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…
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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?
Well Cat You are amazing. Thanks for being such a tough gal, and for paving the way for future Australian dancehall queens.
Photo thanks to E Photography
For more Jamacian Dancehall check: