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“Big Up Wednesdayz” and the joys of sharing my passion for Dancehall

Dancehall classes in London, also known as… #BigUpWednesdayz !!! 😀

“#BigUpWednesdayz is to me more than a dance class. Of course, we sweat (mirrors are always steamed up!), and we work out, and we learn about technique. I also wanted to create a class where spirit would take over. Dancehall empowered me as a woman, as an artist, as a human being. I wanted to teach a class that would mirror what Dancehall is, a social dance form, that gives away the message that everyone stands out and that every person is special.

BigUpWednesdayz is that time of the week where students take time out to “big up” themselves, their achievements, their curves and the way they move & grove. Mistakes are allowed and valued in class as much as getting the steps nailed. Students truly smile when walking out of the door cause something special always happens within their dancing souls.

BigUpWednesdayz is a weekly Dancehall class. Being a Dancehall lover for 16 years, having travelled to Jamaica to train & research the art form, I love passing on that passion I have for this rich & mesmerizing dance culture. Each week we look at old school and new school dance moves, students learn about Dancehall vocabulary and where the steps come from.

Setting up the class has been a very exciting journey so far, and to celebrate our one year anniversary we even had #BigUpWednesdayzINTERNATIONAL with a guest teacher from Brooklyn / NYC: Blacka Di Danca!! This was a true inspirational, educational, emotional and spiritual experience!

I hope the class will keep growing over the years. By teaching these regular Dancehall classes my aim is to generate more interest & appreciation for Dancehall within the various dance communities. BigUpWednesdayz promotes the beauty and the positiveness of Dancehall culture.

Classes are open to all, hope you can all join us inna di studio soon!!!!”

Cindy Claes

FULL SCHEDULE OF MY DANCE CLASSES

The “dangers” of traveling alone as a female dancer…

Many have warned me, many have feared for me, many dissuaded me to even think or dream of going to places like Kingston, South Los Angeles, Niger…. AND……………..

What happened to me?? Absolutely nothing!!

I am a caucasian white female dancer.   I am in my early thirties but I look like an innocent teenager with dimples. I traveled to South Los Angles (Compton, Long Beach) and Kingston (Jamaica) by myself. I lived in Brixton (London) and East Harlem (NYC).   I have been dance backpacking for 15 years by myself. And…

What happened to me?? Absolutely nothing!!

(To tell you the truth, Belgium is my homeland, Brussels is the capital of Europe, yet it is the city I am the most afraid of. Perhaps I shouldn’t be saying this as I might dissuade women to travel there by themselves and make bad publicity for the belgian touristic industry… but it’s the absolute truth.  As a woman, I don’t feel comfortable walking by myself, in Brussels.)

Traveling as a solo female dancer requires to travel “responsibly”. In other words, be aware of “what is so” in certain countries, don’t take unnecessary risks, but don’t freak out either. In every big city in the world it is common sense not to walk home by yourself through dark and deserted streets wearing a mini-skirt at 4am in the morning, so… just take a taxi home then.

I have been welcomed in the Krump world and met my Krump family in L.A. in 2008 (my Krump name is Lady Fudd). The dancers in Compton and Long Beach have so much love to give. Despite the many strangers who suffer mental health problems in L.A. (Hollywood is the worst!), people never bothered me in public transport (I am a dance backpacker, I travel low budget, I don’t rent a car, not even in L.A.).  However, I met people and families who would pick up on the fact that I am foreign and start talking to me because they were intrigued and interested.  And as soon as you say you are a dancer, you will make friends anywhere in the world!  Always remember, artists are appreciated!  We inspire people through our art, but also through our lifestyle and our conversations!

The first time I travelled to Kingston, Christopher Dudus, a “drug lord” was wanted by the US and the military.  Shooting occurred in Tivoli Gardens (the city centre), and curfews were imposed in many parts of the city. The media blew up the events and had a feast showing images of violence and guns…  However, they forgot to tell the world everything went quiet and back to normal after 4 days of pressure imposed on the locals. The world forgot how much we are manipulated by the media and many people cancelled their flight to Jamaica that year (2010).  Except me, of course. No need to say that these events had a huge impact on the sector of the arts (less people came to the island to take classes and see events) and the touristic industry (people were scared).  All of this thanks to the media and the stereotypes the world likes to believe in.

Every online travel forum will tell you not to go alone to a Dancehall session in Jamaica, especially in Kingston.  Well… I freestyle, I battle, I dance… I met dancers and I was respected as such in the dance community.   I met incredible dancers in the Dancehall community, and I certainly never felt in danger in a Dancehall session.  Even though I love Dancehall and I find it an incredibly rich dance form, I made a choice not to dance with men, because I don’t feel comfortable doing so.   It’s a personal choice, I don’t “dagger”.  However, I think people have a lot of fun doing it, and I respect and appreciate their personal choices. Most of them know each other from the dance community and all are good friends.   They are just having fun.   I want to highlight there has never been a man who forced me to dance with him or “be daggered” against my will at any Dancehall session.   My choice has always been respected.

At 17, I travelled to Niger. A few days before my departure, President Barre got assassinated (1999).   I went anyway. No guerilla started, no war exploded out of the blue and the people were very calm.  When I moved to London in 2005, terrorist attacks hit the city a month after my arrival.   It has been a horrible event, and I certainly don’t want to deny the pain of the families who lost their loved ones in the incident.   My only reason to mention it is to encourage lonely female travelers to go for their dreams and to be unstoppable. We are taking risks while walking down our own street, so why would we feel unsafe elsewhere in the world?  Incidents can happen on our doorstep.  Most big cities are safe as long as you use… common sense!

People told me my gender, my innocent look, my complexion, my accent or my chosen destination would cause me trouble.   I have been dance backpacking for 15 years, and what happened to me?? Absolutely nothing!! Every trip made me grow as an artist and magic happened!!  Don’t listen to stereotypes, they only exist in the eyes of those who speak them out. If your purpose is calling you to go somewhere… follow your heart!

Are we women vulnerable when traveling on our own?  Perhaps.  I admit I do have a guardian angel looking after me.  Or maybe it is my positive karma, or the deity of Green Tara.  But so do you, if you believe so.

For all the female dancers out there… I wish you many safe and magical dance trips!

Cindy

**PS: This picture was taken the first time I travelled to Kingston.  Christopher Dudus, a “drug lord” was wanted by the US and the military.  Curfews were imposed.  And regular checks happened in certain parts of the city as they were looking for “Dudus”.

Cindy Claes (photo by Irven Lewis)

This is me!

I am an artist wearing many hats: Choreographer & Director, Dancer & Actress, Dance-storyteller & Playwright, Researcher, Dance Coach, Teacher & Mentor.

Born and raised in Belgium, I moved to London on 6th June 2005.

I left Belgium and arrived in London with 2 suitcases in hands. I followed a dream and listened to my gut. However I had no clue what the future was going to be made of. I had no laptop, no iPod, no TV, just a pair of trainers and a vision. Didn’t speak english very well, couldn’t understand any voicemail (a real nightmare when you looking for a job!). I barely knew one or two people in the city, and nobody knew me that’s for sure!

8 years later… what a journey! Today I am proud to say that I travelled (a lot!), I am an ADAD Trailblazer, I got my first GFA Arts Council England, did a full lenght production “Voices in The Alleyway”, and on top of being a choreographer I can call myself a young emerging playwright. I met amazing supportive people, and I am surrounded by love. And all of this is just and only the beginning… From a little belgian town to… the world!!!

Always believe in your dreams, don’t you ever dare giving up! The world is waiting for your talent to be shared, the universe needs you to shine!