We are dancehall: Latonya Style

For the second dancer interview I have the pleasure to interview Latonya Style in the comfort of my own house as she is on tour and visiting Finland right now.

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The workshop was a success (as every time!), studio full and people posting happy sweaty pics with the Dancehall superwoman all night long. After the super energetic workshop me, Latonya and Bubblin’ Zuzan spent a cozy, nice night eating, drinking some wine and talking about dancehall (and some girly girly stuff naturally :))

Let’s see what Latonya has to say!

1. Who are you and  where you come from?

I’m Latonya Style and come from Kingston, Jamaica – born and raised. I’m a dancer, artistic being with lots of creative thoughts and lot to offer, lot to inspire, motivate and create. Choreographer, owner of DanceJa and Stylish Moves. And,  addition to that, I’m just a regular woman.

2. Why dancehall?

I didn’t choose dancehall. I was practically raised in dancehall because I live in a dancehall household. Not from the ghetto per se but mentally and physically everything in my household was dancehall practice. Like my mom, her job title was a higgla, which means that she sold clothes in the Arcade and her mentality was strictly dancehall in terms of fashion, hairstyle. She used to wear helicopter hairstyle and all kinds of weird stuff – colors in her hair… and sometimes I was like: Why is she looking like that? I didn’t really understand it growing up. I just knew she was different, and it was like a different world. I also had some cousins from New York called the African Crew, they played a major role in dancehall in the 90´s – they were friends of Bogle, Willie Haggart, all of  the main players. And when they came to Jamaica, all 9 of them in the house, I had to get them dressed in all these pattern leather shoes and sequence, all these crazy naked outfits (laughter). So, you know, I grew up in it. My dad was manager for Tiger, the artist. He had a bar and a sound system as well. So you know, I grew up in this world, I couldn’t escape it and I actually loved it! I never went to Uptown parties, I was just strictly dancehall and I was lucky to learn all genres. I chose dancehall because it was mine basically – as in not mine as Latonya’s, but my country own this style so I was like: Why not build on it, why not uplift it? Why not let it be the highlight of my life and my career. And it is! So I dropped all the other genres and focused, like the Japanese with the Samurai sword, on my dancehall love and passion.

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3. How did you start dancing?

I started dancing when I was in my mom’s tummy (laughs). Seriously, as a baby I was always the center of attraction. At home, everybody who came to the house, I had to dance for them. That was my highlight of the day – dancing to all the guests! I remember dancing from when I was a baby. From my first school, I had to be in the dance group. So I was actually learning professional dance from when I was 3-4 years old. As I said I was in the dance group from prep school to high school through everything. I actually joined one of the biggest dance groups in Jamaica, I did an audition and got through and I was there for over 10 years and that’s where I got all my training. So I’ve been dancing forever!

4. Who taught you? Or was there somebody who made you so great?

Other than my natural God given talent I must give credit to all my dance instructors. They all played a part in my technique, my articulate movements. Because while you have the God given talent, it’s just raw, natural, but to get it perfect and neat and give you the creative thing and that knowledge about dance and how to explain stuff – you need training! And I’m happy I got the opportunity to be trained. My first dance teacher was Mrs D’Aguilar, she did ballet and I did all the grades and passed them all with distinctions , with the pointy toes and everything. I really remember her for being so strict, she was always strict on me cos she believed in me. So I never forget her! Then we had Ashe, the big dance group that everybody knows in Jamaica. The dance teacher was Mr. Joseph Robinson, he was always picking on me. Like when I was standing and my legs would go all the way back, he would come and push them “Stand straight, it’s dangerous, you will break your legs!” and everything I did, he was like “Latonya, Latonya”. I was like, why is this man picking on me? But I realized that he was picking on me cos he saw greatness. Looking back now I’m like damn, I felt so special! He brought out the best in me. Then he died and the dance group kind of died out as well because he was this real motivational teacher. So I really miss him and  really give him lot of props for pushing me.

In high school I had… Oh actually, sorry: The first teacher was Mrs. Campbell, the ballet one, and second one was Mrs. D’Aguilar and the third one which was in high school, she was a beast :) Like she literally made you cry. But again, she loved me. She would give me all the solo pieces, while at the end of the day you wanna be perfect for her. So she was another person who really influenced my dance, she taught me a lot of stuff and just made my talent even more perfect on top of the natural, given thing. So my three dance teachers, I have to give them a lot of big ups!

5. Is there anybody who you admire?

Well, other than I admire my dance teachers, I admire Carlene as a dancehall pioneer, as a dancehall dancer who did not have to do much. I feel like I´m representing her cause she didn’t go on her head, she didn’t boom flick – she didn’t do any of that and she was the biggest star! She had her back up dancers who did all that stuff but she toured the world just doing one step, the Butterfly. And she was just being sexy. I really like that. And after she danced, she became this talk show host and she always tried to elevate herself. They called her the “Uptown Brownin”, which I think sometimes people are saying (about me): Oh, she’s from Uptown. Yeah, but so what? The biggest dancehall star was from so called Uptown. So I can relate to her. And just the fact that she didn’t have to do all the tricks to get attention. Just be sexy and move your body in a nice way and people still look at you and people still love you. I admire her for that!

Internationally, I love Jennifer Lopez. J LO is my girl! A lot of people say she can’t sing, lot of people say she’s a ho because she has a lot of boyfriends or ex-husbands. I’m like…She’s awesome! I love her! She’s like: If he’s not good….Next! Why not? I just think she’s sexy, like her eyes, her shape. I wish I could have that perfect body. She’s my dream body (laughs). And the fact that she insured her butt…I wanna insure mine :) So she’s my favorite.

Men…I like R.Kelly, like he’s songs, I learned all his songs. And Jamaicans, Sizzla, when I was younger, I had his cd and I practiced every song, I wrote down the lyrics. I like lot of people but those are the ones that stand out.

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6. What is your dream?

My dream is to be successful in the entertainment business. Create an empire that motivates, promotes, uplifts – make others huge, not just me. My empire is not about me, it’s about all the young dancers traveling, earning money, becoming great as entertainers. That’s what I wanna do, I wanna uplift people, spread the dancehall culture all around the world. The dream is basically to get  a foundation for my child. It’s not about me. I want to make sure he doesn’t have to go through the stress, you know. I’m older now and I wish my mother had a foundation so that I wouldn’t have to be working this hard. Because even in Uptown, when you look at it, these kids grew up in luxury, I want my child to grow up in something that I set him in. I mean, he still has to work but at least there’s something secure. Like he can take over my business, something like that. I’m just preparing for him.

I just want happiness, that’s my success, being happy. Going to the beach every day, the river. Enjoy the life because I don’t know when I’m gonna leave the earth. I wanna know that I was happy.

7.  Describe your normal day in Kingston

Well, as a mom, I wake up early. My son’s school starts at 7.45…so you know how early that is! Get him ready for school, drop him off, come back home, can’t sleep no more – so going on my computer. Facebook first (laughter), then oh, I have work to do…Bye Facebook, need to stop the distraction. So then, just figure out some business stuff, administrative stuff that needs to be done, whether I have to send letters or contracts or do a bio or whatever it is. Then I find time for my phone, Instagram, then back to work. Then I go to the studio, I have class to teach etc. But well, it’s just dancing and the computer! I think the computer is my boyfriend, my husband, I’m married to it :) He never cheats on me, he is always there for me… So that’s my typical day. And I love water, so I’ll always try sometime in the week to go either to the beach or the river. Water, that’s what makes me happy.

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8. How did DanceJA start? Is there something you’d like to tell to the people who just start dancehall about it?

Well, DanceJA, it didn’t obviously just start. It was online, and it was just a business venture, even without the name I still consider it DanceJA work. But ever since I’ve been dancing dancehall seriously, as a job – that was from like 1999 so over 17 yrs now, I was touring with Mr. Lexxus, I realized that dancehall needed more love, it needed more attention and promotion. Especially because the dancers didn’t have the resources to promote themselves. Like a simple laptop, a computer to get to the world. They didn’t have a camera, you know, so I decided I  need to start documenting stuff.

I’m a picture girl, since when I was a little girl I had a camera, disposable, a polaroid, whatever it is but I was always taking pictures! I can show you in my house, I’ve got albums and albums of pictures. Well, I started capturing the dancers, taking pictures. Then I got so into it like “Do you have a bio?” “Oh okay, let me do a bio for you”. You know these little stuff. “Do you have a Facebook?” Sorry, I meant My Space hahaa! So I created pages for them, like I was just giving my brain knowledge, to offer something to give back.

There was no benefit, I didn’t get paid. I just tried to uplift this thing, make people know them. I think that was a lot of DanceJA’s foundation work, even it didn’t have the name yet. Around 2006 I came up with the whole name and registered it. I created the web site, in which I went through hell and back trying to get a proper design. The programmer robbed me and then I found a better person who did it and who is now my business partner. So when he did it -all my graphics and the image- that was what sold it because it just looked like this big thing! And nobody knew who was behind it. So it became successful because of the online presentation, pics of the dancers etc. (Meri: Ohh I remember it! I always called it the Dancehall Bible :) )

All the dance moves from A to Z, the dancers profiles, and on top of that, I captured the world: So who didn’t know who Nina Miskovsky or Alevanille or Meri from Finland, DanceJa put everybody under this one umbrella so people could identify the people that have the same interest all over the world. I’m the first person who came up with the idea of the Awards, I nominated dancers for different categories, even not dancers only: There was the best photographer, the best video man etc. Just giving all these dancehall people the recognition that nobody ever thought of giving them. Not just Jamaicans, but the world. So I think a lot of these people around the world should appreciate that – you know, I wasn’t selfish and just promoting me.

I went on to my first tour on 2012, that’s when I opened my dance studio. So now it was also a physical space, before usually I would be doing stuff on my yard and my step dad would be like: “All these guys on my yard, all these people”… Well, it wasn’t cool. I was inspired to open a studio which would be the home for all the street dancers. The other reason was to give them that training and development that I got, which is why I’m touring and able to articulate about teaching. And the thing is that they need that, because when they go on tour they are not dancing on the streets, but in a studio. So why not practice from home and to get the best of both worlds? Then you are able to present better when you go on tour. You get used to the mirrors etc. – it’s not our culture but it’s what’s gonna pay you, so you need to practice it. And you’re not too low or ghetto to appreciate stuff like that. So, you know, I’m just giving them the opportunity cos probably they wouldn’t have it before. So that’s everything in a nutshell.

9. This is your third time in Finland. Is there anything you’d like to say about Finland, or how you see the things here?

First of all, my promoter didn’t carry me for sight-seeing :D So I don’t know about much about Finland (laughter!!!)

So, I don’t know much about history or buildings…. Well, I only came to dance. So I’m stuck in a dance studio and home, with my Meri. Other that than, for the dancing though, all I know is that people do support. Whether is 10, 5 people, they always support, I think all my workshops here has always been full, right? I respect that people come out and support. However, there are just things that you know that exists, like that there is many more people doing this genre (dancehall) but they don’t come. I don’t care why they don’t come, I don’t care if it’s because of the promoter or they can watch it on Youtube – I just think it’s disrespectful that you don’t even communicate with someone who is in your town. Like I flew all the way from Jamaica, and you love this culture, I’m a representative of this culture and you don’t even send a message for example: “I’m so sorry I couldn’t come to the workshop, I had to go to the hospital”. Or whatever, make up an excuse. It’s like we are on war with these people we don’t even know about. It just feels uncomfortable knowing that there are girls who are doing dancehall and they don’t even show up. Because I could have never done anything to you, because I don’t know you. So why would you not even try to reach out for me? I could never live in Jamaica and suppose I’m doing hip hop and a hip hop person comes and I don’t even message them that I can’t afford to go to the class. And they still watch my videos and learn. Because I see people put up stuff (on the internet) that I never taught them, and they never come to the workshops. Is is that you don’t want to spend that 20 euros on me or you don’t think I’m worth it or you don’t think you should invest in your career? If Meri is doing a workshop, even if she has to get paid for it, it makes sense cos there is a ticket to buy, expenses to cover – you are still supporting the culture itself! I just think it’s sad. These people need to let go of that bad mind thing or hate or whatever it is that is holding you back from not connecting with me or the other teachers. I think you’d be so much better or feel more fulfilled if you’d connect with someone from the genre that you love.

The dancers here are very passionate, I love that in them. They want to learn -the ones that come- I see it in their faces that they really are so interested. They are kind of blaa, as in they don’t express much, like when I’m clapping like yeiiii they are not so clappy clappy and fun, but I know in their heart they wanna do it. (Meri: They probably take the learning very seriously, that’s why). While I’ll be like laughing and they are like: What she’s gonna do next?  I think they are very passionate about it and they are moving good! They have good technique as well. So I really admire Finland dancehall practitioners. And I have to big up Meri for this; standing strong despite unloyalty, people judging without knowing – still standing strong. We took a break, one year, cos she brought a life in the world and she needed a break from all this work as its hard work. I appreciate that she’s back on her feet. And even she can’t dance right now she is allowing others to get this benefit of having Jamaican here. So you have to give her a big round of applause for that! I hope that people appreciate that as well. And I do, very much!

Thank you Latonya!

Remember this from 2013? More videos and pics we’ll be posted soon on  

Bubblin’ Moves FB page.