This week’s Dancer/Choreographer shout out goes to Grace Kaya. Grace is a multi-disciplinary, multi-sensory performing artist with over 20 years of teaching and performing experience. As the founder of blesSINGS & abunDANCE Grace has worked in 8 different countries sharing unique workshops and performances for both children and adults alike. Some of you may recognize her by a previous name, Shugamai Johnson… but after recovering from 2 concussions 3 years ago she legally changed her name to Grace Kaya as a reminder of how blessed she felt.
Some highlights from her impressive career range from facilitating workshops in Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland & Australia, dancing on street corners in Thailand, in clubs on tour with a Hindi pop singer in India, performing as a show girl on a cruise ship in Mexico, dancing with big name artist like Rihanna, Ricky Martin, Seal, Mstr Krft, Tommy the Clown, Bobby McFerrin, and K-OS, cameoing in 14 music videos, the Universal studios Honey movie, in choreography by Mia Michaels in New York City, opening for 50 Cent, Jay-Z and Cyndy Lauper in Toronto… and even having her unique Liquid style captured for characters in an X-Box video game. Before dancing professionally she trained and performed with a circus troupe for 5yrs, specializing in the aerial apparatus spinning hoop and being a part of a stacking bike team. As a singer-songwriter she’s written, recorded and independently released 4 albums of music. Her artPLAY acrylic paintings have exhibited in 3 countries. Grace Kaya is certified in Hatha, Vinyasa, Restorative & Kids Yoga. She holds certificates in Thai Reflexology, Axiatonal Attuning Therapy & Beginner Shiatsu. With her new company Gracious Expansion, Kaya works full time as a yoga instructor, healing arts practitioner and group facilitator. It is her great aspiration to support others as they open up to their own authentic artistry and personal potential.
“Lead those behind, lovingly. Follow those ahead, graciously.”
Bio and Quote provided by Grace
Find out what Grace had to say in this week’s shout out….
Nikki: Do you remember the first time you started dancing?
Grace: I was 3 years old and in Jamaica with my brother and our parents for their honeymoon (as they hadn’t been able to take when they first got married 9 years before)… my parents left my brother and I with a lovely local babysitter who worked at the small hotel we were staying at and by the time our parents got back from a little day excursion I had learnt how to “wine up” my hips 😉
Nikki: Do you remember the first song you choreographed to? (Or your earliest memory)
Grace: When I was about 6 years old a friend and i started choreographing little routines to 50 and 60’s music… i recall having made up dances to songs like “One Eyed Purple People Eater” and “Short Shorts”… this was because my mother bought me “Golden Oldies” cassette tapes from a gas station when we went on long family drives to try to entertain and keep my brother and i quiet while on long drives. Back before we had ipods, ipads etc.
Nikki: Your personal advice for dancers when it comes to free styling?
Grace: Find your own inner voice, give permission for your body to move in new ways… play with dynamics in physical rhythm and within the music, don’t be afraid of appearing silly or of trying something new… the more freedom you gift yourself when you practise freestyling the greater your creative ingenuity will become.
Nikki: Getting in the zone to choreograph, what does it take for you?
Grace: Depends on what I’m choreographing ie, who will be dancing in it, what the venue looks like and who my audience is… but i often create the framework of the piece in my head, then play with the movements in small spaces. I imagine this may be because i started choreographing in my childhood room and had little space to manoeuvre, so i grew accustom to creating things small than inflating them once i entered into a studio with the dancers.
Nikki: Who are some of your biggest influences in the Dance industry?
Grace: Toronto freestylers from the late 90’s… we use to have a blast tearing up the dance floor… dancing together, sharing space and energy… even if we were battling it was less about a winner and more about showcasing our skills… seeing how we could all play off one another… a few big ups to old friends and kindred dancing spirits like Jesse Bones, wombcrew, my home girl Tre Armstrong, Elaine“Jynx”Young, Lisa Green, Dirty Dale (back when he was dancing more than Djing), Marianno, Benzo, Fly Lady Di… just to name a few.
Nikki: Name a Toronto Choreographer you enjoy working with and why?
Grace: Esie Mensah, she is a soul-full mover and shaker, whom i trust both creatively and in friendship. She is a visionary with a good heart, who is passionately respectful of her own work, the creative process and those she invites into her pieces.
Nikki: Name one of your favorite artists to work with and why? (It does not have to be a pop star any type of artist that a Dancer would work with i.e.; another Dancer, Choreographer, Musician etc.)
Grace: Hmm, I’ve been blessed to work and co-create with many inspiring artists… I’m having trouble picking just one so here’s 4 (tee hee)…Earlier in my career Mia Michaels invited me to dance in a Ricky Martin music video, but the highlight of working with her was being asked to open and close her Mia Raw show in NYC with some of my Liquid freestyle
Bobby McFerrin: it was a spontaneous treat jumping on stage and create an improvography piece with this master musical maestro
Seal: of all the “popstars” that I’ve worked with over the years, he was the most humbling and gentle person i had ever met… he walked around the shoot introducing himself, asking the names of each individual (from dancer to caterer) and then with a hand shake, expressed personal gratitude to each person, Amazing, a true Artist!
And lastly, but not least, local dance artist Miko Sobreirra: I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of dancing duets with Miko over a span of 14 years… the intimate space we find ourselves in is enlightening, enlivening and truly a spiritual experience… i look forward to continuing an exploration of life through movement with him for many years to come
Nikki: Are you currently working on any projects?
Grace: I’ve always got something on the go with one of my two companies. The first focuses on creative outlets, an umbrella company called “blesSINGS & abunDANCE” offering workshops, classes, facilitation and performances that inspire, educate and uplift. Using dance, music and painting as tools for personal development.
The second company is “Gracious Expansion”, an umbrella company which focuses on group, private and corporate sessions in Yoga, Thai Reflexology & Acupressure. Since my body has been such a loving vessel to me all these years, I decided to repay it with loving kindness and care as well. I’ve found that these healing modalities are excellent ways of up keeping and “tuning up”my vehicle (my body.)
Nikki: Qualities you believe Toronto Dancers possess?
Grace: I’m part of the old schoolers and am just getting to know the younger generation (which might themselves no longer be considered the “younger generation”)… but in all dancers within the commercial industry i see a hunger for acceptance and opportunities to showcase their skills. Making a living as a dancer in Toronto is no easy feat, regardless of ones genre, it takes patience, persistence, impeccable timing and a willingness to be open and kind to all people… as you never know who might help you out in the future (or who you might be able to help out.) It might not always feel like this, but we are a community… and regardless of the sense of competition that inevitably shows up in the industry portion of our world, we owe it to ourselves to treat each other with mutual respect, dignity and compassion… that way we may all thrive.
Nikki: Any advice for emerging dancers and choreographers working/training in Toronto?
Grace: Imagine that you are in line with a glorious community of uniquely talented artists; dancers, choreographers, teachers, producers etc… sometimes you’ll be in what seems to be the front, sometimes you’ll be in what appears to be the back of this line, and other times it might even seem as if you are in the middle… But the truth is that you are actually in a circle, a beauty-full sphere which changes directions on a whim… from year to year, from day to day, perhaps even from moment to moment… where ever you are at varying stages of your career… front, back, middle… try to remember to “Lead those behind, lovingly and follow those ahead, Graciously.”
THANK YOU GRACE FOR SHARING YOUR LOVE & PASSION WITH T.D.O.T. XO
CHECK OUT “IN WRITING” BY GRACE KAYA