“Dancehall Moves: The New Pop Culture” By: Cricket
I remember reading an online article out of Jamaica, W.I., about three years ago. I froze when I saw, “The Death of Dancehall”. Before even going into the article itself, that title was alarming enough. Living in England and Toronto for a stint, but spending most of my life in the States; Reggae, Calypso, Dancehall, and Soca, were sounds, West Indians and West Indian Americans, had an addiction to, that tied, us to our island lineage, “yard” or home. The music culture, out of the Caribbean is unquestionably rich, and distinct. Critics, tried to put nails in the coffin of Hip Hop, claiming that it would die out too. The same critics have always lashed out on different music cultures that in their eyes, were taboo, and did not deserve access into the normal standards of “pop culture”. Reggae and Dancehall artists influenced, 80’s Hip Hop and Rap music, first with different edgy and catchy verbal content styles, and, then of course, fashion. Kangol caps. Bally shoes, herringbone and rope gold chains, it seemed obvious, that wherever Hip Hop was spun at a party, Dancehall was not far behind. The two universes of Hip Hop and Dancehall, generated very similar qualities, whereas, both reared out of urban environments, and centered a lot of its lyrical content foundation on changing or dethroning the government. At one time, Dancehall was more underground. However, just like Hip Hop, Dancehall evolved, and emerged, through the 80s and 90s, with a string of hits.
“The classic hits of Dancehall music are still something that I love to hear. The new tunes are in heavy rotation, but the classics, never die”, says Rick Long, a Dancehall instructor, dancer and choreographer, based out of New York City, with a bi-Coastal presence in Los Angeles. “House parties or bashments, evoke memories of the best times for me. I grew up listening to Dancehall all my life. Even as a teenager, I connected with it. Even if, there was no West Indian lineage, in my blood, I am convinced that Dancehall, was intrinsic to me, and meant to be my favorite listening choice. It seems, the vibe of a party always changes, once Dancehall comes on. There is an obvious energy that floods the space”, says Long. I came across Rick Long, deciding on a few different dance or fitness classes to take. I was curious to see how a Dancehall dance class, would be like. To my amazement, the way he broke down the intricacies of each step and movement, and strung a routine together, was something like I had never experienced. Being a performer, I grew up forced to take contemporary and tap dance classes. A Dancehall dance class? I do not think I ever, imagined that until I took, Rick’s Dancehall Explosion/Street Grooves class. It was a great fitness workout, and a dance party at the same time. It was not a long period of time, before I wanted to take his class twice a week, or more, if I could. He started teaching his class a few years ago, and everyone that attended, including myself, were hooked! Total Dancehall Explosion addicts. A few years ago, DJ crews and Dancehall artists, started having troubles obtaining Visas, into the United States, and this created a paradigm shift, on regular exposure to current Dancehall artist, being booked for concert venues or party arenas in North America. It definitely made an impact, on Dancehall, but the impact was short lived. Many critics, cited violence, sex and drugs in Dancehall music, and made outrageous accusations, that it would set a bad influence on youth listeners. It drastically changed Embassy and government views on allowing artists into the States, so freely.
Critics also spoke about the harsh content of how many artists voiced their dislike towards homosexuality. They ostracized many of the artists for promoting violence in their music towards homosexuals, and sent out destructive reviews, that pinpointed that “hate” existed in many of the songs. Being that homosexuality was much more widely accepted in the States, anti-hate organizations, began to target and protest against specific artist, and demand that they be denied entry into the US, and their music, ultimately, banned. Dancehall began encountering difficulty entering into the music mainstream, and in some cases getting full social acceptance. “Dancehall has had to overcome harsh labels, over the years, but with fashion trends, a surge of fanatic followers to social media, music videos and dance moves, all of this played a part in the longevity of Dancehall”, states Long. “It is the dancing, that I feel keeps Dancehall constantly tied to their fans. It is hard to silence something that so many cultures of people, find intriguing. Dancehall consistently, crosses over into a diverse pool of music ambassadors”, mentions Long. Rick Long, teaches a high cardio dance class, called “Dancehall Explosion/Street Grooves”, in New York City. He has been called to teach Dancehall workshops and master classes all over the nation. Recently, he was the only principal choreographer, out of 21 selected, that had an all Dancehall segment at Carnival Choreographer’s Ball, at Highline Ballroom in New York City, this past April. Dancehall artist, Shaggy, introduced Rick, and his “Dem Nah Ready” dance crew, to rouse the crowd, before they took the stage. “Carnival”, is the epitome of receiving that nod of approval from the dance community. It is a renown dance showcase that has been around for 14+ years, and it hits major hubs or cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago, Tokyo, London and Sydney.
The founding creators, Cary Ysais and Paulette Azizian, produce this event;. Dance enthusiasts, dancers, talent scouts, talent agents, celebrity entertainers, and choreographers, come out to support this dance event phenomenon. Dancehall has become the “go to” class for instructors to teach, in far away places like Russia, Belgium, France and Asia. Little kids in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, are current, not just on the latest dance steps, but the lyrics of the songs as well. “Dancehall is more popular now, if anything. It was a monumental part of music history, when BET showcased, Dancehall, center stage on its BET Awards Show 2013, just a few weeks ago. Even with all the complexities of the various styles in Dancehall music that to me, was a key indicator that Dancehall is far, from dying out”, boasts Long. This was the first time a major television network, televised Dancehall, on a mainstream award show. Rick Long, also pointed out that “Dancehall keeps accelerating to the forefront of “the new pop culture” era, and the dance moves that are associated to it, draws people in. People cannot help, but to want to learn them.” Dancehall is relative to all age groups and nationalities. I can remember going to Dancehall shows, and looking around and seeing only West Indians and sometimes Africans, at an event. Before you knew it, African and Latino Americans, engulfed the surrounding audience. Now, people in attendance are vastly distinguishable. Dancehall is spreading like wild fire, and to me, very much alive! Dancehall has made it onto dance competition shows like, “So You Think You Can Dance”, and “America’s Got Talent”. “ I had the pleasure of taking dance classes with a few Dancehall instructors and choreographers, over the past year. There is one dancer, I was seriously impressed with. Lorenzo Hanna. He is US based, like myself, and originally from South Florida, now based out of Los Angeles. Ironic enough, he shares a very similar background and career succession, to mine. We both descend from a West Indian lineage, and his class like mine, has created a serious craze and connection to Dancehall, to a collective mix of students. People that come to my class are trained dancers, they are school teachers, Attorneys, college students, and corporate professionals. For that one hour, everyone is the same. They all love the sound of Dancehall, and enjoy learning the routine. My students are doing high intense cardio, but because the format is Dancehall based, and so exhilarating, they do not even realize they are working out” mentions Long. Other US based Dancehall instructors and choreographers, are also pushing Dancehall, through dance like, Jessica “Phoenix Fiyah” and many others. For Rick, this is also an incredible time, because Dancehall is greatly responsible, and the focal point of what has, driven his passion to dance! It is the pulse of what drives his inspiration. It is what makes dancing for him, so inspiring.
Lastly, Rick added, “Although I can dance to Hip Hop and R&B music too, Dancehall is what I connect with the most. Dancehall is not going anywhere; it is like a train put securely on a track, with no specific destination, but on map, with plans to keep traveling everywhere”. Rick Long, was professionally trained at New York’s Broadway Dance Center. He is a Dancehall, Hip Hop and R&B dancer and choreographer, with Dancehall being his specialty. Rick, has performed and toured with Lisa Lisa, Trey Songz, Daddy Yankee, SWV, Salt-n-Pepa and many other music artists. He was also featured in the movie, Step Up 3D. To see his upcoming touring schedule, go to his website: www.meetRickLong.com Rick teaches class every Wednesday, at Pearl Studios, in New York City. Rick, also teaches Dancehall at David Barton gyms, and is a part time swim instructor to children with autism and special needs. To find out more about his class, and attend.
Check out the class event wall on https://www.facebook.com/events/332657023528241/