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In 2017, Kirby Snell, owner of the program Femme Gone Wild Dancehall, decided that it was time to learn dancehall from the source – Jamaica. After taking (and teaching) dancehall classes in Vancouver for several years, she decided to take a group of dancers to Jamaica to train with local dance crews for a seven-day, 19-class intense retreat.
Snell enjoyed delivering training in Vancouver for both female and unisex styles of dancehall and hosting dancehall workshops locally for guest instructors from Jamaica. Wanting to dive deeper into dancehall training, she posted on her Instagram and Facebook accounts that she wanted to head to Jamaica and was approached by numerous British Columbia-based dancers who wanted to join her.
Although a few dancehall classes and companies already existed in British Columbia at the time, Snell’s was one of the first to take dancers to Jamaica, and she received a great deal of interest from artists there as well as those in British Columbia. While preparing for the trip, she was approached by a crew from Jamaica who wanted to collaborate on a dancehall camp in their country. This collaboration with Sopreme Blazzaz, whose studio they used as a home base for classes during this seven-day retreat, proved successful. While there, she was approached by even more dancers who hoped to do sessions with the current retreat attendees and future ones. The extended duration of sessions during this retreat and others, and the ability to use local gymnastics gyms, enabled dancehall queens to safely break down tricks like head-topping.
“In the evening, we would go to street parties and experienced dancehall in the streets and the party lifestyle,” Snell said “And in the daytime, we would train.… First session at 9 a.m., to beat the heat of the midday sun.”
A dancehall artist named Queen Moiika inspired Snell to head to Jamaica for further training and to explore dancehall from the source and learn about the culture by participating in it.
The home base for the retreat attendees was in Kingston, from which they would travel to areas like Montego Bay, Ochos Rios and Port Antonio. The first retreat had a packed schedule with minimal time for exploring the island, so Snell planned the second and third to be longer to enable sightseeing.
The retreats were generally received positively by the British Columbia dancehall community, and attendees “came back stronger, and most of them continued with dancehall [upon their return],” said Snell.
“When it’s safe to go back, I’m looking forward to returning and welcoming dancehall enthusiasts to return and support the culture on the island,” said Snell.
In the meantime, during the pandemic, Snell is hosting a program called “Femme Gone Wild Dancehall Mastermind” in which, she said, participants train virtually “with over 20 crews and take classes with dancers in Jamaica online.… Proceeds go back 100 per cent to the Jamaican dancers.”