CanariLife dance instructor Natasha Wilson, somewhere in Richmond (provided photo)
Natasha Wilson can be found at any given place at any given time. She wears many hats: core Afrikana Independent Film Festival social media team member, the personal assistant to world-renowned artist S. Ross Browne, collector of side hustles and for the better half of four years, creator and dance instructor of CanariLife hip hop dance class at Dogtown Dance Theatre.
“I’ve always danced, [I was] always the one helping with choreography at school talent shows,” Wilson says from across our small table in the corner of Brewer’s Cafe. “When I got older, I went looking for that outlet with the same feel, where I can dance like I want. Then I found people who wanted to do that as well.”
CanariLife dance instructor Natasha Wilson (provided photo).
Wilson meets her students twice a month: hip-hop class on second Saturdays and Jamaican dancehall style on third Saturdays, both from noon to 1 p.m. Students can expect to encounter a slightly bashful, yet bubbly Wilson brimming over with personality and new moves. “Even though I’m teaching you, I’m really shy," says Wilson, who is self-taught but has completed dance classes at Ezibu Muntu African Dance and Cultural Foundation, as well as the Latin Ballet of Virginia. When I first started, people were really enjoying it, telling me I had some good choreography, which made me feel good about myself. It’s a safe space; you can come and let go. I just kept going.”
Wilson, in all of her positions, says she's always felt comfortable with playing the background; teaching dance served as a means to bring her talents to the forefront.
Much goes into creating every Saturday class, she says. “Loving dance requires formatting the right moves for each class. The easiest part is the song selection, having the right song and feeling it. It’s going to make you move automatically. ... The hardest part is compiling the moves and remembering your counts, creating the transitions in between. One move needs to flow into the other. I may take old choreography, remix it and make it into something new. Make it flow and still look dope.”
Her muses include master choreographers Fatima Robinson, Luam Keflezgy, Les Twins, who all showcase a range of skills and a perfect balance of ill moves and precision. Wilson relies on odd songs along with old favorites – Mya, Missy, Aaliyah – because the lure of '90s music and dance is ever present. It continually inspires her. “I just want to keep going. I just want to keep learning," says Wilson. "And with a group of people who are already drawn to dance [and] willing to get together for fun and not feel isolated, confidence is boosted.” Her classes run a range of tempos while remaining easy to follow. “You want to have some repetitiveness so that it’s not too difficult [to learn]. As a dancer, I’m mindful of limits. In choreography, I don’t really go back to a set of moves. Each part of a song has different moves. Suggestions are always welcome and mixing it up is key.”
Dancers working it out in one of Wilson's recent classes. (Photo courtesy of Natasha Wilson/CanariLife)
Wilson’s instruction has garnered many fans, including vocalist and Richmond native Jamal Webb, who chose Wilson as creative director for his R&B showcase, coming up this fall.
Wilson understands well and appreciates deeply the challenges of teaching novices how to move. “You have to have warmth and an inviting feeling about you to teach dance. You must have patience and the ability to [understand] that everyone doesn’t have the same experience level," she says. "You can’t assume. You have to know their limits. You really have to observe the room and ask questions. It’s not just pushing the moves; you have start where their cues are.”
Wilson's CanariLife classes are held the second and third Saturdays of each month; registration is $7 online and $10 at the door. To register, call 804-855-4258 or visit the CanariLife Facebook page here. This Saturday, Wilson will teach original choreography set to Rhianna's hit song featuring Nicki Minaj, "Raining Men."