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10 minutes with Akeim Toussaint

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Can you talk about your life in dance and how it can to be that you chose this path? We love hearing from male role models to help inspire young men in the borough to dance

I have always danced even when I was on the streets of Barking, even when I was in my living room in Jamaica at the age of 4. I saw dance on TV, I saw dance in the neighbourhood and I just copied. Dance became my way of making friends and staying out of trouble. I am a hyperactive kid/adult so being active was and is a need to help direct my energy to something that I can do, and feel is mine to share with the world and keep myself healthy. I have never been good at sports and for some reason it bored me. Dance always allowed me space to be myself and to socialise and by being in an unofficial crew. Growing up as a teenager in Leeds, every weekend my friends and I would busk in town. We all danced different styles, I was mainly a Hip-Hop mover, drawing from many styles to express myself. This gave me a name and also gave me a space to be who I am. Deciding to train as a dancer and take it up professionally came as an intuitive need to keep something actively physical in my life while at college. It turned out that after the first year of A levels my highest grade was in dance, not only in my practical examinations but also in my contextual and theoretical studies. People tend to think dance is only in the body and it’s physical and that's it. But when it comes to understanding why people danced through the ages and in different contexts, it opens up to philosophy, literature, sociology, sciences, anthropology – all of which I am heavily interested in. I don’t regret the choice to become a professional dancer at all. It empowered me and gave me something that I feel a lot of integrity doing.

So….what is beatboxing and how did you come to discover you could do it?

I discovered beatboxing when I was 11. I was listening to some music (I think it was Justin Timberlake and some Michael Jackson) and I don’t think anyone realised it at the time but if you listen carefully there are percussive vocals on some of their songs. I just took it in and copied it and found my own style. Now I am heavily influenced by Bobby McFerrin and the practice of sound healing.

You are a multi-talented professional….how do you describe yourself and what you do? In doing things differently and having such a unique approach have you had to carve out a place in the dance world for you and your work?

I am still carving out a space for myself in the world of performance art. I can’t say I am only a dance artist, I’d be selling myself short and would lose out on work. I take pride in being a professional creative. To sustain this, it means not depending only on one of the strings in my bow as a source, but also expanding. I have recently joined an organisation called Live Music Now for musicians to collaborate, deliver workshops and gigs to children and the elderly. I have decided to start making my own work and being more selective with when I do dance in other companies as sometimes it’s not the work I want to be in. By creating my own work and learning how the industry works in terms of self-producing, learning about the venues’ yearly and by yearly cycles, I am learning to direct my own path. In time I see this growing and being its own cycle. I am learning more about how my artistic identity is received, this is very important to understand so I can have more success with my audiences and venues.

Can you tell us what a person attending your workshop with us might expect of the session?

In my workshops, expect to be challenged. Expect to experience something you have thought of doing and places you have thought of going to, but never really got a chance to go there. I like to have fun in my sessions whether I’m teaching dance or looking at a creative process. I also like to care for people because people are important. I truly hold to this in my sessions. In creative workshops I am really a believer in people’s abilities to tell their stories and explore their voice creatively. I see myself as simply holding a container and giving some tools to allow this to happen. In classes it’s the same, although I am giving you movements to execute, I’m really only giving you a blueprint as everyone’s bodies are different. I believe that teaching dance is simply teaching patterns, as a participant you can take yourself out of your comfort zone with me or take yourself to the edge of where you feel comfortable. I will and always encourage taking the challenge and taking the plunge of doing something you have never done before, but I will never scrutinise anyone for not doing so. I celebrate in my sessions; celebrate mistakes, celebrate everything and help take people higher. That’s what someone can find in my sessions.

You intertwine musical soundscapes within your choreography – can you explain the process of how these two come together? What comes first or do they happen simultaneously?

I am making a new work called Beatmotion and it’s proving to be quite a challenge because I am looking at the intertwined spaces of the voice and movement. It is really a simultaneous process. The sound has to reflect what the action and intention is in order to truly feel authentic and necessary, so I’d have to say the movements come first. The soundscape’s place is similar but sometimes it’s the sound that comes first and the movements after. It depends on the intention and content I’m trying to communicate. Language is such a coded place, however sound is emotional to the core, hence wanting to fuse it with dance because dance is also so deeply primitively emotive.

Whilst with us at Greenwich Dance you will be leading a workshop for young people. Do you approach your work with young people any differently from the way in which you work with professionals? What will you be trying to teach them and what ideas will you leave them with?

I will be training the young people in technique and finding clarity in their movement. The idea of less is more and moving from the inside out. True strength is in the core. We’ll be strengthening our cores as with a strong core we can do anything and be safe. I will be encouraging them to count the music becoming competent with how the sounds have their own cycles and how we can play with those rhythms to execute our movement in a myriad of ways. I don’t just play with even counts such as 8s in music I love 7s and 5s so we’ll be dancing through some of these places. Musicality is a serious entity in dance which I feel we all need to be a friend to from early on.

What advice would you give a young dancer making their way in the world today?

Train not for the sake of how it looks but for the sake of how it feels. Do not pigeonhole yourself to one style of dance or even art form – everything feeds everything. Find a community of dancers to remind you of your passion. Being a young dancer can be so difficult alone.

We here at Greenwich Dance are setting out to create a dance community of people, of all ages, backgrounds and experiences, who value the place of creativity and dance within their lives regardless of whether its something they use to pay the mortgage! Do you have a response to that as an approach and is this a value you also share with us?

I absolutely believe that dance is a form of communication beyond coded language that can really bring all people together. Indigenous people don’t have a different space for dance and music, the two are synonymous. In our culture we see massive concerts where music brings millions of people together. Holding a space for everyone to dance, witness dance or take part in dance is imperative to human development, that is why dance is so prevalent in society.

Book A Day with Akeim Toussaint here.