What is you stage name? WizDom And in what year did you win the DHQK title? 2016
Can you describe a bit about the competition the year you won?
The stage at The Royal Melbourne Hotel had a catwalk that was very thin and wonky, I felt like I was walking the plank on a pirate ship. I knew I wasn’t going to be the best dancer in the competition but I planned to entertain. The legendary Latonya Styles and Tevin Killer-Bean Versatile were the judges and watching me warm up must have made them realize just how many miles were between Melbourne and Kingston. My plan was to do one dance about my lost Olympic dream; dressed as a runner from the 1980’s, with dancehall moves that looked like athletic events. Next up was a routine as the nightclub cleaner who fantasizes about being a dancehall bad man, doing shoota moves with his mop and disinfectant spray. It was a make or break plan. Thankfully the atmosphere on the night was of encouragement and joy. There was a loving camaraderie amongst the dancers, it didn’t feel like we were competing, we were there to put on a show together and have as much fun as our nerves would let us.
Can you describe a little bit about your dance history?
My dancing was just a wild, passionate, jerky expression of my inner madness until I started doing dancehall classes in 2015. I have always felt a need to dance but I never did any classes as a young man and I steered clear of hip hop because it didn’t fit my image as a lonesome bush poet. For many years I was the lead singer of a country punk band that tolerated my chaotic antics on stage. In my mind I was part Buster Keaton and part Iggy Pop but in reality I was jumping around like a headless chicken.
In recent years I experienced a couple of traumatic events. I was a broken man. I needed to find a way to lift my chin, get my heart pumping and my spirits flying. That’s when I saw two of the Jungle City dancers having a casual dance at a club in Melbourne. I’d never seen dancehall before. I was mesmerized. They had ownership of their sensuality; the moves were flowing, the actions were strong. Within a week I was at my first ever dancehall class with Nadiah Idris and I stumbled around like a little boy lost at a fairground. But it felt good – deep, deep down. I was being resuscitated, coming back to life, one dancehall step at a time. Nadiah is a force of nature, a world-class dancer who imbues every move she makes with intricate emotional detail and passion. She is also very intuitive and showed me how to connect my body to the struggle within my mind. A dancer was born.
Midway through my first year of dance I joined the Jungle City Crew with Cat Pwiti. I threw myself into the training and performing. Jungle City became my refuge and my dance family. I fell head over high heels in love with the Jungle City crew and it’s hard to imagine life without them.
Why did you decide to enter the competition? Did you have any initial reservation about entering?
I was considering entering the 2016 Dancehall King competition as a way of honoring my hard work. It was to be the final chapter of my year of dance; then I could get on with being a more conventional middle-aged man, worrying about superannuation and my receding hairline. I had just begun discussing choreography ideas with my dance teacher Cat, when later that night her husband, Kuda, died tragically in our studio. The competition was no longer about my ego, it was about Cat and Kuda. I made a private commitment that I was going to honor Cat, to show her my love and support as she grieved for Kuda. I didn’t tell Cat about this, it wasn’t my place to be some sort of gallant knight fighting for her; she is a warrior and was off on her own journey. But this thought of honoring Cat and Kuda helped me push past self-doubt and I trained each day; there was no quitting now. On the night of the competition I wanted Cat to feel pride as my teacher: in my improvement as a dancer and my passion and respect for dancehall culture. I knew my job was done moments into my first routine when I heard a familiar shrieking scream and saw Cat banging her hand on the floor. Nobody knew about what had motivated me to dance that night, it wasn’t for me to own any part of Cat’s grief. But I feel it’s important to share this now because I’d like to illustrate how dancehall is not just about what’s on the surface; the fashion, the slick dance move; its also about what’s going on under the surface; our struggles, our sadness and our joy. You don’t need to be the best dancer to be a dancehall Queen or King. You just need to tap into your emotions and share this with the audience (and be as entertaining as you can be).
What sort of preparation did you do in the lead up to the comp?
I must admit that while I was training for the competition I often imagined I was in a Hollywood movie, maybe a cross between the Karate Kid and Flashdance. At my local gym I’d pump a few weights and when the muscle-bound-pony-tailed dudes weren’t looking I’d practice a few dance moves in the mirror. I liked the idea that I was an underdog secretly training to be King of the Dancehall. Maybe, just maybe, you might have been able to hear me whispering to myself as I bench pressed, “King…King…King…”.
Who are some of your dance inspirations ?
Before the competition I had only met two male Jamaican dancers at the Dance camps that occur annually in Melbourne. Craig Orlando Williams from the Black Eagles crew continues to be one of my main inspirations. He is inventive and flows like quicksilver. Whenever I’m trying to impress a woman on the dance floor I find myself doing his moves. They are sexy without being sleazy, smooth and powerful. The way Craig smiles when he dances hints at his generosity and joy as a performer.
It was Tevin Killer-Bean Versatile from the Supreme Blazers that showed me how dancehall could be a place for having fun and being entertaining. Tevin dances with a big heart and creates steps that are unique. He was very inspirational during the classes he took in Australia, often talking about being true to your love of dancing.
In Jamaica I had great expectations of my first dance class, it was with old school champion Colo Colo, a legend and contemporary of Bogle – the father of dancehall. It was a bit surprising to spend the first hour not really knowing what was going on, Colo Colo seemed to be grumpy and disappointed in us, grunting every now and then to move left or right. Then it dawned on me that he was in fact being very patient with us, he wasn’t going to have us do any fancy dancehall moves till we got the basic groove right. He is the groove master and getting to know a little of his story I could see how tough and resilient he has been to stay a dancer. It is my dream to hang out with him for weeks, drinking rum and getting the old school grooves to sit comfortably in my body.
If I was a piece of clay the person that has span me on the wheel and changed my shaped the most is Cat Pwiti. My heart swells as I try to think about how she inspires me as a dancer. Mostly it is very practical: a few hours every week I stand behind her in a dance studio and try to copy what she does with her body. We start the week with old school dancehall steps, which has become a form of prayer with simple appearance and complexed subtle movements. The rest of the week I am one of Cat’s Dancehall soldiers, be it in the studio or at a party, Cat gives me the latest dance step weaponry from Jamaica and I spend my spare time trying to work out how to unlock the safety switch. Cat is a generous and gifted teacher but she is a natural dancer; a wild, powerful, intelligent, blood soaked dancer; and this is what inspires me the most. I realised what a force of nature she was one night at I Dancehall. For some reason I was very aware of her presence on the dance floor, she was somehow contained and prowling. Then a circle formed and Cat entered. It seemed like dust was filling the air as Cat threw her body around. She pounded herself on the ground after reckless headtops and danced as if gravel was gouging her back and thighs. The more I learn about the dancehall queens of Jamaica the more I learn about Cat. She belongs when the sun rises on a party in Kingston, as the queens take over the street and dare the world to tell them to behave. Cat is my dancehall queen and it is my great joy to be her loyal dancehall soldier.
What are you favorite dancehall steps?
My favorite dancehall steps are the old school steps by pioneers such as Bogle, John Hype, Ovamarz, Ding Dong, Colo Colo, Shelly Belly and the John Bling. It’s my favorite hour of the week when I dance the foundation class with Kitty Cat at Jungle city.
New moves are constantly coming from the streets of Jamaica and they keep me excited and challenged. My favorite steps of recent times have been Bop Bop by Hectic Dymondz, Chill Zone by Xklusive Dancers, Yardie by Black Eagles and Fly Pass Dem by Black Dice.
How have things been for you since winning the competition?
I felt like a bit of an imposter winning the competition so I was determined to become a good dancer. I have danced as much as is humanly possible: classes, parties, nightclubs, with the Jungle City Crew, in my kitchen. In July I joined the True Jamaican Dancehall tour of Jamaica and it was like being a tropical fish that had been in a cold fish tank and was suddenly dropped into the warm Caribbean Sea. Dancehall was everywhere – in the taxi, at the petrol station, in the evening air as I walked to find some jerk chicken. I danced day and night, my body loose from the humidity. I danced where Mr Wacky got jiggy. I realized that dance was a life long journey now, not just an infatuation. I felt calm and an unexpected sense of belonging. I think this is a common story amongst the dancers that come to Jamaica and the beauty of dancehall is that it welcomes us all, even eccentric old blokes like me.
What advise do you have for people thinking about entering?
It takes a bit of guts to dance alone on a stage. But remember the room is full of people there to celebrate our love of dancehall. If you are committed and dance with an open heart the crowd will pick you up if you fall and push you if you stall. Do your homework and then just let it rip!!
What Does the future hold for WizDom?
Well, I guess I have to pass on my crown in February so I think it’s time to move on and get a piece of the hottest action in town – jerk chicken food trucks. Did you see how massive the lines were at the Jamaican Food and Music festival? I’m thinking of getting one of those big oil drums that they use in Jamaica and mounting it on the back of my ute. You cut the drum length ways in half, making one half the lid, fill the other with coals and get slow cooking. I already have my secret recipe, well I’m planning on stealing Zare Demus’ recipe but don’t tell him.