To kick off our 40 stories series, Helen Oldfield spoke to Dickson Mbi, a world-renowned dancer in the Hip Hop dance community. Also a choreographer, Dickson won the 2023 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance for his piece Enowate, which was performed at DanceEast in January 2022.
Dickson found his way into dance accidentally – he says: “I started dancing aged 18 or 19. I started dancing because of the girls, really!” After a chance encounter with a dance troupe in East London, he started travelling to Pineapple Studios in Central London for dance classes.
Dance, for Dickson, is about expression: “I feel like the English language that I know doesn’t have enough words to express how I truly feel, and I can’t express everything I feel, but with dance I can.”
He says: “When I dance, I feel so connected to things – I don’t want to say my ancestors – but things I can’t explain. Especially when I’m on stage, I feel connected to something bigger than me… It’s my truer expression of form. If I dance, I’m happy. If I’ve had good food, I dance. Some people see it as therapy, but I see it as a way that people can connect deeper to myself and with others.”
While Dickson has made dance his profession, he feels it is for everyone: “to be honest, I think everyone’s a dancer. In my culture it’s just what we do… It’s never been about having a career or being on stage. You go to a party, you dance. I think it’s important as it can open the door to how we connect to each other, as well as expressing loads of different things about how we feel.”
Dickson also mentioned his connection to DanceEast, and particularly Brendan Keaney, our Artistic Director and Chief Executive:
“Brendan has always been a key figure to me, even when I was 18 – 19 and started dancing. When I did my first full length piece, Enowate, he was a real, major supporter. I did the first draft of Enowate at the Lowry in Salford, and DanceEast helped me develop it further, which is how we got to bring the full thing to Sadler’s Wells last year.
Every time I’m in that building at DanceEast, I feel really welcome. The staff you see are really open and welcoming. I had a great time teaching their CAT (Centre for Advanced Training) students, and every time I perform there, it is always more or less a full house and I’m just a guy from east London, you know, I don’t expect to have a full house!”
Finally, Dickson shared a piece of music that always makes him dance: “I come from a dance style called Poppin. There’s one track called Keep it Live by Dazz Band and that’s the one.” You can find Keep it Live on our #MoveBeMoved40 kitchen dancing playlist here.