MadonnaTribe meets Drew Dollaz
When talented Madonna dancer Drew Dollaz meets talented artist/photographer David Kawena something exciting is bound to happen! The result of this match is now here on MadonnaTribe. A stunning photoshoot that we are happy to exclusively premiere here on MadonnaTribe.com
We also sat down with Drew Dollaz himself to chat about his beginning, his career and his coming projects but also to discuss the behind the scenes of Madonna’s 2012 main projects – The Super Bowl Half Time Show and the MDNA Tour – that put him on the rocket launch to stardom!
MT: Hello Drew, welcome to MadonnaTribe.
It has been an amazing year for the Madonna fans and it was fantastic to see you on the road with the MDNA Tour.
Before getting back to the time of your Super Bowl half time show audition let’s take another step back where it all begun. You started dancing at 13 and kicked off your dance career at the competiton of the Battlefest League. How dancing and music became part of your life?
DD: Well I started dancing while I was still in school you can say it was a hobby for me at the time.
I was introduced to my style of dance through a tv show named “Flex N Brooklyn” that only showed on a Brooklyn accessed TV channel, so only residents of Brooklyn knew about this show. This show was an actual showcase that used to take place in Brooklyn where all dancers and there groups came to put on a show (pretty much a talent show but it was way more intense).
MT: And is that where the name of “Flexing” comes from?
DD: Yes, the style originated at this showcase back in 1997 and was named after it. “Flex N Brooklyn” was something made for the local underground street scene to showcase their talent. This is where the dancers went to build their name before Battlefest was around.
The type of music which they dance to was mainly Reggae and Dancehall music from the Caribbean. The dance style’s was first called the “Bruk Up” (a popping style done to Reggae music).
The style started to evolve when the street dancers in Brooklyn became influenced by different dance style like Popping and Locking. This is when they started incorporating Locking and added animation to it and call it “Pausing”, incorporated Tutting and added animation to it can called it “Connecting” , incorporated Gliding, Waving and last but not least Contortion. When Contortion was incorporated into the dance style they called it Bone Breaking and this is the most displayed part style our dance style today and most people think it’s the only thing the style has to offer because that all that is show when we get gigs.
MT: And then you realized that it was going to be your own style…
DD: When I seen I grew extremely fond of it and stated trying to imitate and mimic what I’ve seen. It wasn’t long until I got made a couple moves of my own. Dancing helped me to become somewhat of a popular kid in school because I always took it seriously, dancing from class to class, entering all the talent shows. It was my thing to always be seen and being that my dance style was so different it made me stand out more. It didn’t always get the good feedback because some people don’t understand my dance style but it’s art to me. Music was always a part of my life, it’s the fuel to dance.
MT: You were born and raised in Brooklyn. How is the underground street dance scene today and how much important has it been to your life?
DD: The Underground Street Dance Scene is where every street dancer go to build their name and credibility. Street Dancers are known for freestyle (ability to dance freely without any choreography). We gained this from always doing battles we don’t really go to studios to take dance classes and learn choreography, that’s not our strength. But you see, in the place where I’m from, a lot of the gangsters are dancers as well, so a dance battle can turn into a serious fight in a matter of seconds. After High School I spent a lot of time in the Underground Scene and that’ s when I came across Battlefest, which is a one on one battle competition for extreme dancers. I used to dance at the event faithfully and not only I was building a bigger name for myself in the dance scene but I was also learning more and seeing new styles all the time; it pushed me to always get better.
MT: Looking at your professional career it really seems that everything paced up at speed light, and when you came back from Japan after teaching your first Flexing workshops auditioning for the Super Bowl half time show marked your entrance to Madonnaland. How did it go?
DD: Yes that’s very true after I came back from Japan I was told by my agent that “Five days after you are back there are auditions for the Super Bowl, are you interested in auditioning?” and I said: “sure, what’s the worst that can happen?”. Now let’s fast forward to the auditions where an enormous amount of amazing talent showed up. I can honestly say I didn’t think I was going to make it, I knew of most of the dancers who auditioned and my resume didn’t even put a scratch on theirs. At the audition I’ve seen another Flex dancer named Spyda (He also got chosen to do the Super Bowl). Spyda and I pretty much put our efforts together as one in this audition.
As I stated before learning choreography wasn’t our strength but we had to learn a really intricate “Vogue” choreography that Benny Ninja and Javier Ninja usually teach to Voguing experts. We couldn’t catch the choreography and I was about to leave the audition but then Tabitha (Co-Choregrapher) Rich and Tone (Lead Choreographers) and Lil Buck (Dancer) advised us not to leave and to try to learn as much of the choreography as we possibly could and then mix it with some freestyle. We’ve seen the chance to freestyle as our chance. So we altered the choreography in a way that it was more flexing than Voguing.
The time came when the Queen herself Madonna was in the room and it was our turn to show our stuff she loved it and she said “I wasn’t looking for traditional Vogue in this audition. I was looking for a way to reinvent Vogue in this audition and you guys have brought something new”.
This moment honestly changed my life. I went on quitting the job that I had and going into auditions for the Super Bowl the next day.
MT: “Vogue” at the Super Bowl was amazing! It was fantastic to see how she re-invented it yet again. When it was time to put up the MDNA tour version, you basically had to extend it to the full lenght of the song, but the overall vibe also changed from the Roman Empire to the Art Deco bliss. How was working on that? That was certainly one of the highlights of the show!
DD: Prior to the Super Bowl when Madonna performed “Vogue “she always found new ways to portray the song – the Superbowl and the MDNA tour was just two more examples of that. Being that they were both performed in the same year the two visuals of the number were totally different. We kept the choreography adding many alterations because of the difference in stage. “Vogue” was definitely one of the numbers we worked on the most because the dancers had their own characters and they had to find and portray them on stage. Since the number had more of a Runway feel, all the dancers had to also become models, which was fun.
MT: Flexing is featured prominently in the “Best Friend/Heartbeat” interlude during the MDNA show and also in parts of “Celebration/Give It 2 Me“. How was your involvement in the creative process?
DD: Being able to say I was a part of the creative process of such a historical tour makes me feel so accomplished. My dance style was only displayed in Brooklyn for a decade before it got the attention from people outside of Brooklyn when youtube came around. Now that it was featured on a Madonna world tour I feel like enough people have seen it to recognize it as a dance style and not as a circus act. During the whole creative process it was quiet stressful because we only had three months to put a whole tour together but it was a great task that tested me as a dancer because went for not being able to learn choreography to having to help make one. Then it must all be approved by M so better be great or “you’re out of here”! (laughs.)
MT: Do you have a favourite number in the MDNA show?
DD: I love all the numbers of the tour but if I had to choose the one that I love the most and why, it would have to be “Best Friend/Heartbeat“. I know that’s not as surprise but you have to understand how much it means to me to have my underground dance style featured on a Madonna Tour, that’s a dream!. Seeing the reactions on people’s faces up close when they see the arm contortion is priceless!
MT: That interlude is a rather dark moment of the show and both your choreography and the images on the screens send a lot of messages to the audience…
DD: The “Best Friend/Heartbeat” interlude sends many messages, even though I was part of the creative process of making the choreography ’til this day when I watch the performance I see a new message.
It starts off with me being held on the pole looking like a crucifixion. The number shows a lot of torture and self inflicted pain. These are things that a lot of people do to others and themselves on an everyday bases. One thing Madonna always aims to do is to build people’s tolerance to the things they don’t see often or even they things they are afraid of. A lot of people told me when that part of the show came up they couldn’t watch it or it was too much to bare. This only says to me that some people can’t face the truth of things that happen every day, even when it’s a subliminal message in a dance routine.
MT: Do you remember rehearsing songs that did not made the final version of the show?
DD: There was only about two numbers that didn’t make the show. “Some Girls” was taken out for “Vogue“. The number was going to have the same “runway feel” but more up tempo, more sassy. The other number was an interlude, “Falling Free“, this was actually supposed to be a solo for Chaz Buzan (Co-Dancer). I’m not too sure why it was taken out, but we know it would have been amazing as well.
MT: During the long time on the road, you visited different countries and got in touch with many different fans. How was that experience for you?
DD: I love the fans, they all show so much love and support. I learned I must always think to myself they are Madonna’s fans and that’s how come they are even speaking to me, so I must always be aware that some of them only speak to me to ask about her. I’ve seen fans camping out for shows, I’ve seen them waiting outside hotels just to meet anyone and seeing that just makes me want to give them more than just a performance. So I used to come out before the shows and talk to them, take pictures and sign autographs. It’s the least I could do!
MT: Do you remember a show which was particularly challenging, from a physical, technical, or emotional point of view? And which one was the most fun?
DD: The show that we did in Abu Dhabi was the most challenging because of it being so hot in the desert and still going through with the show. So that was challenging on a physical level.
The shows that took its tolls emotionally were the ones in Russia, where we were threaten by the government, but we are freedom fighters and that wouldn’t stop us.
The fun shows I would say were the ones in the rain, even though the stage was more slippery and more dangerous. Dancing in the rain was a blast!
MT: Do you miss life on the road? Did you tie strong bonds with the other members of the crew?
DD: I miss the MDNA Tour! everyday on tour we had a pack called The Stonny Boyz (which included Me, Lil Buck, Sheik, Vibez, and Hob.E). M loved it she was like the only Stonny Girl (Laughs) but we still keep in contact with each other today. I try to keep in contact with everyone because I actually been around them longer than my own family last year. Everyone seems to be doing great.
MT: What being a part of the Madonna family means to you?
DD: I would like to start off by saying I love M to the death of me. I’ve never met someone like her in my life, personality wise. She’s been through so much, which makes her a tough cookie to crumb but her heart is pure. M always says she has the best dancers in the world and from her saying that I always believed it, because someone of her caliber must have seen so much different talent, that nothing is new to her anymore. Within our year journey with her I’ve seen so much that made me feel like life couldn’t get any better. At the young age of 24 I’m a kid born and raised in the ghetto of Brooklyn and I’m traveling the world…That’s A Blessing!
MT: What did Madonna and her music mean to you before you started working with her?
DD: My relationship with M is won, I would have never thought I would have when she first met me at Super Bowl auditions she called me Gandhi way before she even knew my name. She explained it was because of the glasses I wore but I know her reason was much deeper. Throughout the whole tour the name stuck with me even after she learned my name, I knew she wanted to test my wisdom. Every once in a while she would walk up to me and say “Hey Gandhi, what’s the word of the day?” and I would have to come up with an inspirational quote for her and the rest of the dancers before we practiced on the show.
I learned that words can be very powerful, they can boost spirits or hurt feelings. I was always a fan of Madonna’s even before dancing for her, but then I listened to much few songs but understanding who she is you understand her music more. Her music represent what she was going through when she was in her creative process of making that album.
MT: Do you have a fondest memory of the tour? A special moment, something that happened behind the scenes or on day off?
DD: The moments I hold with deeply with M and the team are the moments we were together on our days of no worries about work and we went out to see art exhibits or to music festivals it was ways of actually getting inspired knowing it’s our job to inspire. Watching other people’s art gives you a better appreciation of your own art. She always knows how to enlighten us on things we don’t see or things we need to see and that what makes her such an amazing woman.
MT: This interview is illustrated with images from your photoshoot with David Kawena. David is a longtime friend of MadonnaTribe and we’re happy and proud to premiere this new work on the site. How did you guys meet and how was working with him?
DD: David Kawena is one amazing guy. I knew of his work while I was still on tour. I’ve seen some illustrations he made and fell in love with his work. Around election time David Illustrated an Obama design that we wore on T-shirts during Celebration on election day in Pittsburg and the Detroit show. We spoke back online until I met him in New York at the Madison Square Garden show, we shared a few word and shortly after we spoke about working on a project together when I get off tour.
When I returned to New York we met up to speak and from then the magic happened. With these photos, our intention was to try to capture the motion of my move in still frames. David has an amazing eye for capturing moves in the best possible angle. I feel this shoot really shows where the two talent met.
MT: I couldn’t help noticing how fashion and style are also part of your life. What do they mean to you?
DD: I live in New York so fashion is really big in my life, I love it almost as much as dance. I feel the way someone dresses can tell you about that person before you even speak a word to them. Kind of like what you see is what you get. I dress the way I feel so may see me in a variety of different style from urban wear to upscale fashion.
MT: And that’s also what’s next from Drew Dollaz in the near future?
DD: I am currently working on my own clothing line called Road 2 Success Clothing. It’s an idea I came up with on tour. The debut design is of a Dollar Sign and the meaning behind the design is that the S in the $ stands for Success and the 2 line are the roads we take to get there. I’m also working on getting some solo performances so that fans can see more of me by myself. I definitely have shows coming up with my group Next Level Squad (our group inspired the gas mask shirtless look) with World of Dance L.A in April and the Breaking Convention in London in May. For any update I normally post them on my website www.drewdollaz.com, Facebook or Twitter.
MT: Drew, thanks you so much for stopping by at MadonnaTribe, you are amazing. All the best for what’s coming up!
Interview written and conducted by MadonnaTribe.
Photography by David Kawena.
All Rights Reserved.