Updated: Apr 25
Afro Brazilians continue to innovate in dance, and with the prevalence of the internet in the country, other Afro based styles from outside of Brazil have influenced the urban scene; most notably Jamaican Dancehall.
We connected with one of the rising dancehall dancers in Brazil: Marcelo Mendes (IG @celomendes) to learn more about him and dancehall in Brazil. Below is the transcript from our interview with Celo.
AFROCONEX: Celo, thank you for your recent collaboration with AfroConex. Can you tell us how old you are? And when did you start dancing?
CELO: I am 30 years old, I started dancing in 2005, first in a gospel street dance group and then I was part of one of the biggest dance groups in Brazil, called Cultura do Guetto. Cultura do Guetto is a hip hop dance group in Belo Horizonte. IG @culturadoguettooficial.
I was a member of this group for 9 years.
AFROCONEX: A gospel street dance group ? Can you tell us more about that ? Did you dance to gospel music? What type of dance did you do in the group ?
CELO: Yes! It was my first connection with dance. I danced with a crew called Gospel Dance and then I also danced with Phillos. There, we were dancing hip hop dance with others dance influences, like jazz dance. We usually danced to hip hop gospel music or some instrumental beat.
AFROCONEX: When did you decide to focus on dancehall?
CELO: In 2011, when I took a break from the Cultura do Guetto group, I started to go deeper into Dancehall. Studying and taking classes. I started to have a more intense contact with the music and immersed in classes with native Jamaican teachers and other Brazilian teachers who also practiced dancehall.
AFROCONEX: In 2011 online classes were not really a thing like they are now in 2020 because of the pandemic. How did you take classes with native Jamaicans ?
CELO: I had the opportunity to participating in some classes with Jamaican dancers, when they came here to Brazil. Other contacts happened by video from youtube or Instagram.
AFROCONEX: What is it about dancehall that attracted you to the dance?
CELO: First, the music. The music made me dance even before I knew what it was. Then the identification with a dance that comes from a cry for freedom from the black people. A dance and culture that is so rich and strong and with enormous meaning. Also, I was attracted to the movement a lot.
AFROCONEX: What is it about the cry for freedom that resonated with you ? Did you see any similarities in Jamaican life to life in Belo Horizonte?
CELO: Yes! I can feel a little similarity about Jamaican life to life in BH. Sometimes in professional opportunities for dancers and a little bit about values. About the scream for freedom, what I meant was about a culture construction that reframed the lifestyle through the music, dance and culture. I think that dancehall culture inspires people around the world.
AFROCONEX: In general is dancehall music and dance popular in Belo Horizonte. Do you find as a teacher, students are unfamiliar with the music and dance ? And how do you introduce the music and dance to your students who are unfamiliar with it ?
CELO: Usually, the students already know about dancehall music, because the music and dance are already globalized in the world. But I like to explain the different beats and I like to introduce them to the 3 schools of dancehall music and dance: Old School, Middle School and New School.
AFROCONEX: Outside of dancehall, what other dance styles do you do?
CELO: I also dance hip hop, I know a little about our Brazilian funk, but I really like to take a chance doing a fusion of styles within my focus on Dancehall.
AFROCONEX: I know you are from Belo Horizonte, and the city seems to have a huge following for Afro Dance Styles (Afrobeats, Afrohouse, Dancehall etc). Can you describe the dance scene in Belo Horizonte for me, and what do you think makes the dance scene there unique and / or different from Rio, or Sao Paulo
CELO: Yes, I'm from Belo Horizonte. In fact, our city has a very beautiful and strong urban dance scene. In Belo Horizonte (BH), we are strong, warm and welcoming people, we like to exchange energy in dance, we value that. I think that makes us different from São Paulo (SP) and Rio de Janeiro (RJ).
AFROCONEX: Is there a local style of dance unique to Belo Horizonte ?
CELO: Yeah, we have a type of dance funk, called passinho de BH. Reference @passinhodebh (IG)
AFROCONEX: What is your view on the reception of Dancehall and Afro dances in Brazil; do you think it is something that will get bigger?
CELO: I think the dances will keep growing in Brazil and keep reaching people.
Mainly people from the Guetto, from the favelas, they identify a lot with the dance and music. They are dances that talk a lot with our black people too.
AFROCONEX: What would you say is the most difficult thing about being a dancer in Brazil?
CELO: Certainly the lack of financial appreciation for our work, the lack of opportunities to participate in major projects in the artistic world. Art in Brazil does not have much value for the Government, especially for the current government.
AFROCONEX: If you could change anything about dance in Brazil, what would it be?
CELO: It would be to change the government's view of art and culture. It would change the financial valuation for dancers in artistic works, it would change the system.
AFROCONEX: what is your vision for your dance?
CELO: My dance carries my story. A story of resistance, diversity, dreams that have already been achieved and much bigger ones that need to be achieved. A story of love, happiness, but also of struggle, blockades, crying, difficulties. Sometimes I stop eating to do an important class in a city far from mine. And today I feed hope in the hearts of children, teenagers and adults who are part of my classes or artistic works.
AFROCONEX: Who are some of your favorite dancers ?
CELO: Nowadays, jamaican dancers in Dancehall
@patroyblack / @chin.flame.team / Mr. Bogle / @craigblackeagle and a lot of others
But, some friends/dancers of Brazil inspires me too:
@raquelcabaneco @andreoliveiradb @rian.lipi and some others!
And I like others styles of dances too, I like to versatility like @tarjariley / @mecnungiasar
AFROCONEX: what are 2 music videos that you have seen recently that have inspired you.
CELO: The 2 are:
AFROCONEX: what are 5 songs you are currently always playing CELO:
1 - Underdog (Remix) - Alicia Keys Ft. Chronixx, Protoje. (above)
2 - Kill dem - Dj Lub's
3 - Oh Lawd - Stylo G
4 - Nena - Yendry - A colors show
5 - Sevana - Nobody Man