RHYTHM IS A DANCER! In conversation with Courtnae Paul
Madonna said being a dancer is a dog’s life and she’d be right, and even though facing barred doors, not falling into a certain look and being a girl, choreographer/Dancer/BGirl Courtnae Paul is redefining the dance entertainment industry.
Blasting through the breakdancing scene in South Africa as a BGirl powerhouse, garnering a list of top corporate clients, opening for and sharing stages with a number of international acts including Lil Wayne Pitbull, Fatman Scoop, Burna Boy and many more, toured, choreographed and performed with local artists Kwesta, Moonchild, Sho Mdajozi, Kuli Chana and AKA, is doing international gigs, signed to brands like Asics, had a Creative Hustle feature for the Loeries 2018 and a profile documentary on FOX life Africa (rotating on the channel since last year), and has been the Head Judge and co-host on SABC.
The WIRE had a conversation with Courtnae between traveling and performance gigs.
How did your journey through dance begin?
Quite unintentionally actually. I was a very active child, I did gymnastics then was into soccer and kickboxing, keeping myself busy in a way that was the complete polar opposite of a little girl At 11 joined a dance team at church, so I arrived into dancing rather randomly.
I used to see a lot of cool Missy Elliot videos but never saw girls doing this “breaking” stuff. That little exposure mixed with my gymnastics background and the love of hip hop, would evolve me into the BGIrl I am today. At 15 landed my first professional choreography gig and the rest is history.
How did you find coming up as a creative talent in a dance style dominated by men?
As a BGirl, there is yet to be a success story come out of this country, so there was no female dance hero for me to emulate. When I started I only had guys to look up to, initially, they want to help you but when you become competition it’s a problem, bringing with it a series of barriers. I was good for a girl, but never seen as good a guy. I just put my head down, trained on my own. When I moved to Johannesburg at 21, I quickly realised I was either going to have to make this dance thing work or call it a day. I remember a client, a big producer of dance entertainment shows and content said we’re looking for breakers…and I said “Great I can do that”, to which she responded “Oh I didn’t know girls do that!” So I had my fair share of struggles trying to make it, secure gigs or create opportunities for a self-taught girl in a guy’s dance domain.
Is there an African Aesthetic in dancing from South Africa that you don’t see in the rest of the world?
Absolutely yes! I worked in over 13 different countries now and I’ve been privileged to see many amazing dancers but there definitely is something about dance from Africa. There is an inherent rhythm that’s so magical.
As a choreographer, what inspires you?
In the corporate world it comes down to what the client wants and what the brief is. But I always put my own twist on it. I did a classic ballet piece for the sun met this year but added a street twist. In terms of inspiration I take the briefs and inject certain themes into the movements that create a good balance between the technical aspects of the dance and the entertainment value for the audience.
From a business perspective how do you remain relevant in a competitive industry as dancer-choreographer?
It’s difficult to get into certain doors when people are looking for a “look” regardless of your skill set and experience. I studied business and run an entertainment company. Together with producing the best level of work, exceeding client’s expectations and nurturing working relationships allows me to being booked consistently. I believe in being authentic, creating something fresh every time and staying true to what I do and I think it shows in my work.
What business advice would you give to aspiring dancers looking to leverage their talent?
It can be tricky for a dancer to understand what a brand gets back on ROI. I’ve spent a lot of time and research understanding what the value of my brand is and my business is, so when it comes to landing contracts or working with longstanding clients it’s vital to manage, nurture and sustain relationships and know how to deliver entertainment at a highest level that communicates the clients message.
What is your dream project?
Every dance job is a dream project, but beyond dance one of my big dream project is having a home/safe space for women and children. I am involved a few social outreach projects like facilitating USaid camps for youths and adolescent girls.
What track right now, makes you want to bust a move?
My first official DJ single called “No other way”. It’s coming out next year. Its fire! Keep an ear out for it.
C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.