Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Exclusive Interview with Latonya Swann! Born To Dance

By Lenell King

Ever since winning the "Born To Dance" competition in 2011, Latonya Swann has been on a roller coaster of opportunities from touring with Lady Gaga to opening up a dance studio. It all started on a late night run to 7/11 for eyelashes. You never know where your opportunity may find you.  Latonya Swann was truly Born To Dance!!!!!

Lenell:  What did you do prior to the competition?

Latonya: Before the show, I was a sophomore in college.  Outside of college, I was doing pretty much everything that I could get into.  Between my competitive jazz teams, dance companies, school groups, hip hop crews, pretty much anything that I could put my finger into I was a part of that. I was a double psychology and dance major. It was cool, but I really felt unfulfilled.  I kind of just planned out my life thinking what could I do with a double major? I really didn’t think that I would be happy going that route.  So I just decided that the next audition for a show or performance that would help me get to where I wanted to be in 5 years, I would jump on it.  It just so happened to be “Born To Dance.”

 Lenell: Wow! You would be surprised to know how many people don’t follow their hearts.  They end up having regrets especially for the life of a dancer.  How did you initially hear about the competition?

Latonya:  It’s really funny how I heard about the competition.  My mom was dating this guy at the time and he was the biggest 106 & Park fan. He was in New York and said, “I heard about this dance competition. I know you dance, right? You’ve got to give it a go.” (Laughing) My mom feels that has to be the only reason why she met him. She was at 7/11 at 4 am buying me some eyelashes for a dance competition and he ended up telling me about that show! That moment changed my whole life, and we always seem to joke about that.  Looking back that was really, really funny.

Lenell:  Boy, I guess you really never know when or where your opportunities will come from.

Latonya: Exactly

Lenell:  Do you keep in touch with any of the girls from that show at all?

Latonya: Definitely.  When I was on the show, I think I definitely felt closer to Jelly. She was the older one from Atlanta. We just really kicked it off. I definitely still talk to her. I also speak to Theresa; she was from New York and Lydia. We weren’t that close on the show, no beef or anything. We were all just worried about nailing our performances.    I definitely keep up with pretty much everyone, but those are the three that I talk to often.

Lenell: We all know the executive producer of the show was Laurie Ann Gibson.  Is she one of your role models that inspired you to get into dance?

Latonya:  Definitely.  My role models are people that have been to the places where I want to be and come out of it with a certain type of grace. I definitely look up to her for that. She went from dancing in music videos to artist development then creative directing to doing videos and now directing. Those are some of the things that I want to do. I watch everything and take notes.  I just become a sponge whenever I’m around her because where else can you be around that much experience?

 Lenell: Does she stay in touch with you on a regular basis?

Latonya: Definitely.  I’m on her roster, which is the actual list of people that she calls when she has a project. So I have definitely worked with her a lot since the show.

Lenell: Outside of winning obviously, how has your life changed?

Latonya: I think the biggest part for me after the competition was having such a growth in my faith, my belief in God and a belief in myself. My confidence has grown and now I feel like I can do anything.

One of the things that changed was that I moved to LA. Being in the academic world you’re used to the fact that you must have a plan A, B and C plus you have to do this and you have to wait for that.  For me it was a jump in my spirit. I felt like this is what I’m supposed to be doing. I don’t need to have a backup plan; this is my plan A and I’m going to do it 100%. That was my biggest challenge.  I just had this blind confidence to really follow my dreams.

Lenell: Being a dancer, especially in the world of hip-hop, I’m sure you come across many stereotypes. What are some of the challenges and stereotypes that you have to come across on a daily basis?

Latonya: Girl, my least favorite one is when people think because you’re a dancer, that’s all you are. You’re not an intellectual or you don’t grasp business concepts.   It pisses me off when people say, “Oh, you speak?” or “Wow, you have an opinion?" Just stuff like that; they’re not used to dancers having a brain. I’ve been patronized since I was a kid and that’s one of the stereotypes that I deal with a lot and I tend to surprise people on that front.
Lenell:  What are some of your most memorable choreographed pieces that you have participated in or have just admired from afar?

Latonya: It’s so hard to narrow this down. Definitely the first video that inspired me to dance was Aaliyah’s, “Are You That Somebody”.  I love BeyoncĂ©, but for me Aaliyah was it. I was definitely a tomboy and I loved the way she danced. She didn’t have to give you JLo. She was really getting down and it was real choreography.

It was really the first time that I really took notice that people do this for a living. Another one was the Michael Jackson tour. I’m not sure what tour it was, but he was in all silver and he was on a cherry picker. He just sat there, took his glasses off, and people started fainting.  It changed the atmosphere and I was like “Oh My God! What was that?! Whatever he’s doing I need to do that.  Those are some of the first routines that smacked me in the face.

I just actually love performing in general especially back home when I am opening up for the Washington Wizards. My favorite was when I did a promo run with Lady Gaga for one of her newest singles for Art Pop, “Venus".  I was also able to go to the UK to do "X Factor" and the "Graham Norton" show. I could not believe I was going.  I just couldn't stop staring at the stamps on my passport.

Lenell: And it all started from that 7/11 visit at 4 o’clock in the morning. (Laughing)

Latonya: Exactly! (laughing) Trying to get some eyelashes. It’s Crazy.

Lenell: Tell us about this dance studio that you started.

Latonya: It was more of a philanthropic endeavor. For me I just wanted the people that I grew up with and for the people that taught me to really get to experience something bigger than dance as a hobby. There is not a dance industry in DC; it’s more so underground. Dancers tend to get stuck in companies or crews and don’t really look past the fact that they can do this as a career. So with all the stuff I learned and the resources I acquired I just wanted to give back to the people that I grew up with. I feel like they deserve it. Everyone is so dope and all they need is the same opportunity I was afforded. I felt that was my way of bridging the opportunity.

It’s kind of clicky in DC; everyone has his or her own niche. Yet, I was one of the few dancers that made it on all sides of the spectrum.  I wanted everybody to come together as one collective; like a DC Dance Industry. That was my future goal. I really wanted us to come together and people would say, “Oh, those people in DC are doing it! Let’s go there."

Lenell: “Born to Dance” is not on television anymore. I thought it was a phenomenal show for dancers, but for those that don’t get those types of opportunities what advice would you give an aspiring dancer who may want to take a similar path like yourself?

Latonya: I think the most important thing is to always stay hungry. If you have that about you, no matter what environment you’re in, whether it’s a dance team, professional or dancing for an artist, your work ethic is what’s always going to get you farther. Just be willing to learn more and open yourself up to different styles and get the most that you can out of every situation.  Learning from Laurie Ann I think I optimized my ability to take in stuff.  You need to be so hungry for this information because its information that can help you do the next thing.  Just create a cycle of learning and always know that you can be better and that will always bring success to you. This can be applied to any genre.

Lenell: What does the immediate future hold for you?

LaTonya: Well, you will continue to see my face in music videos, commercials, and various performances.  I just love to perform and you will definitely see more choreography from me. A lot of people can see my YouTube videos.   I’m excited to do more of that. I’m actually doing a tour for Donna Glitch, my fellow anti-talent member. (Laughing) I am also expanding more of my brand on the business side and just being more accessible. I ‘ve worked really hard on many things behind the scenes and in front of the camera.  It's definitely time for me to step out as a separate creative entity.

Fans can keep up with Latanya Swann on http://www.twitter.com/ LTNYA

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