Disclosure: Dance Dispatches received free class admission to write an open and honest dance class review about our experience learning dancehall with Natty JCDT.
Who knew that the Baby Shark song had the potential to be cool? In Jamaica, locals jam out to the grating song that toddlers love – and manage to look super fly. If you haven’t seen this particular dancehall video, you may be more familiar with Sean Paul’s Dutty Rock album (2002), which “launched dancehall [from Jamaica] into the mainstream,” according to this Guardian interview – or even Justin Bieber’s Sorry track (2015), whose music video (choreographed by Parris Goebel) features a group of sassy ladies showing off a variety of fun dancehall moves. Dancehall music and dance, in various dilutions, can be found in many places; and we were so excited to gain a more authentic taste of dancehall in London with Natty JCDT.
Natty JCDT & Juss Cre8ive LTD
Natty JCDT works as a choreographer and dance instructor, leading Jamaican dancehall classes in London. Natty was brought up with dancehall and began dancing at the age of three, since dancehall is a large part of her family’s Caribbean culture. At family gatherings, her relatives played dancehall or reggae music, with relatives showing off the latest dance moves that they picked up from trips to Jamaica.
Natty began dancing taking her dancehall career seriously at the age of 17 when she was old enough to attend some dancehall street events. However, she says that dancehall only started appearing as a class or workshop in dance studios in 2011 – the same year that she began teaching dancehall classes. Natty and her co-teacher Shanna JCDT conduct dancehall lessons for adults, with ladies-only classes on Tuesdays.
Dancehall Class Review
The ladies’ dancehall class warm-up begins with isolations. The hips and shoulders slowly loosen up with methodical circular motions. The torso tilts down and the pelvis tips up as they rotate – sometimes independent of each other and sometimes simultaneously. I’m reminded of a few particular moves from belly dance warm-ups, but the style and approach to the dancehall movements are quite different.
The focus of this dancehall class is not polishing a short choreography; it is all about learning how to genuinely express yourself within the framework of this dance genre. (Wow, that all sounds very serious, but it doesn’t feel like it.) Think of it this way: you wouldn’t go to a salsa dance class just to learn a routine; rather, you’d go to learn steps that you can dance when you’re out on the floor. This is much the same.
Therefore, Natty and Shanna tag-team as they teach a large and varied selection of dancehall steps. We learned “Rolling”, “Body Feel Good”, “So Unique” (created by Mara Jackhammer of Jackhammer Ladies from Jamaica), “Pine and Ginger” and “Bruck Out”– and that was only half of them! The instructors demonstrate the movement before the class tries it out, and then the moves are practised to music. During these drill-like sessions, they offer corrections.
The basic dancehall position requires bent knees, which provides a grounded feeling. Peripheral arm and leg movements are often complemented by rolling or undulating motions in the torso, so coordination is key to master this dance style. Sometimes you may feel like you’re a five-year-old, trying to rub your belly and pat your head at the same time.
Class ends with a run-through of the moves to music. Each dancehall step is performed for 8- or 16-counts, until you’ve repeated your entire newly acquired repertoire. As class ended, I felt like I was just getting into the groove – and would have been keen to head out on the town with the ladies for more of a party vibe.
Dancehall Class Summary
Level: Open level, suitable for beginners
Physical intensity: 3.5 / 5
Best moment: Correctly calling out names of the codified dance hall moves
Most challenging moment: Alternating popped heels, while simultaneously tucking the pelvis under and releasing it (in the ‘So Unique’ move)
Three words to describe class: Groovy, informative, intimate.
If You Try Dancehall in London with Natty JCDT
Time: Tuesdays, 7:30 – 8:30PM
Location: Base Dance Studios, 4 Tinworth Street, London, SE11 5EJ
Nearest train/tube station: Vauxhall
Class prices: £8
All information correct and up-to-date at time of posting.
What are some of your favourite dancehall songs – or moves? We look forward to reading about them in the comments field below.