that it's not about being the best dancer in the room it's about being the smartest dancer in the room. I know my technique isn’t the strongest...it’s good...if I know I can’t give you a full 180 but I can give you a good 90, that’s better than trying to push myself to 180 and look a complete mess. I also think with choreographers and teachers it's important to be open and be honest. I think for the most part, I won’t say all choreographers, some have the ‘I’m the choreographer, you’re the dancer this is my role this is your role.’ It's nice to have a push and a pull. Like with Vicki, Vicki’s brilliant at being the choreographer but also looking at what you have to offer.
IA: So there isn’t a hierarchy of power...
SC: No, and I think that brings out the best in the choreographer and the dancer because there’s a nice energy happening. If you stick to your roles, and I’m not saying it should be like this all the time, but if you stick to your roles, as a dancer and choreographer, sometimes the energy or the piece that you’re doing doesn’t go anywhere. I feel like if there’s a nice exchange between the choreographer and the dancer there’s a natural flow, and being able to be free. As Vicki would say ‘Live your best life.’ Be fabulous and free. Yeah I quoted you (laughs).
IA: There’s a number of striking photos on your Facebook…can you talk about how they came about. I’m interested in how performance presence is captured.
SC: Working with Benji was really interesting because we met while I was doing 1000 Pieces Puzzle which was a collaboration with Cindy (Claes) and East London Dance. There was 15 selected from the UK and 15 from Belgium; we went to Belgium for a week, a group came to London for a week and from there we created a piece. Benji Reid was one of the lecturers on that programme. He had all these photos...these projects and nobody would give him a space. So he created a space in his living room, but you wouldn’t be able to tell it was his living room, it was amazing. He was scrolling through these pictures and he said 'I want to work with you.' I was like ‘eek me?’ He said I have this really interesting look, and I was like OK…so I met up with him in Manchester and before that we had a bit of a debrief in terms of the pictures he wanted to take, the make-up he wanted, the items he wanted me to bring. He was very particular in terms of the image he wanted to make. Normally as a photographer they don’t normally think on that side. But because he’s a dancer he was able to understand that position. I met up with him in Manchester and it was snowing - it was snowing so bad and I didn’t realise that the studio was in his house. I went to his house and he just had a massive role of like screen paper and he said ‘This is the studio. This is it.’ I was like, you know what, I respect you because you look at the pictures and you would not think they were taken in his living room. When I put on the first outfit he was like ‘OK yeah, this is it.’ I remember, he had the hat - so the one with the hat, is his hat. Is it Vivienne Westwood? No, he had a Vivienne Westwood one and he had another one. The black one - I can’t remember what it was. I was like 'I’m sorry I have to wear this hat!' I had my own hat but I put it on and I was just posing, and he was sorting out the lighting. Make up wise, he didn’t want too much because for him, it’s not going to show, how he wanted it to show. I put on the hat, and I was doing loads of different profiles, and the one with my eyes open, that was just an accident. He was like ‘Do it again!’ I use that picture for everything!! (laughs). The coat one was actually a costume that he had and we were debating, so I put on the coat...because it was so vast, he was getting so annoyed because he wanted to capture the coat in all its glory. He was getting so annoyed with those pictures, but I remember looking back and going 'It turned out OK.' That’s how the photos came about. I loved it. I loved working with him. He pays attention to detail.
IA: Was it just one afternoon?
SC: Just one afternoon, went from here to there, it was freezing. But the photos turned out great. He’s amazing.
IA: I’m interested in your thoughts on your relationship to the history and foundations of Hip Hop. There are some people who believe it should be preserved in its original forms, and some who think it should evolve.
SC: I haven’t really trained much in foundations. Popping, locking and breaking. I’ve taken one class with…I like to call him master...Poppin Pete. I remember when I did his class at DanceXchange. Watching it...it’s stunning and I appreciate the form so much. After speaking with him and his journey and his progression as a pioneer I think it’s important to keep the form. But saying that I think it’s getting to a place where it's very political...to a point where it’s not fun anymore. I feel like when it first started it was people having fun and grooving and finding the essence, but as time has gone on, more people have found the style and changed it and some people are like ‘No, no, no. It’s got to be like this.’ Which I understand, but it’s missing that essence that it had before.
IA: Is it being policed?
SC: I feel like it is. Even if you were to go out and have words with people about Hip Hop culture they’d be like 'No you can’t do that.' If you think of ballet you can’t really change the form but with Hip Hop it has so much potential to grow. It’s important to have the foundation but it’s got potential to expand and grow. It’s always going to be there, and people are afraid to dive out, because then you’re not seen as - what’s the word I’m looking for - like not real or not honest, because you strayed away from the form. As dancers and human beings we should evolve. Like when you think of Hip Hop it originated from the 1920s, they didn’t say it was Hip Hop, they was just moving. I feel like we’ve got to a place where we like have to label things all the time. I get it and it’s necessary but I don’t feel like we should feel restricted, because movement isn’t. The more we expand on the idea that movement is movement, we have much more space to grow. The minute we limit the techniques we just fall back.
IA: Be bold, be beautiful, be yourself!
SC: Oh my God I can’t believe you researched that!!
IA: What happened with those 10 females over 10 weeks? That seems an important point in the development of your new company.
SC: It started with me just saying it. To paint pictures, find videos and find anything I will put the hashtag #BeBold #BeBeautiful #BeYourself. I feel like there was a time, two years ago where there was a lot of stuff happening on my newsfeed that was amazing. Then actually I was like ‘I like this.’ It was a phrase that was in everything I did. Bold. Beautiful. Self. It was always there. In 2016 I decided to do a little taster. I had about 10 females who were in the local community and wanted to dance. I said this is what I’m wanting to do, to put together a company, would you be interested? And they said 'Sure we’d be interested.' So we rehearsed, maybe twice a week for maybe 3 hours. We’d train and discuss what it is to be female in the industry, our body confidence...there were loads of things happening at the time. We had some mothers in there, so what it was like for them as mothers in the industry. We did that for two months. After that the morale dissipated. I needed to go back to the drawing board and I wanted it to not just be females. I wanted to include males as well. Last year I started toying with bringing it back. Then towards the end of last year, my friend actually sat here, I was sitting there, and we were discussing the whole idea and he was ‘You’ve got to do it.’ I was like ‘I’m scared. I don’t know.’ He said ‘No you’ve got to do it.’ He spent time setting up a website for me and I decided it was going to be an online programme so I could have more outreach - so not just for people in the city, people who couldn’t necessarily get to me. In the programme there was mentorship and people could do online tutorials. Then I spoke to another mentor of mine, Tasha. She’s an education officer at Birmingham Royal Ballet and she said you know it would be nice if people could see you and be with you. So I went back to the drawing board. I relaunched it again this year, and I scrapped the whole male and female because that wasn’t my initial idea.
IA: What made you do that?
SC: I’m the kind of person who wants to include everybody, who wants to be like ‘Come join, join in.’ Then I went back to the drawing board and the reason why I said no, was because as females there isn’t a lot that is just catered for us. Furthermore I felt like I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t do what I originally said I would do. The female body is my experience and my truth. For me to say to a guy this is how you should move, would be false. That’s not my experience. I know the ‘shuzh’ of a female body, not a male one. So every Sunday I have seven or eight girls and we train 12-4. We do fitness, strength, conditioning, choreography skills...we’re working on getting a concept video out so people know what we’re about. It means so much to me. I love it.
IA: Why is it so important? Is this your first offering our under your own banner?
SC: Yes. I feel for the most part I work under people. Which I don’t mind, I love it. I love learning from established people. But in terms of my own voice people didn’t really know me - I didn’t have anything tangible that was my own work. So I wanted to find a stamp and Bold Beautiful Self is that stamp.
IA: Where are you now? What is that stamp?
SC: I’m figuring it out. The plan is to get at least 20 girls. To get on, to train and to mentor. I want it to be like the crews were back in the day, I want it to be a family, a unit. Even if people are not training there’s still a way to connect...even if it’s on social media. I think in this industry, there’s not a lot of support, especially among females. It’s very competitive. I want to break that barrier and have females support one another. I hope this will be that platform for females to get along, support one another and train.
IA: Have you felt that female to female negativity?
SC: Yeah. They won’t say it, but you can feel it. That’s the difference. I think with guys you more or less just say it, with females it’s just…it’s that energy. Whereas my energy doesn’t flux like that. I can’t do it. With my upbringing, which has been predominantly female, so my mentors like Vicki, Rosie, even ACE Dance and Music. There’s loads and I really wanted it to be a reflection of my own experience and then put it all into one. I hope the girls find that and feel that while they’re participating.
IA: Are you the leading voice and holding those days?
SC: Yeah. I’m enjoying it so far.
IA: What new paths is it exercising for you?
SC: Being a leader. Because there’s no time for me to be a performer-leader. I am the leader, I am in charge. They look to me for advice and critiques. It’s having that leadership role constantly above my head. It’s hard being a leader and a friend but I’ve noticed with the age range that I’m working with, 16 plus, everyone’s in a place where they’re mature. There’s a mum in our group and there’s a way that you have to speak to one another because as much as I’m in charge there’s a level of respect that I’m coming in with but also that they have to come in with. Otherwise if we come in with an attitude of I’m in charge, ding ding ding ding ding...
IA: Where does race and class sit in your work?
SC: I think race is always going to be something. Especially working in dance. As someone who is Black, female and image wise my look isn’t, what’s the word I’m looking for, it’s not...it goes against me. In terms of the world, I have people like Vicki who search outside the box. Especially in the commercial scene, you could say my look is a token look. It’s a token look. I think if I was to do an audition and they had two girls who were Black and one girl has got a wig and one has got a bald head, they’ll go with the one with a wig because that look is aesthetically pleasing. Someone who is mixed will get all the work because they tick all the boxes. Someone who is White, the world is your oyster. It just so happens that being Black and being female there isn’t a lot of work for us. That’s why you have people creating work, like Vicki, who else? Cindy, who else, there’s so many people and I feel like I’m missing and I’m gonna apologise. But I feel like if it wasn’t for people like that creating work for Black female dancers you wouldn’t see us at all. With regards to class, I don’t feel like class has a lot to do with it. That being said - I’m gonna contradict myself. When it comes to things like funding you will get the opportunities to present your work on a platform, but if you’re at a level where you can talk the talk, you can get people and get the money in.
IA: Can you talk a bit about the commercial world and what would happen in an audition?
SC: I don’t want to say this is all the time, but it’s my experience. I will say this as well. I’ve noticed since, and my mum picked up on this yesterday - since Black Panther and the marriage between Harry and Meghan there’s a weird shift that’s happening in terms of clothing lines. If you go into H&M there’s a predominance of Black.
IA: Is it the commercialisation of the Black aesthetic?
SC: Yes! It’s more prominent now because of that and you also have movies like Black Panther that propelled the image into the spotlight and people are like ‘Oh actually I like that look now, oh actually that could work.’
IA: So it’s fashionable...
SC: Pretty much. This is now a trend. Whereas culturally speaking, I don’t know what tribe this is (points to head) but this is a symbolisation of young girls. Is it Ghana? I don’t know. Where they cut their hair off. I don’t know. It’s a symbolisation of focusing on studies, not really worrying about appearances. It’s not necessarily a thing about beauty, whereas this is now a trend. Not just Black but all of it. You can see it happening now. Whereas when I did this (points to hair) I needed to do it for me. Ironically I did it when I was in Los Angeles, a place where image is everything. Now this is a trend across modelling, across acting, across dance. People are like ‘Yeah I can work with you because you have that look’. I think movies like Black Panther have helped that. I’m not complaining and I can see the use of it. I can see myself in the sequel. I can obviously do that. Back in the day it was a lot harder than it is now.
IA: Oestrogen? Am I pronouncing that right?
SC: Yeah I can’t believe you looked it up! Oh my God.
IA: Bring Your Heels Oestrogen, tell me about that...
SC: It’s my all female class. I’m all about females. Sorry guys. It’s a class that I run every Monday at Heart Work Studios and I wanted to...it’s similar to my company but it’s a bit more free. It’s catered for the female body and the female experience. I wanted to create a place and a space where females could come and have fun. Learn and feel challenged. In the class we do a warm up and other things like runway walks, which is why I say bring your heels. I always say the hardest thing for a dancer to do is walk. It’s great to see them having fun and strutting their stuff to old school music. Then we go into a routine - could be contemporary, could be jazz could be Hip Hop, whatever I feel like. That’s where it came from. I just wanted it to be fun and cater for females.
IA: The female body is your truth and your experience. What is it that you want to express in those circumstances?
SC: I think I want to express that we’re more than just objects. The female body is more than capable of being masculine, feminine, unisex. It is capable of being manipulated and hard and soft and light and heavy. I wanted to create a place and a space where those elements can be explored. Rather than being in a class that was male and female. Whereas if I focused it more on female body then I’m able to play around with it more, than in a class where I have male and female. Rather than ‘Yeah make it masculine. Men make it masculine.’ I just know how to make it masculine in this body. I don’t know how to do it in a male’s body.
IA: You mentioned earlier you might not be the best dancer but you want to be the smartest dancer. How do you ensure that we’re watching you?
SC: I don’t know. I feel like you’re born with it. You either have it or you don’t. If I use Michael Jackson for instance. Obviously he learned the steps but in terms of stage presence, none of that can be taught. If I was to teach that, saying I could teach that...I’d be lying because I can’t. People, especially doing The Headwrap Diaries people say ‘You’re face! How did you do that?!’ I’m like...I know what you’re talking about, but I can’t explain, I’m just doing it. I think it takes a while for you to find that thing that makes you bring it out. That comes 1) with experience 2) with time and 3) with a company or choreographer that will allow you to go there. I can’t really say what it is but I feel like you have to be born with it.
IA: Would you say you were?
SC: People say I do. But I don’t know. I’m doing what feels natural to me. What people see and how people respond to it...sometimes I’m a bit overwhelmed and I’m like thank you so much because I don’t realise that I’m able to tap into that thing. I think I have it. I hope so. I hope I have it.
IA: What is your single strongest memory of dance.
SC: I’m always going to use this. It was in 2009, the year Michael Jackson died. I was in an audition for Bloc agency. I danced like I have never - I don’t think I’ve danced like that before in my life. The dancers from the This Is It Tour were in the room, Justin Timberlake’s choreographer was on the panel and a woman called Alison who was in charge of Bloc at the time. I just danced like I had never danced before and I was living my ultimate best life. The studio we were holding the audition in was the studio where Michael Jackson was rehearsing Thriller in - I found out years later - so looking back at that experience, it was so surreal. The This Is It dancers were there, Michael Jackson had just passed and the energy in the room was like...it was I have never danced like that in my life ever.
IA: What were you doing?
SC: I have no idea. I was just living my best life ever. To the point they called my number and I walked out the studio. The woman was like ‘Are you number 11? Get back in there. We called you?’ I was already leaving because I’d done my audition and I didn’t think I got a recall and I did and I was like ‘Oh my gosh what’s happening.’ For me that’s my strongest memory.
IA: Have you or do you battle?
SC: You know someone asked me this and I would love to do that, experimental sort of battle but (whispers) I’m so scared?
SC: Umm...1) Expectation 2) I feel like oh my gosh I’m gonna run out of things. I know what I’m like...but it’s taking that first step. I did a house battle years ago, when I’d just learned...probably in 2008 and I went up against someone, me and my friend, and I did win. But then we went up against someone else…I learned I’m not going to be a fabulous house dancer, but I have so much respect for people who do it because it takes guts but also a different way of training. There’s a way that you have to prepare your body so that when you’re on the stage or given a platform you’re ready to improvise that to me that’s I’d love to do that one day. That’s probably one thing that I need to do.
IA: I have some other questions, but I want to give you a chance to add anything that you want to say, that hasn’t been covered.
SC: I think for the most part, thank you. I really would like this scene to grow. If I was to compare, I don’t want to say Birmingham, but the UK as a whole, I want it to grow. When you compare it to America they’ve got a system and a structure in place that has really elevated them to new heights. I feel like the UK has got it, but it’s in bits and bobs. It peaks and it troughs and I feel there needs to be a sort of cohesive sense of where it should be going and where it could be going. I think there are some people out there doing some amazing things but I feel like it needs a…kick up the bum.
IA: What is the thing that drives you?
SC: Knowing that I’m more than capable of being the best that I can be. I know I have so much more to give. That’s what keeps me going. I’m like the iceberg, and then, I’m right at the top I’ve got loads to learn and so much more to give.
IA: What is your philosophy?
SC: Be Bold, Be Beautiful, Be Yourself (laughs). I think it’s so important to be brave. Just going for it, and to be humble in your learning experiences. Don’t be something you can’t be. Progress by taking baby steps, but not being afraid to take leaps. Being yourself is the only way you can dive into who you are...dive into understanding and not really caring what other people think. I think as artists we tend to care a lot about what other people say, or think about our work, but I think the moment you just tap into who you are, you start to fly. So yeah, be bold, be beautiful and be yourself.
IA: Who are the three people you go to time and time again? Who are your anchors?
SC: My mum. If no one goes back to their mum then they’re wrong.
IA: And what does she do?
SC: She is a key worker. She works with young offenders and she helps them get back into the community, gets them back to normality and things like that. It’s only because she’s been there as well. She got me into dance, she always said she started me off with African dance but I can’t remember that. She has been my ultimate foundation, in terms of raising me, always being my rock. She used to have a business back in the day where she would sell clothes from America so when it comes to fashion and baggy and Hip Hop, if it wasn’t for her I wouldn’t have known about any of that. My mum used to record the music videos and play them on a loop in the house. My mum is probably my strongest influence, because through her I learned about music, style, fashion and America. So my mum. Who else? Vicki. Vicki is incredible. An incredible woman, teacher, mentor, I love how she’s stuck at it and from there she’s just blossomed. I met her in 2013 at an audition for Our Mighty Groove. I remember doing the audition and she had Hakeem in the room and I remember saying 'Oh. You know my cousin don’t you?' I mentioned my cousin’s name and they were like ‘NO WAY.’ They were friends, and it was like the tables had turned. I think they called my cousin and was like ‘How didn’t I know you had a cousin that can dance?!’ Then me and Vicki we just stuck like glue. Vicki is a pioneer and mentor for me. My friend Matthew London. I think the world has to wait and see what he has to offer. He’s left, in terms of his ideas, how he carries himself, his thoughts and opinions, he’s very bold in his choices. He’s very to the point. We have similar ideas, in terms of women. He’s always thinking of something. If I want to try something out I’ll go to him and he’ll give me an honest answer. He’s one of those ones...where be prepared to have the truth told. It’ll be like ‘Thank you so much for that I didn’t expect that but thank you for your opinion.’ Everybody, especially in the scene in Birmingham, values his opinion because he’s excellent at what he does. So mum, Vicki and Matthew.
IA: Where and what is your relationship to music and dance?
SC: Oh gosh. We’ve touched on it a bit with my mum and her music and her videos. She used to go to New York and when she’d go to New York...she had a friend at the time Tracey...and she’d go, put a video in and record. That’s how I knew about Biggie, Tupac, SWV, Empire Trade, Brownstone, all of them. It actually came on video from the US. Put it in and I used to watch the videos. And also Michael.
IA: What is it about his music?
SC: Basically my mum borrowed a video. You know how you borrow a video? And you never give it back. Back in the early 90s when Michael Jackson came out with Moonwalker, my mum went round to her friends and asked can I borrow this, and at the time I had no idea who Michael Jackson was. That video has not left my side. I still have it. I’m so sorry Yolanda that I never gave that back. I still have it. Moonwalker was my Bible. I carried it everywhere with me. Watch it, learnt it, rehearse it, sing it. I’d pretend I was the girl in it. It was my Bible. Also Disney movies. I know that sounds strange but Disney movies and their music.
IA: What’s the Disney track at the front of your head?
SC: (Laughs) Lion King! (Sings Circle of Life) (laughs) Love it. What else? Mum used to listen a lot to Anita Baker, Mary J Blige. You would think they was sisters, my mum had the same hairstyle. Also in my family, my uncle used to be in a band, and I can’t remember the name, my uncle’s going to kill me. They opened up for UB40. Oh what’s the name, they even have a Wikipedia page! I come from a really musical family - gospel - my cousins more on the gospel side. Then my mum having influences from New York. I think music and dance have always been at the centre of my understanding. For me music is at the heart of all dances, especially back in the day. I don’t want to say music has become repetitive but back in the day you’d be able to tell where the artist was from - whereas now you can’t tell - it’s like who's that? Whereas back in the day you would know.
IA: What are you playing in class at the moment? What’s the current playlist?
SC: It’s mixed! I think I played Konoba’s new album I played their full album when we did an improvisation task. I play a lot of old-school 90s. Luther Vandross, Bobbie Brown, En Vogue. It’s a lot of old school stuff with a mix of up to date, current stuff. What else? Yeah it’s just a mix of everything old and new.
IA: Is there anything else that you’ve not spoken about that you want to record?
SC: I’m interested in how as the years progress, what will change. What will I say that will be different?
IA: 2018. What does the scene look like now for you?
SC: In Birmingham...it’s sparse. It’s separate, it’s individual. It’s great how people are managing to setup their own things, but I really miss how dance used to be a community. Now I think it's about individuals. Maybe because I’m older I’m not in that flux where competitions are happening or things are happening here and there. I still miss how, even though we were doing our own thing, we’d still bring it back to the community vibe. I think, I don’t want to say it, it’s not getting better. I’d say it has a potential to grow and flourish and hopefully in five years time be one of the best in the country. I think the talent in Birmingham is excellent. But I think people are more on a hype, rather than going to foundation classes, learning who, what, how, where, that seems to be missing. Things like social media, I think in five years time it goes back to roots and foundations. As a second city I think we have more than that.
IA: Is it a moment for the ‘Death of the crew’? Have crews died?
SC: I think there’s crews around, I think it’s a hype thing.
IA: What’s a hype thing?
SC: Everybody’s setting up a crew because that’s the thing to do now. I feel like when I started with the crews I started with it was more of a place to connect, hang out, socialise and learn. But now the crews are more to do with numbers. 1) Money 2) It’s a business now. I don’t remember paying anything - everything was free apart from the teacher who you had to pay, as well as the performance. That was it. Now it’s a business and that’s not a bad thing it’s nice to see that dance can bring in a tangible income. But now that it is a business it’s missing that family-oriented vibe or essence that we used to have. If the crews were to die down there would be nothing. Especially now as there’s no youth centres or outreach programmes for kids. If you didn’t have the crews that people have set up individually I think we’d be in dire situation. I don’t think the kids have anything to do except YouTube and Facebook. Nobody’s at the community centres. Nobody’s using the space at the community centres. Everybody’s trying to find a dance space. There’s something missing and if the crews were to just die...there’d be nothing. I could have done with this 10 years ago doing my dissertation. There was nothing.
IA: What was your dissertation?
SC: I did my dissertation on Hip Hop theatre, and I feel like I didn’t get what I could have because information like this wasn’t available. My question was ‘Does Hip Hop dance have the ability to create emotion in a theatrical environment?’ So I created a dance piece and I think it was about...I think about at the time a friend of mine got murdered...and I created this whole thing - at the time I thought it was really good. My friend and I performed it and we had a live vocalist. I did really good in the practical but in the written I struggled because there was nothing whatsoever written on Hip Hop as an art form, but also Hip Hop theatre. I had to literally reference YouTube. Because at the time Breakin’ Convention was what inspired me. I was like I’m not missing a year for nobody. I think I saw a piece called ‘Moving Shadows...’ Is that the name of the company or the name of the piece? It moved me to tears and I was like right that’s it. That’s my dissertation.
https://www.instagram.com/shanelleclemenson/ Image 1 - credit Matthew Lamden Image 2 - credit Benji Reid