My dance journey began at the age of four. I started in a community drill team called “African Perfection.” I grew up in the Rondo Community, where dance wasn’t a specialty but a way of life and communication. It wasn’t until I attended a performing arts high school that I realized I was able to create dance that can change and inspire people. I wanted to paint the world how I thought it should be.
During my high school years, I was a victim of sexual exploitation. I was asking myself, “How can my body have this gift of dance, but be used and harmed in such a way?”
I began to create work that centered social justice and liberation for Black communities worldwide. I focused on the experience of the artist in the work, as opposed to those watching. I decided not to “perform” truths, but to dance them and gift people the opportunity to observe. Although I did not realize it then, dance was literally healing me and allowing me to have a better understanding of my body.
I began to discover new parts of myself — a new love for myself.
My dance company, BLAQ, was formed in 2016 with six members. We thrive off the practice of doing what our bodies and spirits need in order to be our best selves.
Currently, I am developing a dance technique and aesthetic that evokes healing in the body and self-love. This technique centers Black women who have experienced sex trafficking and exploitation. It is based in traditional West African dance, and my own body’s discoveries of grief and joy. I prioritize working with local sound engineers and projectionists to make this work accessible for people who are deaf and hard of hearing.
I am still the process of discovering what love looks like for me. As a woman, I was told what love was supposed to look and feel like, without any input from my own spirit and body. I am practicing self-love and “Movement Prayers” daily to unveil my body’s truths.
DejaJoelle (does not use pronouns) is the founder and artistic director of BLAQ. In response to COVID-19, DejaJoelle is offering free virtual self-love sessions via ZOOM. Visit dejajoelle.com