“That’s Just The Way It Is” – Straight Out of Compton

In the song Been There, Done That, Dr. Dre raps, “If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything.”  This song came out in 1996 after he parted ways with Surge Knight at Death Row Records, and the aftermath was all that was left from N.W.A and the first ride as a solo artist and producer.  I think this song stands for everything that happened.  This line expresses the importance of truth and vision, and that is what separates you from the masses.  All the members of N.W.A had parted ways back in 1991 where cheap shots at one another in their music filled the air ways.  Boys that grew up in Compton fell apart when money became the focus of their arguments.  When you grow up in an environment where money has always been the for front of an argument who keeps you grounded?  I think the million dollar question is how does a brotherhood of boys that grew up in Compton together, go from having each other’s backs to slinging insults?

I have been hearing the phrase “That’s just how it is” a lot, and with every fiber of my being, I hate that phrase.  N.W.A never accepted the status quo.  Easy-E, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, MC Ren, DJ Yella, and Arabian Prince pushed boundaries with their music. F*** the Police gave people a voice who didn’t have one, who were getting abused for being a different race, and brought to the for front of society the abuse of power that was being thrown around in the depths of the hood.  It was never meant to start a riot or dangerous activity.  It was meant to inspire and drive people to do the right thing if authority was taking advantage of you.  So, why do we in the 21st century still feel that accepting what is considered the rule as what is?

In every part of my career and drive to be in the entertainment industry, I have never accepted people telling me “You are never going to change that,” “That’s just how it is,” or “That’s how it works around here.” Ice Cube and Dr. Dre fought against the unfair pay and contracts they were given as apart of Ruthless Records and N.W.A; and when they hit their breaking point, they stepped away from the group and did their own music, their way. I wonder what would have become of N.W.A had the blow out not happened.  What would they have created had Easy-E not died in 1995?  What if Jerry Heller actually cared about the men in the group and not just the money?  N.W.A were striving to be well-known artists in Compton, but they became a generation of men that turned the music industry on its head into a voice to be heard.  They put rap music into popularity and wrote lyrics that wasn’t coated with a string of lies and fantasy, but more of a sense of reality they dealt with everyday.

In the end, N.W.A was family.  Even when they were fighting they ultimately forgave each other for everything, because in the end, all they were doing was being honest and expressing themselves.  The beauty behind the madness was always the music, and honesty was what they chased.  I think they said it best:

“When I start expressing myself, Yella slam it
Cause if I stay funky like this, I’m doing damage
Or I’mma be too hyped and need a straight jacket
I got knowledge and other suckers lack it”
-Express Yourself (N.W.A)

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My 2015 Songs of the Summer

The last official day of summer is September 22nd, and as fall approaches, you reminisce on all the memories that you have collected over the last few months, and you realize another chapter of your life just ended.  For me, I had some life changing events occur, such as making a big move across the country, leaving the only life I have known on the east coast, and embarking on a new adventure at an amazing company in the dance industry in Los Angeles.  As I look back on all these changes, there is one thing that remands constant in my life; the music is never silent.

Flipping through Billboard Magazine, I noticed that most of the songs that slammed the charts over this summer don’t even touch my top ten favorites.  So, here are some of the songs that have been drowning out the constant noise of LA as I ride the train home.  They allow me go to my happy place where my world is whatever I want it to be.

Bea Miller – “Force of Nature” – This sixteen year old singer, signed to Disney’s Hollywood Records is starting to blow up the music scene.  Granted, she had some help from participating in the X Factor, but I think what really sets her apart from the other young singers is she doesn’t need the bells and whistles to have her voice shine.  The first time I heard her sing was an acoustic cover of “We Can’t Stop” with Boyce Avenue.  “Force of Nature” is basic.  It is basic in the good sense, that sometimes all you need is an acoustic guitar and a great voice.

Marianas Trench – “One Love” – Lead singer, Josh Ramsey never ceases to amaze me with his song writing abilities, his voice, and the harmonies of the men that make Marianas Trench.  “One Love” was recently released last week in anticipation of the release of their new album “Astoria.”  All the other songs that have been released as singles thus far have been a twist of sarcasm to the mainstream pop world.  “One Love” is a series of statements and questions that are constantly running through your mind.  Questioning your choices.  The affects of those choices:

“What if we could find a way to try to heal?
What if there’s no stopping us yet?
What if the one true love’s the only one that you get?
What if there was still a reason not to go?
What if there was still a little bit of hope?”

Seriously Josh Ramsey?!  I cannot understand why Marianas Trench is not lighting up the Billboard charts.  Society you need to get on this level ASAP.

Alessia Cara – “Here” – She has just broken into the Billboard 100.  I have been obsessed with song since May.  Granted, I didn’t feel that these lyrics fit my 20 year old self, but totally describes my almost 30 year old self.  Ice cream and my best friends sound like a better idea than a party:

“But honestly I’d rather be
Somewhere with my people we can kick it and just listen
To some music with the message (like we usually do)
And we’ll discuss our big dreams
How we plan to take over the planet”

Icona Pop – “Emergency” – I love the piano, the thing that sounds like a horn, but it definitely isn’t, and that constant rhythm line that carries the tune.  This song is catchy and will make you tap your foot and ultimately jump out of your seat and start dancing to that bass line.

Years and Years – “Shine” – This three piece British electronic group exploded when they released their single “King.”  Personally, I like “Shine” more as it gives an R&B side to the group and is highlighted with what they do best by mixing their synth machine and keyboard that makes their vocals glow.

5 Seconds of Summer – “She’s Kinda Hot” – I know this one has been on the charts and it is totally deserved.  As you have probably come to learn, I love the pop-punk and punk-rock scene.  I think it is epic that a band now is starting to bring back the sounds of Simple Plan, Green Day, My Chemical Romance, and Blink 182 to the radio, and new generation of youngsters.  Now, I am not saying 5 Seconds of Summer is any of these bands, but I love the loud guitars, the in your face and abrasive lyrics, and the encompassing drums that brings you into that full rock sound of not being able to hear when you take out your headphones.  I think this lyric sums up the scene that was big in late 90s and it is making a come back – “We are the kings and the queens of the new broken scene.”

Drumroll please…my all time favorite song of the summer is…

Sigala – “Easy Love” – This British DJ mixes The Jackson 5’s “ABC” and a full blown remix of popular songs, which gives you some easy listening, a pop of color, and a full on explosion of sound that makes it the perfect summer song.  It even gives you some cues on when to start clapping a long.  Also, the music video has two of my favorite things – danceable music and talented dancers.  So, here is my vote for the 2015 summer song anthem.

Dance Marketing – How to Make A Photo Special

Photo by Haze Kware

Photo by Haze Kware

People say a picture is worth a thousand words, but in dance, a picture is worth a billion words. Dance photographs can make or break a marketing campaign for any dance company. There are three things that are key – a photographer, good lighting, and dancers who can take direction well.

First, you have the photographer. It is important to have a photographer who is great at capturing action shots. When looking

Photo by Rachel Neville

Photo by Rachel Neville

through their portfolio look for shots of music concerts, sporting events, or even dance. Photographers who are famous for modeling shots or stills may not understand how to shoot movement, which could ultimately hurt your campaign in the long run when you go to layout design work for the coming season. Another thing to look for when you are hiring a photographer is variety. You don’t want a photographer who is afraid to take a risk in the art that they create. It could not only give you great pictures to choose from for the future, but give a new twist to your marketing campaign and take you in a new direction.

Secondly, you need fanatic lighting. When setting up a photo shoot you want to make sure you have all the lighting that the

Photo by Rachel Neville

Photo by Rachel Neville

photographer needs to capture the magic through the lens. Bad lighting could kill the shoot, which means your pictures could turn out dark and unusable and would put you back at square one for your marketing campaign. When you see pictures that come out too dark it is difficult to lighten it. When you try to lighten the photo it becomes grainy. Marketing campaigns need sharp photos with colors that pop. When I say pop, the colors don’t have to be neon. The colors just need to grab people’s attention. Make them take a second look. Also a graphic designer can really give you a color concept and change colors or bring other colors out within the design process.

Finally, you need dancers who take direction well. Every dancer has their own personalities. Some are meant to be choreographers, and others are meant to be the stage presence – have a look, a modeling ability, and be able to repeat a movement many times perfectly till the shot is right. It’s hard to find dancers who can take direction with not only movement, but with a presence or a facial expression.

Is a picture worth a thousand words? You decide.

Check out dance photographers Haze Kware and Rachel Neville.

Queen, Freddie Mercury, and The Imprint of Bohemian Rhapsody

Faultless sound of beauty, and ageless instrumentalists with a style that could never be replicated.  Queen will forever be a revolutionary group that changed history with their strong, powerful, and steady voices, their ability to write hit songs individually and as a group, and their support and protection they give one another as a group, individuals, and as artists is something to admire.

Queen was composed of Brian May (guitarist), Roger Taylor (drummer), John Deacon (bassist), and Freddie Mercury (pianist/ lead vocals). These four men became Queen in 1971.  In 1973, they were signed to EMI Records and Elektra Records.  In the same year, Queen released their debut album ‘Queen.’  Their debut album was hailed one of the most exciting developments ever in rock music.  It received a rave review from Rolling Stones Magazine that called them “…the first of a whole new wave of English rockers, and you’d best learn to love ’em now’ cause they’re here to stay. Regal bearings aside, Queen is a monster.”

In 1975, Queen released their second album ‘A Night at the Opera’, which was the album that brought us the classic Bohemian Rhapsody.  This unusual six minute suite was comprised of an intro, a ballad segment, an operatic passage, a hard rock part, and a reflective coda, but no chorus. May, Taylor, and Mercury sang their vocal parts ten to twelve hours a day.  A hard, fast, and strong dedication to a work that was fully penned by Mercury.  Brian May said, “Bohemian Rhapsody was Freddie’s baby…We just helped him bring it to life.”  It took three weeks to record, the opera parts took more than seventy hours to complete, and one hundred and eighty overdubs were needed to track the recording we hear today.  In an article in the New York Times the producer, Roy Thomas Baker said, “The thing that makes it most ageless is the fact that it didn’t confine to any given genre of music. It doesn’t compete with anything. It’s in a world of its own.”

The record label didn’t want to release Bohemian Rhapsody as a single unless it was shortened because they believed it wouldn’t be a hit.  The band collectively refused to shorten it because they felt it would change the work.  Can you seriously image shortening that song?  The radio DJs and listeners ended up making the song a hit and proving the record labels wrong.  British DJ Kenny Everett received a copy of the song and played it on Capital Radio.  Everett played the song fourteen times in two days due to audience demands.  I think Everett was right when he said, “…it could be a half an hour long, it’s going to be number one for centuries.”  Bohemian Rhapsody topped the United Kingdom (UK) charts for nine weeks and sold more than a million copies by 1976.  The song peaked at number nine in the United States (U.S.) in 1976, which is insanity to me!  It reached number one again in the UK in 1991 upon Mercury’s death and number two in the U.S. with the release of the film Wayne’s World.  In 2004 the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.

Queen was full of artists that I haven’t seen in today’s industry.  They were a talented group of songwriters that all penned number one hits to their legacy.  They understood that taking a chance and truly opening yourself up to the world is a risk that can and will be rewarded if you are brave enough to let people see your vulnerable side.  Queen was inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2003, UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004, and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2002.

I wonder what Queen would have created had Freddie Mercury not passed away in 1991.  His vocal talents extending from bass in low F to soprano in high F is rare.  His ability to pen hits like A Crazy Little Thing Called Love, Somebody to Love, Don’t Stop Me Now, We Are the Champions, and Bohemian Rhapsody leaves me in awe every time I hear them.  Mercury was the flash.  The theatrical entertainer that made the live shows an experience.  I know I’m a week late, but September 5th was Freddie Mercury’s birthday as well as the yearly tradition of ‘Freddie for a day.’  On this day, the Mercury Phoenix Trust celebrates the life of the legendary Freddie Mercury, and continues to support the ongoing mission of finding a cure for AIDS.  People dress up as Freddie all over the world to help raise funds on this day through sponsorships.  Let’s continue to remember the man and the legend on this day, and to never forget the work and artistry that these four men shared with the world through all that is Queen.

Teaching Non-Dancers to Dance

Photo Credit: Santiago Murillo Photography

Photo Credit: Santiago Murillo Photography

At the beginning of August, my friend Katie got married to her fiancé Charlie.  They are so cute together that it makes you believe that love actually exists.  For their first wedding dance, they asked me to choreograph a routine for them to Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.”  I was super excited, nervous, and terrified all at the same time.  I love to choreograph, but my biggest fear wasn’t choreographing the dance; it was creating a piece that they were going to be comfortable doing in a room full of people.

Needless to say I took the approach of teaching these non-dancers as I would a five year old.  This doesn’t mean that I treated them like a child.  It means that I wanted to see what they would do with only a little direction.  I started by showing them a basic step and once they would understand a step I would bring it to the next level by tying that step in with something a little more difficult.  For example, everyone knows the square box step that you did when you were at a middle school dance.  When the guy had no idea what he was doing and he kept stepping on your feet.  That step was the first step we worked on.  They mastered this very quickly, so, I started teaching them how to turn it.  From teaching Charlie how he needed to hold Katie’s back, to where each one of them had to step to make the circle turn in a specific direction.

The thought process behind choreographing their first dance was to make it flow, as well as have them change direction and throw in some tricks.  In most cases, the audience isn’t going to notice if a step has been repetited or not because they are too memorized and impressed by the awesome skills the bride and groom have come to obtain.  Throwing in some one handed spins so the bride’s dress flowed, a follow the leader sequence, and some hand connecting twists and turns can make any dance ignite into a show.

I think the most important factor teaching non-dancers to dance is how dedicated they are to learning.  Katie and Charlie were so determined to get everything I taught them perfectly in sync that we met once a week for a few hours for three weeks to learn the dance.  Once it was taught and choreographed it was up to them to perfect it without me.  They both took the initiative to practice a lot leading up to their wedding.  On their wedding weekend it seemed like every time I saw them they were telling me that they were leaving early from a gathering to go practice.  When I saw the final piece at their wedding I was so proud of the two of them that I could not contain my excitement.   As soon as it was done, I had to jump out of my chair and hug the both of them.

In the end of it all, it is not about teaching someone anything, but how hard they are willing to work to perfect it.