Dancers' Paradise: Shanese Johnson sees dancehall as an art

August 17, 2018
Shanese Johnson
Shanese Johnson
Shanese Johnson

Shanese Johnson says, "Dancehall is my lifestyle. It is my space, and it's art."

The 22-year-old dancer finds herself between a rock and a hard place as she considers what she wants to do with her talent.

But she is sure that she wants persons to see the dance style as an art form. The first person she had to debate the topic with was her mother.

"My parents registered me into dance classes from kindergarten, and as long as I had music, I was always dancing," said Johnson. "However, I was a sheltered child. So I would not be able to interact with persons in my community who were practising dancehall moves on the road, but I was able to observe and learn from a distance."




Johnson grew up in Waltham Park and later moved to Old Harbour Road. She said it became more difficult to balance participating in extra-curricular classes and clubs while doing schoolwork, especially with travelling to and from school by bus.

"I used to hide and dance, saving lunch money to pay for whatever that I would need to pay for to be a part of the classes while at high school," she said. "My mother thought dancing took up time that could be used to do school work."

She learnt various forms of dance with the school's dance group. But there wasn't a focus on dancehall.

"And now, in many existing dance companies, there are too many labels on what forms are considered art to the point that some do not include dancehall as it is raunchier," she said.

Every now and then, she is invited to act as a guest instructor, where she gets the freedom to share her love of dancehall.

Within her dancing circles, Johnson is known as Giftedchyle, a nickname that emerged from being skilled at design and make-up artistry while maintaining the grades in school.

She has been featured in numerous music videos and campaigns, including Razor B's Don't Stop It, Shenseea's most recent release, Instruction, Girlfriend by Busta Rhymes and Tory Lanez, and others.

"I keep current in the dancehall space by attending pop-up sessions by my colleagues. I don't get the time to attend local street dances because of work and school," she said.

But Johnson said she is at a crossroads.

"I want to be a complete dancer instead of being stuck in a style. Plus, I see dancers struggle because they are not paid what the art is worth, but there must be an opportunity to earn," she said.

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