Hip hop/cultural dancer James Jones (Cree from Tall Cree First Nation) shares stories of his super dope success.
James mixes breakdancing with traditional hoop dancing to create his own unique style of dance. He was the first Aboriginal street dancer to make it to the finals of So You Think You Can Dance. He facilitates youth workshops with Linsay Willier, a National finalist in Canada’s Next Top Model with their company, Dreams in Motion. He also tours the world performing with stars like Maestro Fresh Wes, Snoop Dog and A Tribe Called Red. Crazy.
I started dancing when I was six years old. I was obsessed with old rap videos like MC Hammer and Michael Jackson and used to perform their party dances. I used to enter these little weekly competitions in the little town by my reserve. I moved to Edmonton when I was nine and I met a bunch of Aboriginal breakdancers who’d already been in the dance scene for quite a few years. I was really inspired by their movements and the energy they gave off. So I started breakdancing. When I was about 13, I started getting into pow wow dancing. I had a few friends who were breakdancers but also pow wow dancers. One of them took me under his wing. He was organizing a tour of Europe for a pow wow group. And, one of the dancers dropped out so he took me. That’s where I actually learned about First Nations pow wow dancing on the road, on tour in Italy.
Making History on So You Think You Can Dance
I don’t watch TV. I didn’t even know what So You Think You Can Dance was. I had a few dancer friends who kidnapped me and forced me to go to the audition in Calgary. I did the audition for fun. And, I ended up getting a plane ticket to the final in Toronto. It was such a crazy experience and really opened my eyes to the dance world. There are so many amazing dancers out there besides the street dancers and pow wow dancers I was used to. I learned so much by doing partner work and watching these other professional dancers work — how they eat, how they sleep and how they take care of their bodies. It was really inspiring. Seriously, we were dancing from 4:00 in the morning and we wouldn’t finish until 3:00 in the morning. It was 20 hour days of dancing. Really tough. Probably the toughest thing I ever had to do, but a super dope experience.
Where I Came From
I lived a really crazy life growing up. I never ever in a million years would have imagined myself being a professional dancer who does youth empowerment workshops and performances. Growing up I got into a lot of trouble. But I’ve been drug and alcohol free and gang free since I was 14 years old. It’s definitely been a ride. I love my life the way it is now. Remembering where I came from and what I had to go through and the struggles I had to overcome in order to do all the things I do today — and not go back to that lifestyle — keeps me going. The kids that I work with are very inspiring to me. They’re big role models for pushing forward and just motivate me to try to set a good example.