“On many an occasion when I am dancing, I have felt touched by something sacred. In those moments, I felt my spirit soar and become one with everything that exists,” the late pop icon Michael Jackson once said – a feeling that Annalise Seepaul and Jamila McKenzie live every time they get on stage in the many years they have been dancing professionally.
Twenty-three-year-old Seepaul, and McKenzie, 30, have had those sacred moments on the International Soca Monarch stage multiple times.
They have performed at other events and were featured in music videos alongside local and regional artistes among them Machel Montano, Aaron “Voice” St Louis, Darryl “Farmer Nappy” Henry, Nailah Blackman, Olatunji Yearwood, Damian Marvay, Destra Garcia, Erphann Alves, Nadia Batson, Teddyson John, and Patrice Roberts.
Now, the two women are getting ready to teach others to soar with the launch their own dance school, Golden X Entertainment.
“We decided on ‘X’ because of its infinite possibilities. There is no limit to its value and that is what we want to give to the school and those who attend our classes…But it won’t just be teaching. We will also offer production, directing of music videos, choreography and stage presentations.” McKenzie told WMN.
“It will be a school and agency. The plan really is to leverage on the experience and contacts we would have gained over the years.”
They are aiming to launch in mid-February.
“It was supposed to be sooner, but we experienced a couple delays earlier on in the year,” Seepaul said.
The plan for now is to use available studio spaces in Port of Spain and in the east until they are able to get their own space. They will offer classes in hip hop, contemporary, afrobeat, folk, and a beginners’ introduction to dance and movement.
Seepaul is a graduate of the University of TT with a bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts in the Performing Arts with a specialisation in dance, and a focus on choreography and teaching.
McKenzie is an alumna of UWI St Augustine and the Arthur Lok Jack School of Business, and holds a BSc in management studies and a master’s degree in international business development and innovation.
She is a member of the Elle InfiniTT dance company.
“I always knew I wanted to dance, but didn’t take it seriously until I was in form three at Bishop Anstey High School East. From then I knew my degree was going to be in dance,” Seepaul told WMN.
“Right now I teach urban dance, which is a mixture of hip and hop and femme – a feminine and sexy style of hip hop. I do classes at Xtreme Dance Academy in Port of Spain. I’ve been teaching for two years on and off, this is first year that I’m teaching consistently," she said.
McKenzie started her professional dance journey with Elle over ten years ago, but said opportunities also came from other dance companies with which she was associated. She said Golden X Entertainment is simply an extension of Golden Era, an online store she started about three years ago.
“Golden Era was inspired mainly by the nostalgia, memories, fashion and entertainment of our generation – millennials. It started off with birth-year caps, which is still the main product of the brand.
"But now we also offer clothing and accessories that uplift and highlight the creativity of my peers, our creative nature and the entrepreneurial spirit of our generation, and the inspirational contributions we are making to the entertainment industry…I come up with the concepts and designs, the clothing is done locally, the accessories are imported.”
Like the market for Golden Era, McKenzie and Seepaul said the target for Golden X Entertainment will be millennial dancers and younger.
“We would like to go to schools and offer creative direction in areas such as music videos etc…We would like to make a connection between artistes and dancers and create opportunities for them (dancers)” – opportunities such as the ones they were afforded on their international tour with soca artiste Voice last year.
The Vibes with Voicey concert tour took them to stages in Miami, Atlanta, Washington DC, Boston/Rhode Island, and New York and allowed them the opportunity to show off their dance and choreography skills.
“It was great experience, an opportunity that I never thought we would get at that time, seeing that we were in a pandemic. It is a rare opportunity for dancers in TT, and it boosted our dance career in terms of visibility. It really opened doors.
"It was a very empowering experience and we got a lot of support and love…The pace was extremely fast, but it is something we are used to. The backstage prep, everything was like how we operate during Carnival, like having a whole weekend scheduled to a ‘T’.
"The only thing that was different was that instead of moving from fete to fete, we were moving from state to state,” McKenzie said.
For Seepaul, the experience brought many lessons.
“It was an eye-opener in terms of how far dancers can go, and I felt like I grew, not only as a person but as a dancer and as a performer. It was an opportunity that we did not expect during covid, it was very humbling but at the same time gave me a lot of confidence. It was really amazing…We were only contracted to perform in Miami, Atlanta and New York, but he (Voice) decided to bring us along for the other stops.”
The duo said the fact that the tour came during a time when there was so much sickness and death in the world was a bit concerning, but instead of sitting it out, they chose to dance.
“We took the best precautions we could have while with the team and backstage. I made sure Anna and I drank our ginger tea, took our vitamins every day, sanitised, wore our masks throughout the whole trip,” McKenzie said.
And even long after the tour dust had settled, the two stayed on in the US to visit with family and friends and to make use of other dance opportunities that came up.
“We arrived in the US on August 7 and left on October 20. After the tour ended in New York in September, we stayed on there for three weeks. Then we got an invitation to participate in Miami carnival. We had never really experienced that carnival before, so we decided to accept that offer. We were invited to stay to play mas with the band GenX Carnival, and were asked to put together a dance choreography for a set for Rocksteady, a female Jamaican DJ. It was amazing!” McKenzie said.
The whole experience, Seepaul said, nudged them to start putting the plans they had in motion.
“This was something that we’ve wanted to do for a while, but things came up and it got pushed back. But we’re ready to go. It’s time.”
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