New York-based dancer extraordinaire and LargeUp dance columnist Blacka Di Danca travels the world spreading the gospel of dancehall through classes and appearances at top dance studios and clubs from Latin America to Siberia. For Blacka, it’s not just about teaching steps but serving as an ambassador for his culture: he’s introduced people to the ethos and history of dancehall in places where the genre has only previously been experienced via computer screen. Blacka, who’s choreographed videos for Major Lazer and Spice, been featured in videos by A$AP Rocky, Shaggy and Davido, and hit the stage with Skrillex, Diplo, Kiesza and Collie Buddz, can currently be seen in Rihanna’s “Work” video.
Today, as Rihanna releases the biggest, most mainstream dancehall video of the year – or arguably the last several years — I want to share the story on how I became a part of it. It’s surreal how everything actually came together… within 24 hours.
Two weeks ago, while I was on my way to a Monday night dance class, I got a Whatsapp message from a friend. Attached was a screenshot of an Instagram post that had some bare-minimum information for an open audition in Toronto within the next 24 hours, for Rihanna’s new single, “Work.” I had just heard the song for the first time earlier that day, and downloaded it to choreograph for my next dance class, so when I got the message, I knew that was a sign that I had to take part in it… somehow.
I hit up a few friends in Toronto for more details. They gave me the time and address for the audition and I immediately started to search for tickets leaving the next day. Around 1a.m., I called my friend Sir Ledgen to persuade him to travel to Toronto with me and audition. When he finally answered, he said he’d call me back in the next hour. 2am came… he didn’t call me back because he was clearly sleeping, so I called him again at 5am. When he picked up, I said “Bro, I just bought a plane ticket to Toronto, you coming?” We bought one-way plane tickets to Toronto, with no hotel, and no solid plan – only for an open audition with no guarantee of getting in the video.
I got a few hours of sleep and when I got to the airport with just 30 minutes before my flight, I wasn’t allowed to check in. The next flight would get me in too late for the audition, so I had to find a quick solution. I found the next agent and put on my kindest voice and brightest eyes and begged to get on the flight. It was my lucky day, because the agent not only said Yes, but she also walked me through security, and I made my flight on time. I met up with Ledgen at our gate, boarded the plane, and we both plugged in our headphones to get in the vibe to audition.
An hour later, we landed in Toronto. We mapped the address and took a few different buses and trains to the location to audition. We were there for hours, but we made tons of new friends along the way. It felt good to just be there. Flying to Toronto to audition amongst 400 other dancers just hours after hearing about it seems crazy, maybe because it was. Last minute plans to follow life-long dreams…
I live my entire life, and have built my entire career, from spontaneous decisions because it’s always worth it when it’s for something you love. And, in this case, we made the right decision, because we both made the video, which we shot a few days later at The Real Jerk, one of the best and most popular Jamaican food spotsin Toronto. All in all, we spent 15 hours on set with our new Canadian friends, Drake and Rihanna and, finally, Director X and our good friend Tanisha Scott. Also on set were original Sean Paul dancers like Ponytail, and the twins who did the drive-by dance battle in Sean Paul’s “Get Busy” video, as well as Tabby Rockstar, creator of the “Dancehall Dab” dance.
Dancing in this video was an amazing experience full of unforgettable memories. For the most part, the dancing you see is just us freestyling. But Tanisha gave us about four popular dancehall dances to do as a unit: the “Paper Bag,” created by Ovamarz; “Badda Wave,” created by Elite Team; “Aji Bounce,” created by Aji Happnaz; and “Kreech,” created by Kreecha.
I could explain the entire 15 hours on set, but I think watching this video, you can understand the real dancehall vibe we had going the entire time! This video is a great step in the right direction for dancehall in the commercial world, keeping the representation accurate. From the open call targeting dancehall dancers only, to the Guinness crates on set, to the DJ playing the latest Vybz Kartel and Alkaline hits, to Rihanna killing the dance floor, the video leaves you feeling like you’ve just left a dancehall party! (If the whole thing reminds you of those classic Sean Paul videos from the early 2000s, it should: they were directed by Director X and choreographed by Tanisha, too; in fact, the duo recently reunited to bring a dancehall vibe to Drake’s “Hotline Bling” video).
And hopefully you will spot me! Ha!
Words by Blacka Di Danca