FOREWORD

Nadiah NfuZion is a passionate dancer but has a particularly deep connection with Dancehall dance and the culture on a whole. As a result, she is determined to share her learnings and knowledge about Dancehall with the general public. This is to help those interested to better understand the culture, simply out of respect for the people of Jamaica. 

This article is incomplete and acts as the beginnings of a living archive for Dancehall culture with a focus on the Australian scene. As mentioned above, It has been written with good intentions to pay homage to Jamaica and the creators of Dancehall, to big up those who have been instrumental in building the Dancehall scene in Australia and to educate the general public about the Dancehall movement in Jamaica and Australia.

The information provided in this articles is based on years of readings, research, personal experiences in the mother land, discussions with Jamaican dancers and Australian promoters, selectors and event organisers, lectures by Jamaican culture keepers, Orville Expressions & Latonya Style, and opinion.

DANCEHALL: A BRIEF HISTORY & DEFINITION 

Born in the ghettos of Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1980s, the Dancehall sound emerged due to the changes that were happening in reggae music at that time. Alongside these musical changes, dance steps such as "Bogle", named after the dancehall master Father Bogle himself, and "Butterfly" were also coming up. These are some of the popular moves that defined the birth of Dancehall Dance.

Dancehall steps have changed dramatically since its conception. From a social aspect, earlier steps were created following the instructions of the lyrics in a song and included everyone. They were simplistic, fun and interactive moves that anyone could learn and easily catch on at parties like the popular "Willie Bounce". 

Music video by Elephant Man performing Willie Bounce.

However, due to influences from other street dances, the hunger for growth within the dance and the inevitable progression of the music, the younger generation of Dancehall dancers today have started their own legacy. While still maintaining the essence of the Dancehall groove, well known dance groups such as Black Eagles and Elite Team have been creating a new breed of Dancehall steps or combos that are more complex, faster and longer. Although these new steps are still performed and/or created at parties or inspired by daily life activities, they are not as easy to catch on (as compared to the older steps mentioned above). As a result, the focus of "New Skool" Dancehall steps have shifted towards a more competitive vibe. This is backed up by the frequency at which new steps are created and released almost daily.

Craig Black Eagle & Bigga Elite Team in Kingston Jamaica dancing at Hellshire Beach Party

Unlike other "studio-based" creations and choreographies, authentic Dancehall dances are not, for the most part, just created for the sake of creating a dance step for "fun". They are often an expression and reflection of the current social, political and/or economic climate faced by the people at the time. This is why Dancehall is referred to by the Jamaican people as a culture and way of life (much like what authentic Hip Hop means to the African-American community in the US). It's the music, the dance, the street lingo, the fashion, the parties, the artists (Deejays/Singjays), the dancers, the producers, the selectors (DJs), the promoters, the event organizers, the food, the vendors and everything/everyone else in between! Although Dancehall is generally shunned by those in the upper class, it still does not discriminate class, gender, size, colour, shape, age or race. It is all about self-expression and encourages one to be free, explore and confidently represent their wildest alter-ego in every way possible.

 

DANCEHALL TO DI WORLD

In the 70s, Bob Marley, the "Father of Reggae", launched Reggae music beyond the borders of Jamaica, popularised it on western music charts and as a result, it exists in all corners of the globe today. However, despite Dancehall's close relation to Reggae music, Dancehall has not received the same popularity like its sister genre as fast as one might expect. It has only gained recognition in the US, many European, Asian and African countries in the last decade and it is still considered relatively "underground" in many other countries like Australia.

It is unclear as to when Dancehall music first hit Australian shores, who was the first to play the Dancehall sound or even how the music and dance was brought to Australia in the first place. However, after opening a discussion with the above questions directed at the Australian Dancehall community, it is evident that the music and dance arrived in major cities at different times. This may be due to the vast landscape of Australia and thus, great distances between cities. According to Jamaican selector, Aswon Farenji, he was dropping Dancehall as early as 1985 on the West Coast (Perth, WA). Shortly after, around the late 80s, legends such as Prince Andrew, Brent Clough and Papa George were pioneering the scene on the East Coast (Sydney, NSW). This was then followed by the creation of the infamous Nasty Tek Sound System in 1993.  

Selectors Laylo, Glamour and Judgement (Nasty Tek Sound System) at Australian Sound Summit, Melbourne   (https://myspace.com/nastytek/photos)           

Selectors Laylo, Glamour and Judgement (Nasty Tek Sound System) at Australian Sound Summit, Melbourne (https://myspace.com/nastytek/photos)         

According to one of Australia's earliest Dancehall dance representatives, Maya Sheridan-Martinez, there were selectors at Casablanca in Brisbane spinning Dancehall music during the mid 90s. Finally, it was only in 1999 that Melbourne caught on, with radio presenter Jesse I fronting the movement. 1 year later, he collaborated with Ras Crucial to form Chant Down Sound and launched Melbourne's first official regular Reggae Dancehall party, More Fire. Then in 2008, So Fire with Lady Banton started keeping I love Dancehall, a bi-monthly party - claimed to be the first party strictly dedicated to Dancehall music and dancers.   

As the music scene was gaining momentum, the dance movement was also growing in cities like Perth, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne from mid 90s onwards. In Perth, promoter, Meredith Jane, and dancers, Vicki Parker and Julie Craig, were the first ladies to run an event, Heartbeat Reggae Club, that included the dance element of Dancehall. Meanwhile, in Brisbane, Kofi Walker, founder of the Afro-Carribean Dance Theatre, was creating shows utilising Dancehall movement in his choreographies. It was only in 2002 that Dancehall started being taught in a studio environment in Sydney. This was led by Maya Sheridan-Martinez followed by Claudia Dalimore pioneering the first Afro-Dancehall fusion classes in 2006 at a studio called Underberlly in Melbourne.

Maya Sheridan-Martnez with Kofi Walker,  founder of the   Afro-Carribean Dance Theatre

Maya Sheridan-Martnez with Kofi Walker, founder of the Afro-Carribean Dance Theatre


Only a year later, MAKE IT CLAP! held Australia's first Dancehall Queen competition in Sydney. Between 2007 and 2009, Melbourne Dancehall parties like Pressure Drop founded by Sista Itations in 2004 and I Love Dancehall saw the emergence of dancers Claudia Dalimore of BAM BAM ASSASSINS and Kitty Cat of Burncity Queenz. These dancers were the first to represent Dancehall dance at these parties. 

Members of Burncity Queenz with leader Kitty Cat (right). Photo credit: Quashani Bahd

Members of Burncity Queenz with leader Kitty Cat (right). Photo credit: Quashani Bahd

BAM BAM ASSASSINS with leader Claudia Dalimore (front).

BAM BAM ASSASSINS with leader Claudia Dalimore (front).

Meanwhile, up North in Brisbane, Nadiah NfuZion had just discovered the dance introduced to her by Amelia Lyncha dancer/teacher from New Zealand. Despite having minimal training and knowledge in the Dancehall movement but still a full heart of passion and love for the style, Nadiah still went on to compete in the 2008 Brisbane DHQ competition. In November that year, she competed in the finals in Sydney and was crowned the 2008 Dancehall Queen of Australia. This marked the beginning of Nadiah's Dancehall journey...   

DHQ Aus '08 Nadiah NfuZion with judges K-Note, Glamour and Desthy (DHQ Aus '07)

DHQ Aus '08 Nadiah NfuZion with judges K-Note, Glamour and Desthy (DHQ Aus '07)

 

DANCEHALL FUZION

After winning the title, Nadiah was determined to do more research and delved deeper to further understand the culture of Dancehall. Although going direct to the source (i.e. Jamaica) would've been the best way to do this, unfortunately it was not an option for her at the time so for 2 years that followed, Nadiah utilised the next best thing - the internet. Unlike today, back then access to articles,websites, books and/or videos about Dancehall was a rare and challenging find. One of the first few videos Nadiah found on Dancehall steps was by Latonya Style (First Class Dancers), founder and CEO of DanceJA.

Latonya Style of First Class Dancers demonstrating the Nuh Linga dance created by Ovamarz.

It was also through the discovery of Dancehall that Nadiah began to really embrace and trace back to her African roots as she found there were similarities in the Dancehall movement and the way she would naturally move. This can easily be attributed to the fact that during the Atlantic Slave Trade, earlier dances of Jamaica evolved from African slaves making fun of dances of the european settlers and combining it with their traditional dances. 

After 4 years of honing her skills as a professional dancer through training in multiple dance styles like Jazz, Hip Hop, Contemporary, etc not to mention the lack of access to Dancehall classes/teachers and having to learn from videos instead, Nadiah started to realise the difference in her style of Dancehall. She could see influences from various street styles combined with the strong energy and steps of African dances infiltrate her Dancehall movements.

As a result, in 2012, Nadiah officially launched DANCEHALL FUZION (formerly known as RAGGA FUZION) to define her unique dance expression and dancehall movement. In her own words:

“DANCEHALL FUZION is essentially my personal style and interpretation of how I feel Dancehall dance can be created into a choreography. It plays with the intricacy of the riddims, intonation and flow of the singjay and overall musicality. It encourages and highlights style, attitude and personality! Although still strongly rooted in Dancehall, DANCEHALL FUZION can be controlled and smooth or explosive, mixed with the rawness of traditional and current street african dances, footwork and other street dances”

 

WHY DANCEHALL? 

As the years go by Nadiah is coming to a deeper understanding of herself, the conscious realisation as to why she connects so deeply with this movement, the culture and its people. It is the only style that allows her to fully express all kinds of stories and emotions that are/were the result of good and bad life experiences. Afterall, Dance is much deeper than just moving ones body, to Nadiah, it is a spiritual act and a healing all at the same time and it is the only way one can witness her in the most divine blissful state. Jamaica also feels unusually familiar and gives Nadiah a sensation of nostalgia as it is the only place where she feels both her Malaysian and South African traditions can be experienced.

 

VIRGIN JAMAICA

7 years in the making and Nadiah's journey finally brought her to the mecca of Dancehall, JAMAICA, in June 2015. So much can be said and written about her trip but one thing's for sure - the energy, the experience, the people of this island evolved and refined her dance and it certainly won't be the last pilgrimage as there is no place like it. Below are some photos and highlights.


Thank you Orville Expressions, Latonya Style, Maya Sheridan-Martinez, Kofi Walker,Mikey Glamour, So Fire, Jesse I, Sista Itations, Aswon Farenji, JR Black Eagle, Stacy Expressions, Meredith Jane and Nick Toth for all your input which assisted in writing this article including all visual material from credited sources.