Category: Weekend magazine Written by Adie Vanessa Offiong Hits: 1344
James ‘Cricket’ Colter is an internationally acclaimed street dancer and choreographer. He has featured in popular TV series, ‘Law & Order’ and Disney movie, and ‘Step Up 2 Street’. He has worked with award-winning artistes, Will Smith, Eve, Boys II Men as well as KRS-1, Avil Lavigne and Fall Out Boy amongst others. He is the brain behind ‘Crazy Natives’, a company he set up to accomplish his goals as a dancer and choreographer. Colter is also a founding member of Rennie Harris Pure Movement (RHPM) where he was a principle dancer. He was in Nigeria for the Black History Month to help show the connection of hip-hop and African music; dance and culture and also show the connection. Colter speaks about street dancing and his life in the art.
Weekend: What influenced your choice of dance?
James Colter: I have traveled so much and I guess that Rennie Harris (renowned street dancer) has been an open book to young dancers. Rennie was blessed enough to be a street dancer and works professionally in television. I was on television when I was a child, in ‘Dance Party USA’. It’s like a routine show like ‘Soul Train’, but it was local; that’s how I met Rennie. He was a stage manager. He learned how to be professional and thought us the younger members of his dance company how to be on stage and theatre. I didn’t know anything about stage before. And when we were on tour, Rennie was an open book. I have talked to dancers in China, Malaysia and Japan, I always live myself open, because there is no manual for it. When you go to school for dance, they are giving you a template on how you can intern for a dance company. I always say if you have information, pass it on. I didn’t just learn from dancers, I learnt from old men in my neighbourhood. I used to work at the skateboard shop. So we can do a lot together when we collaborate.
How did you come by the name Cricket?
(Laughter) It was in school, it has nothing to do with dance. A young lady looked at me and said I looked like a roach, and she rephrased it and said I looked like a cricket. It was just like a nickname. So, when I started going to the clubs and hanging out, then I adopted it as a nickname.
You have worked with Will Smith, Boys II Men and Eve whose music genres are not exactly the same. How were you able to combine forms in dance?
I am a professional dancer, when I’m hired for something, I have to adapt. If you don’t adapt, you die just like in the animal kingdom it’s same like in entertainment. The entertainment business is not easy at all, you have to adapt or die. I have worked with Fall Out Boy, those are punk rock guys. I have worked with Will Smith and Boys II Men. So it’s to adaptability whatever needs to be done.
How did ‘Crazy Natives’ come about?
It started as a dance crew and my mentor, Rennie Harris kept telling me, ‘your crew does battles and stuff. When I was 24, it began to expand and Rennie said to me, ‘you are a company’, he never referred to it as a crew. And when I started getting work and also began doing things, I was like o... gush! I had to think about it. Crew is for the love, a dance crew is like a family. Nobody cares about the quality, there’s nothing like you didn’t come to practice on time. So I was like this is a company and it’s about money and it’s about work. Because it has worked over the years and I don’t like to push, I’m not a pusher...I believe people should fall into positions and not being forced into it; especially when it comes to street dance. The thing about the street dance world and the professional dance world is that it’s so loose and open. You can make a career just doing competition. That’s not what I want to do, but I won’t force that upon another dancer like you should do competition. You could see the world. You could be a professional dancer and you would be sponsored by various companies, who’d pay your salary, give you training. So, because of that, it has gone from traditional dance company to more of production companies. I have done dance performances with five other dancers. And these dancers moved on. I have produced shows, put people together. And then I did one thing where I worked for a fashion show and where I put on a showcase where I worked for bunch of dancers. My dance company is still changing and growing, because I still want to find out what I want to do. (Laugh)
The 1950s American street dance step is considered a very interesting and has influenced people around the world. Some adopted it. Would you say that it is still a popular step today?
Yes, I’d say; because I think it’s more popular overseas now. I would say it’s really popular, because a lot of people have come to understand that when it came out of countries like Japan and Germany, it never stopped. So it continued advancing and kept going in the dance form. And when it came back in the 90s, it was sparked back by the youths.
Nigerians have a form of street dance which has even gone competitive nationally, what experiences are you bringing to Nigeria?
When you say collaborate it’s not like I worked directly with Will Smith(laugh), its just that his choreographer approached us. I met Will Smith, he is an amazing dude, really down to earth and one of my mentors toured with him. What I hope to bring is a sense of professionalism, because I have been blessed enough to work as a professional dancer at 18 doing hip-hop and street dance. I had to go through a lot of things, I had to adjust. Hopefully I want to give not only the African dancers, but all young dancers who do street dance and guide them through by telling them what they need to learn.
A video shows you dancing a step we call ‘Macosa’. How did you learn it?
Yes...I toured with Chuck Davis (A renowned American dancer) and its African dance on sample. I was exposed to it. The thing is as we toured, he brought in six African dance companies. Because his was to bring out how Africa influenced not only America, but the Caribbean, Cuba and others. I was 20 and touring with a dance company. I was exposed to so much movement and information on weekly basis. So, my movement was subconsciously more informed to so much at such an early age.
What did you do in ‘Law & Order’ and the movies you were a part of?
I was featured in one television episode about a dance company where I was acting in the background, doing stuff (laughing). Because I live in New York, it’s hard. If you live in New York or Los Angeles, you know it was easier for me in Philadelphia, because it’s a small city. There was no much competition, space is easy to get. Grants are easy to access, be it state or government money is easy to acquire, but when you are going into the big city, you know I was a big fish in a little pond and it was like everyone in New York is fighting for the same thing, trying to get a job, be in a movie, a television show and that’s more money. To me anything I have done, TV is extra but I’m learning.
What is dance to you?
It’s not how I do, but how I articulate my vision and how I present it to you. There are really very bright artistes in America, but they don’t really know how to present their work. Just like you market other products, you need to market dance as well. How do you market this? If you are doing anything for money, you hire a publicist. If I’m doing a show, I will hire a publicist to present the idea to public. Do you know why even the horrible artistes and products get up there? It’s because they hire a good publicist. I have seen a lot of good shows and nobody is there. So, you need a publicist. As talented people, the most important thing is to show up on time. You have beaten all your friends by showing up. I have been in auditions that I know I’m not going to get it, but I showed up. And you know what? Someday somebody along the line saw me and recognised me. It’s all process, and process is super important. Process is I was punched in the face three times, but now I know how to protect myself from the punches, it’s all process.
What would be your message to young aspiring dancers especially those who want to make dancing attractive?
Be creative, create your market, but here is what makes things stick: you have to have depth, if your thing is American dance or dances, make it the best. I have noticed this all around the world. I have spoken with dancers all around the world who want to get serious and understand dance and the techniques in it, because you are going to need them. The same conversation I’m having with you, I have when I go home. Just like anytime I go for an outreach in DC, New York, Atlanta and places where I considered lucrative. You know we all want to make money from what we like to do. So, I want them to be determined and you will achieve.