Killa Cat aka Kitty Cat talks about the International Dancehall Queen competition

Melbourne native, Killa Cat of Burn City Queens, recently made the journey to Montego Bay Jamaica, to compete in the international Dancehall Queen competition..OMG!!! She is the first Australian to make it to the competition, and we at ILDH HQ were very interested to hear all about it…

image Photo from http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: Soooo what is the international Dancehall Queen competition?

It is the biggest and most recognised dance competition within the genre of Dancehall. Its held in Jamaica and open to competitors from all over the world who compete for the ultimate crown of ‘international dancehall queen’ or ‘IDHQ’. It’s the only dance comp I know of that’s focused purely on female dancers and has gained world wide acclaim as a representation of Dancehall culture in all it’s extremities. In it’s 18th year I was the first Australian in history to take part in the competition.

image-8 Photo from http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: Where is it held?

It’s held at the famous pier one in Montego Bay, Jamaica and attracts crowds of 10 – 15 thousand people each year

ILDH: Can you tell me a bit about the overall experience?

The International Dancehall Queen Comp is run by Big Head productions, headed by the man himself ‘big head’ and managed by a whole production team of dedicated staff including the lovely Trinny Cee who looked after all the competitors and did a great job coordinating over 31 outrageous women from all over the world. We all stayed together in the lead up to the comp ‘reality TV style’ at ‘the mansion’. An eight storey home owned by Big Head. We bunked up with other girls competing and got the chance to really get to know each other and develop life long friendships during this time. We had our own chef cookin up authentic Jamaican meals and spent each day rehearsing for our opening dance routine, going on location for photo shoots and engaging in nightly promo appearances at clubs and venues around Montego Bay. It really was the dream life of a dancer and the experience of a life time!

image-2http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: What were the other performers like and where were they from?

At first glance you feel star struck! Seeing dancers you’ve admired and been inspired by for years, not to mention the wild hair, tatoos, accessories and overall crazy style and big personalities of a dancehall queen that surrounds you. But then after I started getting to know individual dancers it was so refreshing and empowering to discover what strong woman surrounded me. Some had gone through extreme hardships, personal tragedies, some like me had kids and were missing their families, but we all felt so blessed to have overcome our own individual circumstances and be standing side by side from all over the world with the one thing that had got us all through our own hard times and that is the love of Dancehall. I got to meet woman from japan, Germany, Italy, Poland, Sweden, the USA and of course from all over Jamaica. Most had been coming to Jamaica for IDHQ for years and had so much experience to share, both good and bad.

image-7http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

 ILDH: Who were some of the stand outs for you, and why?

One important figure and all round queen on stage and in life for me was Empress, DHQ from Detroit USA. She’s been coming for IDHQ for six years and really acted like a mother figure to everyone and played a big part in breaking down the cultural barriers between competitors and bringing everyone together. BomBom from Japan was another beautiful soul that just had such a peaceful and loving nature about her that just made you smile no matter what was going on.

ILDH: What were some of the differences you noticed about the style of dance compared to in Australia? Was there anything you were not expecting?

I guess what stood out was the dedication of the dancers to represent Dancehall as true to Jamaican culture as possible. I loved the fact that these girls lived, breathed, and represented the ‘Dancehall Queen’ persona on and off the dance floor, which is virtually impossible to find in Australia. I guess the issue we face is that because the scene here is so small, more often than not dancers and artists diversify or commercialise the style in order to appeal to a broader audience – I guess where I differ, and especially now that I have experienced it for my own eyes, and connected with an international Dancehall community – is that I believe following true form and embracing the authentic Dancehall culture means that over time you will actually create, not only a bigger community, but a knowledgeable one that is sustainable and not just there because Dancehall happens to be in the latest Beyonce video.

image-4http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: Can you tell me about the dance routines?

I guess what stands out with the Dancehall Queen competition that differs from other styles is the elaborate costuming and story telling behind the costumes and the songs. It really isn’t enough to come out and be an amazing dancer. This comp is really about the attitude you bring, your creativity and your ability to connect with the toughest crowd in the world! It really tests your strength and confidence not just as a dancer but an all round performer and individual, and when you see woman who have been doing this year after year, you cant walk away without feeling overwhelmed with the strength and stamina these woman project.

image-3http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: How was the Jamaican crowd?

One woman I met referred to it as the ‘Lions Den’, another person I spoke to called it the ‘Snake Pit’ and that she commended every single dancer who gets on that stage. Montego Bay is the harshest crowd you’ll ever encounter in your performing career. They are not easily impressed and they definitely do not react unless they like you. I heard stories from past years of girls getting bottled, booed, you name it, its happened. Thankfully I didn’t experience anything like that but I can definitely say that stage is not for the faint hearted or anyone with an ounce of insecurity, because it could really traumatise you if you do! lol

image-3http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: And the fashion?

Where do I start!!! Like everywhere else, Jamaicans are influenced by worldwide trends, but theirs is a distinct style that is their own and a huge part of what Dancehall culture is all about. It is all about is standing out as an individual, nothing is subtle and less is not more, more is the only way to be!! Another thing that stood out is not just what people wear but the way they wear it. How they hold themselves, and the confidence they project in everything they do. Fashion and style is everything to them. The Jamaican girls might come from the poorest neighborhoods but when they step out, they look immaculate from head to toe, nails, accessories, hair makeup, everything!

ILDH: Did people find it strange that you were from Australia?

Yes every single time I said I was from Australia I got shocked faces, surprise, and some kind of respect. I guess once they realised how far I had traveled, it showed how dedicated I was to learning about the culture and that made them feel proud that someone all the way in Australia had a passion for their culture. Most people were amazed that Dancehall had reached as far as Australia and were interested to know what it was like here, and of course wanted to come! lol

image-9http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: Do you think the dancehall queen comp is misinterpreted from the outside?
To some extent yes, but I think if anything it’s a cultural thing. Despite the fact that we have woman in their underwear perched up on massive billboards, western society is quite conservative and does not encourage woman to be confidant and flamboyant in their bodies or their sexuality. In Jamaica, and particularly the dancehall queen comp, really preferences those woman who can best win the crowd over with the most confidence. And let’s not forget the skills on display are not for the faint hearted. Although it can definitely be argued that there is not enough actual ‘dance’ skills represented in the comp, the flexibility, strength, balance and muscle control of these woman is phenomenal and is often missed because people are too busy with their mouths dropped in shock that they can see a girls crotch exposed lol
ILDH: I know some people think dancehall dance is only about being sexually extreme, and some people would say it objectifies women. What are your thoughts? Especially after performing on the biggest stage for the genre in the world.
 I would say do some actual research before you judge or actually go to Jamaica to see for yourself. In actual fact in Jamaica the majority of dancers are male, the most moves are created by males and follow different themes in accordance with the songs and riddims that come out. There are party moves, gun moves, spiritual moves and so on. It’s true a lot of moves are sexual in nature, but they do not sexualise women as an object, they empower woman and after six years teaching Dancehall in Melbourne I have seen so many womens lives transform in all aspects of their lives thanks to the confidence they have gained from learning to love their bodies and express themselves no matter what size or shape they are. Further to that, I have been performing for just as long, and never once have I encountered any negative attention from men after seeing me and my crew dance in the style of dancehall. So although some of the moves might be sexual, the skill, the confidence, strength and power behind them attract mostly respect and admiration from those watching, which I think is a great achievement in the dance world that rarely focuses on a woman’s power the way a woman’s body was naturally designed to move. 
How important would you say dance is within the Jamaican dancehall scene?
From what I could see from the places I went it is what makes the dancehall. Parties revolve around the dancers and the tunes playing are all geared toward enticing the dancers to dance and hype the party. Dancers are the special guests, and are invited to parties cause the promoters know if they are there the party will be popular. I guess if u were an artist or a selector u might have a different experience but from a dancers perspective I was in heaven!
ILDH: How are the parties different to Australia?
 I guess in Australia people just have a very different way of ‘partying’. I guess here everyone is so caught up in the rat race and culture just isn’t that important in people’s lives where in Jamaica that’s what life is all about. Being in the moment in your best outfit bustin your best moves is what it’s all about. Here it’s more about getting drunk and picking up, than actually being part of something bigger then your own personal life. I guess we do have a pretty tight knit reggae and dancehall community here in Melbourne, which we are really blessed to have, but I don’t feel that it’s ever been focused on dancers like it is in Jamaica which might have a part to play in why the dance culture hasn’t ever taken off here in Australia.
ILDH: Can you describe how the dance culture infiltrates through the club scene in ja?
Dance is the main focus of parties in Jamaica. Selectors play what they know the dancers go wild over and have dance moves that go with the tunes. It’s not about commercial or non-commercial it’s about what’s hot at the moment and what’s going to get the crowd hype. Dancehall music is very instructional so selectors know what tunes will bring the male dancers forward, which tunes will get the female dancers on their head top and what tunes will get the whole club vibing together.
ILDH: Is it very interactive?
Yeah they don’t have performance as such, it’s all about being in the moment and moving with the energy of the party so it really has a lot to do with the selectors carrying the party and the dancers responding to what’s being played
ILDH: Who are some of the most influential creators of dance moves? 
There are so many but the biggest legend and most respected dancer of all time is the late Bogle who really paved the way for everything that has been created since. Everyone references Bogle and his moves are still the most recognisable moves associated with Dancehall even for those who know very little about it. Ding dong, Shelley belly, ovamarz, Orville of Xpression Dancerz, Famous, Boysie, Sri Lanka, and Jon Bling have all been influential male dancers for years, now Black Eagles in my opinion are taking dancehall to a new level and their style is being dubbed ‘dancehall evolution’. For females my all time favourite and most inspiring is Latonya Style and First Class dancers who have really brought a much more ‘classy’ vibe to the way females dance, but so many dancehall Queenz continue to bring out crazy moves that keep you on your toes and continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible 
How do the dancers in Jamaica become dancers? Are there schools? Is it an exclusive environment?
Dance is so much part of the culture that they don’t learn in a studio they learn out in the street and at the Dancehall parties. Some big dancers have been trained in other styles such as folk dance, and have gone to performing arts schools etc but Dancehall as a style is created and learned as part of social situations in every day life. International dancers like my self often start off in other genres such as Hip Hop but are drawn to Dancehall because of the rawness that still exists in Dancehall – Where Hip Hop started as a grass roots culture and evolved into a commercialised multi-million dollar industry, Dancehall is still just that – a culture – good, bad, and everything in between, and I think people crave that realness, especially creative people.

 

image-5http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

ILDH: What were the biggest tunes in Jamaica while you were there?

I’ve still got them on replay in my head because they were so overplayed but am totally in love with because of all the amazing memories I now have attached to them. The biggest tune was the ‘Personally’ remix by Kalado, and Syvah by Ding Dong which is also a dance that’s very popular at the moment, plus my favourite ‘Everything Nice’ by Popcaan. The one thing I love about Jamaican Dancehall parties is they aren’t afraid to mix it up and throw in a bit of Hip Hop – really its about making the crowd dance and inspire the dancers to keep creating new moves and that’s what makes it Dancehall – the atmosphere that is created.

ILDH: So is it true you received a new stage name while you were in Jamaica?

Hehehehe Yes I have! It all started with my new good friend from Japan Nami Crissy who has been competiting in idhq for 10 consecutive years. She kept calling me ‘kitty cat’ “like hello kitty from japan” lol then it caught on everytime the tune ‘kitty cat’ by Gage would play it sort of became my anthem and my dear friend Latonya Style would turn to me and sing along declaring “that’s it your new name is Kitty Cat! Jamaica and Japan have named you Kitty Cat!” Lol the funniest part is my husband Di Apprentice has always called me that so I guess it’s meant to be 🙂

ILDH: Do you have plans of running an Australian arm to the competition?

I definitely have plans on working with the International Dancehall Queen Jamaican team, and I Love Dancehall to bring the comp to Australia.  Plus I will be running a cultural tour to Jamaica next year for anyone interested!

ILDH: How can people get involved in dancehall in Melbourne?

My mission as a Dancer, promoter and advocate for Dancehall culture is to create more opportunities for dancers, artists and enthusiasts to learn about authentic Dancehall, up their skills, and get involved as part of a growing Dancehall community in Melbourne and Australia. In the coming months we will be promoting the next True Jamaican Dancehall tour in 2015 which will be run as a three day festival featuring Dancehall ambassador, dancer, creator and all round powerhouse of a woman Latonya Style of DanceJA, Craig of the legendary Black Eagles Crew, and USA sensation Black Di Danca from NYC. This will be the first opportunity for Australians to learn authentic Dancehall dance, as well as culture, and have the chance to party Jamaican style right here in Australia. If you are interested in getting involved in regular classes and getting involved in the local community then you can join our online community on FB at Jungle City Dancehall classes to find out about weekly classes, workshops, crew auditions, and parties happening around town, as well as find links to dance moves ad the latest riddims we dance to in class. If you are a dancers and are interested in exploring the style of Dancehall then definitely get in touch. My next project will be focusing on increasing the number and level of male dancers as well as females so now is the time to take it to the next level and be part of Melbourne Dancehall history in the making 🙂

Well Cat You are amazing. Thanks for being such a tough gal, and for paving the way for future Australian dancehall queens.

KillaCat_E_PhotographyPhoto thanks to E Photography

For more Jamacian Dancehall check:

http://www.danceja.com/

http://www.internationaldancehallqueen.com

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