At the beginning of the year, a friend told me about Dancehall classes in Hamburg and recommended me to try it out. I never expected I could actually follow a routine but I like trying new things, so I dropped by. From the first minute you could feel something different in the atmosphere: you could tell we were not at another random dancing class at a gym. Our teacher Lis’ vibes were highly contagious and that made a real difference. I found myself in a place where I felt good and free.
After many Mondays of dancing to Jamaican sounds, I took the chance to talk to Lis. Dancer and choreographer, Lis moved to Hamburg in 2012 where she started the Jamaican Dancehall community and founded two dance groups, LikkleDivaz & RebelSquad.
Text: Sabela García Cuesta
Who exactly is Lady Lis and how did Dancehall come into her life?
I’m 29 years old and come from a town in the Western part of Germany. When I was little I was into hip hop, so in my search for a hip hop studio, the only thing I could find was a Lady offering Dancehall classes for girls my age. I didn’t know what Dancehall was and when I joined the whole thing looked funny to me – until I understood what’s behind all of it.
How could it be that you could take Dancehall classes in that town?
I guess because there was an army camp where many Caribbeans used to live. Additionally a lot of Reggae and Dancehall sounds were based around that area. So Jamaican parties with authentic dancing and even Caribbean food on the weekends were pretty normal for me growing up.
Can you explain a little bit better what Dancehall is exactly?
For me, Dancehall is not only a music genre, it is actually a whole cultural lifestyle. It is the real and rough way of life of the ghetto people in Jamaica. It involves the way they dress, how they talk patois, even their food and politics.
Who comes up with the steps?
The steps are inspired and created by daily life experiences! The creators express their emotions and daily struggles through them, for example poverty, political issues and also sensual or sexual vibes … and then it all becomes music and dance! They might have no money sometimes but they always have music. It just comes naturally.
So, Dancehall is all about expressing yourself and community?
Yes, you can actually dance Dancehall to show your own personality, your own spirit and emotion, by using the styles and knowledge about the culture. At the beginning the “Dancehall godfather”, Gerald Levy, built his steps and created a vibe on the streets that would make everybody dance: pure vibes.The grooves would be easy to follow, so everyone in the community could join. Afterwards, from the influence of US, Canada and in general overseas, the flow changed. The new school dancers started creating sick moves, fast and neat, so you couldn’t easily catch them: that’s the evolution of Dancehall – Dancehall next level.
Have you been in Jamaica to learn the real thing there?
I was there for the first time in 2013. By now I’ve been 5 times in total. For me going to Jamaica is not only time for dancing but time for my spirit too. It may sound strange, but I know a lot of people from Europe who found inner peace and happiness once they spent more time over there. If you want to have the authentic Dancehall experience and learn from the people who live it, then get in touch with someone there. I did it via Facebook but nowadays Instagram also works well. They will invite you to their yards and you will be dancing at the spots where their lives are taking place. You will realize that you don’t need a mirror to improve, you just need to feel the vibes and love.
Is it a challenge to transmit the Jamaican vibes in Hamburg?
Sure. If you have never seen real poverty or struggle it is hard to understand and feel the dance fully in consequence. For many people in Jamaica, dancing is a way to survive! They feed their families from the money they can make through their dance. But even if we may never have suffered the way they do, the music and dance can be enjoyed by people all over the world.
So, what’s the Dancehall Community in HH like?
We have many sounds and promoters like SILLY WALKS, INNA DI DANCE or BADDA BADDA. However, when it comes to dancing only a few people really know about it. People in Europe generally believe it is a female dance and that’s not true. In Jamaica the majority of the community is men-driven, they are the ones creating the majority of moves.
And what about the women? I’ve seen they do pretty sexy moves.
A dance is a dance so the only thing that matters is getting to move your body.
At parties they always have the so called “Gyal Time”, sequence at the end of the dance when the selecter plays strictly music for women. The man step back and leave the space for the ladies. They can dance on their own, no one would ever dare to touch them if they don’t want to dance with someone. They are allowed to be themselves, as free and as sexy as they like. And everytime a Western person feels their dance is too rough, you have to remember that this is their survival, their time out of the daily fight against poverty and their chance to just enjoy the vibes.
You are the founder of two dancing groups in Hamburg, is that right?
I started teaching teenagers and when they started to compete with their Dancehall skills at hip hop events I chose the name “LikkleDivaz”. We’ve been to many events and are actually winning! “RebelSquad” is our group of grown-ups. I love dancing and I’m not looking for money but for happiness. The most important thing to me right now is to find a good space for my spirit and make people feel the same breathtakingly happy way that dancehall makes me feel so many times.
What is the most Jamaican place in HH?
There are some nice parties like the ones I named before, but so far it does not make me feel any closer to the real Jamaican vibes… There is nothing like dancing in the streets of Kingston, having all the dancers, musicians and community around.
If you want to try Dancehall, don’t miss the next workshop in June. It will be combined with a party from BADDA BADDA. More info here. And if you are interested in getting to know more about parties and the dancehall community in Hamburg get in touch with Lis. She will definitely get you in the right direction.