Parkite Nyesha MekaDayz Hamil uses dancehall to share her Jamaican roots
What: Jamaican Burn
When: 6 p.m. every Wednesday
Where: Baile Dance Fitness Studio, 2030 S. 900 East, Salt Lake City
What: Dancehall Foundation
When: 7 p.m. every Thursday
Where: Millenium Dance Complex, 602 E. 600 South in Trolley Square
Nyesha MekaDayz Hamil wants to share more of her Jamaican culture in addition to what her family does through the 11 Hauz restaurant at Newpark.
To do so, the Parkite offers two dancehall classes in Salt Lake City. The first is called Jamaican Burn, which is held at 6 p.m. every Wednesday at Baile Dance Fitness. The second, Dancehall Foundation, starts at 7 p.m. every Thursday at the Millenium Dance Complex at Trolley Square.
“Both classes are designed to build confidence and empower the students to be comfortable with their bodies,” Hamil said. “They will learn to move in ways they’ve never moved before.”
The classes differ in their approaches, according to Hamil.
“Jamaican Burn is a dancehall workout class and its more aerobic,” she said. “(Students) learn dancehall movement in a repeated process.”
Students, which rage in age from 16 to 60, can learn to appreciate their bodies and that no one dances the same way, Hamil said.
“I want them to have fun and not care about judging or being judged,” she said. “Many people are afraid of our sexual self, whether we are a woman, man or trans, or whether we are gay, straight or just don’t know what we are.”
This class is also great for older dancers, Hamil said.
“When women get up in age and have children people have this misconception that they shouldn’t be celebrating their bodies,” she said. “That’s not true, and I want to show a woman that she can do anything no matter what age she is.”
Dancehall Foundation teaches the fundamentals of the movements while explaining the dancehall culture, which developed during Jamaica’s late-1970s economic downturn. Hamil said.
To protest, the Jamaican people hit the streets.
“They started creating heavy drum beats during protests,” Hamil said. “People loved the beats and began dancing in the streets.”
The dancing evolved into dance battles called Sound Clashes, where a group of DJs called a “sound system” would rent a hall and have musical competitions.
“People would grab their friends and head to the hall and start dancing during the clashes,” Hamil said. “That’s where the term dancehall came from, and one of the big components of dancehall is how fast you can dance to it.”
Hamil shows her class how each step or movement should look.
“Jamaicans are of African descent, but there are a lot of Hispanic influences, because Jamaica was under Spanish rule for a long time until the British came in and took over,” she said. “So the movements can be very sexy, or it can be very masculine.”
The choreography can get a little challenging, because Hamil, who also directs a dancehall dance troupe called LePumz, likes to push her students.
“Sometimes people will take the class and feel a little frustrated because they have a hard time with the steps,” she said. “But I tell them this is normal. So they have to come back to practice and feel more confident.”
During the class, Hamil also teaches Jamaican music history.
“A lot of people know ska music, which is a dancehall foundation,” she said. “Rocksteady came from ska, and reggae came from rocksteady. To put things simply, dancehall is a more energetic form of reggae.”
While Hamil loves reggae, she wants her students to expand their knowledge to include more than Bob Marley and Peter Tosh, and to wear that knowledge with confidence.
“I want people to check out dancehall’s party vibe, because it’s not just about dance,” she said. “It’s the way you look, dress and act. There’s an energy about it. And those who are part of the culture emote this energy, so when they walk into a room, they turn heads. The foundation class also carries the same message as the Jamaican Burn, as far as empowering people to feel comfortable within themselves.”
Hamil, who immigrated to the United States with her recording artist sister Tanisha SunnyMarz Hamil Workman, in the early 1990s, knew she wanted to start offering dancehall classes after moving to Utah in 2006.
“I remember when I first moved to Utah, I felt that women were feeling repressed, and I felt that they were insecure of their bodies,” she said.
That mindset is different than what Hamil learned through Jamaican culture.
“We feel you are beautiful and sexy no matter what size you are,” she said. “I want to change people’s minds. Jamaican culture is very confident, and I want to bring this to Utah. We have one life to live, and we need to color the dancefloor.”
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