Emily Labhart

Producer | Consultant | Mentor

Journey of Dancehall Origins

Since the first event in October 2016, I’ve had some time to reflect on the journey I have been on that has led me to Dancehall Origins. Twelve years of learning, developing, devising with many more years still to come!

For those that know me, this post won’t contain new information – but I have realised that I’m not always great at shouting about what I’m doing publicly (e.g on social media) and that this can be problematic when it comes to starting something new or engaging different audiences.

In writing this post, I’d also like to consider comments made at the DAD Re:generations conference in November, and make clear my approach and standpoint so as to not be misconstrued.

The Journey of Dancehall Origins gives me the chance to think about, and talk about, my work and experiences leading to my first independent event on Saturday 15th October 2016.

Keep Calm and Dance Dancehall

Keep Calm and Dance Dancehall

Dancehall Origins (established earlier this year) was borne of a few key things:

  • my keen interest, passion for and appreciation of dance of the African Diaspora
  • my experience in project and event management, specifically in dance
  • a recognition that there was a gap in the UK in terms of regular opportunities for Dancehall dancers from Jamaica to come and share their practice with dancers/fans/enthusiasts in this country.

Why Dancehall?
I was introduced to Dancehall (Bashment) in 2004 whilst at secondary school through my close friend Shanice – listening to the music, watching videos, learning steps and choreographies in the common room, the studio and each other’s living rooms. In later years we’d go to Bashment Dances at different venues across the Midlands – Dancehall became a key part of my cultural experience and something I readily identified with on a personal level.

In 2010 I went on to study African People’s Dance at the University of Surrey under ‘H’ Patten, as part of the Dance and Culture programme. This aspect of the course was a big motivator for me. I was able to learn about traditional and social African Caribbean dance forms including Kumina, Dinki Mini, Mento, Gahu alongside lectures on the history and culture from which these forms originate. All this in a higher education setting – not just at home, informally with my friends.

During this time I took part in a dance training intensive out in Jamaica ‘Korotech Dancefest’, working with National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica and renowned Dancehall company Dance Xpressionz. This experience changed my life and gave me a unique insight into Jamaican culture and the communities from which these forms originate.

After returning to Surrey, I travelled to London as much as possible to take class at Irie! Dance Theatre, as well as Danceworks and Husky Studios. I chose to research Dancehall and dance of the African Diaspora as part of my undergraduate studies and in my final year was awarded the Pauline Hodgens Memorial Prize for my work examining Brooklyn based dance company Urban Bush Women.

Participating in the dance and culture of the form since 2004, I continue to be a student of Dancehall and take as many opportunities as I can to train and continue my research both in the UK and internationally alongside my current job.

Korotech Dancefest 2012

Korotech Dancefest 2012

What’s missing?
Though there are a number of popular events across Europe and Russia, as well as regular classes in cities across England, there was not yet a regular platform specifically for Dancehall dancers, artists, teachers or performers from Jamaica to teach and share their work in the UK.

For those who know and love Dancehall, the importance of recognising, celebrating and crediting its origins and foundations is clear. It could be easy for the true energy and purpose of Dancehall to be lost in the global market, in the excitement of learning routines or making new steps to the latest tracks. How can Dancehall enthusiasts around the world keep the integrity of the form and ensure the culture it stems from isn’t compromised?

With encouragement from family and friends, Dancehall Origins was formed in an attempt to address this missing link.

“As an advocate for Dancehall history and culture, Dancehall Origins aims to increase cultural awareness and appreciation of Dancehall by providing opportunities to connect with Dancehall Originators.” Dancehall Origins mission statement, 2016.

A key part of Dancehall Origins’ objective is to not only invite dancers from Jamaica to teach practical dance workshops, but to create meaningful learning experiences through lecture-demonstrations and discussions about the history and culture. Giving insight into the communities from which the form originates, it’s history and legacy – recognising the form’s development and why and how it has become so popular all over the world.

Dancehall Origins, 15th October 2016

Dancehall Origins, 15th October 2016

Making it happen
The first event took place on Saturday 15th October in London at Haverstock School in Chalk Farm. I invited the incredible Global Bob (aka Chad Torrington) and First Lady Shelly Xpressionz (aka Shelly-Anne Callum) to travel from Jamaica to teach workshops and give a lecture.

14:00-14:30  Registration
14:30-16:00  Workshop with Global Bob
16:00-16:15  Registration
16:15-16:45  Lecture on Dancehall history & culture with Global Bob
16:45-17:00  Registration
17:00-18:30  Workshop with Shelly Xpressionz

Both of these internationally renowned Dancehall dancers are used to working with large numbers of students and have travelled all over the world to spread the truth about Dancehall. The event was the first time either dancer had ever taught in the UK.

We had just over 35 participants attend the event, a number I’m really proud of, and received overwhelmingly positive feedback from both the participants and the artists about their experience.

Global Bob feedback

Global Bob public feedback


Shelly Xpressionz feedback

Shelly Xpressionz public feedback


Though in its very early stages, Dancehall Origins is simply about creating a platform for Jamaican artists to teach, share and celebrate Dancehall in the UK.

Dancehall Origins is something I chose to do out of my own interests. It was entirely self-funded (no grants or awards from funding-bodies were received), I used some savings in order to make it happen. I hope to be able to run more events like this in the future, working to refine the offer and in doing so create invaluable opportunities for both Jamaican artists and UK Dancehall enthusiasts to undergo a cultural exchange – sharing and celebrating real Dancehall from its Originators.

Check out our highlights from the event on 15th October and stay connected on Facebook and Instagram for news of the next event:

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