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FKA twigs
Photography Jamie-James Medina

What I learned from FKA twigs’ dance masterclass

In preparation for her ‘Radiant Me²’ show, the avant-pop artist offered a free safe space for Baltimore dancers to share ideas and express themselves

By 4:30pm, the sidewalk of the Lithuanian Hall in Baltimore, Maryland was crowded. Not crowded to the point where an aspiring dancer, like myself, would be dissuaded from joining the dance workshop taught by FKA twigs. But crowded enough to make you feel excited and intrigued about what’s about to happen.

“There’s not a lot in Baltimore, there’s very little dance art,” explains 26-year-old contemporary dancer Brittany – and she’s not exactly wrong. Baltimore is an artful city. This past weekend was the 34th annual Artscape, America’s largest free arts festival. Visual and performance art was in abundance, and for the first time there was even a dance workshop series. As great as that was, there’s a lack of reliable dance classes in the city at the moment.

“It’s a safe space. When times are really hard like they are now, when there’s so much pain… that’s when the art flourishes” – FKA twigs 

As a Baltimore native and artist who has been dancing on and off in the city since I was a child, I was genuinely surprised at the large turnout to the FKA twigs workshop. Who knew she had such loyal fans here? “Honestly, if FKA twigs makes eye contact with me, I will have fulfilled what I came here for,” squeals Kamaria Cunningham, a lifelong resident of Baltimore and president of the Black Student Union at the Maryland Institute College of Art. “I think the fact that she’s doing this is beyond amazing.”

Although a decent amount of the dancers at the workshop were natives of Baltimore – or at least longtime residents – there were a few who came to the city for the day. Jessica Hu, from Seattle, had just bought a one-way ticket to New York when her friend in Baltimore told her about the workshop. “I love FKA twigs,” she said. “It’s really amazing that she’s given this platform to dancers to be appreciated and in the forefront. I’m here to contribute to her art.” 

Anthony, from Durham, North Carolina, skipped work and drove four hours to Baltimore after his friend sent him a screenshot of the announcement of the workshop. The contemporary ballet dancer said he hoped to get professionalism pointers on where to go next with his career. “Plus, FKA is amazing,” he concluded. 

Around 6pm the doors opened and dancers began to ascend the stairs into the hall. There were three mirrors on wheels, a smoke machine and music playing. Dancers began to battle each other and, once Beyoncé’s “Check Up On It” began to play, it quickly turned into a party. FKA twigs clapped and smiled at the energy. Flanked by her dancers and choreographers it was obvious that she was pleased with the people who showed up. The music stopped and we all sat down to listen to her explain more about the workshop.

“It’s a safe space,” she said. “When times are really hard like they are now, when there’s so much pain… that’s when the art flourishes.” We all clapped in agreement. She told us that, regardless of ability, we’re all encouraged to do our best and enjoy ourselves.

Three pieces of choreography were taught. The first, a fast and hard-hitting piece by Kash Powell set the tone for the evening. The second piece, a high energy African-style set by Dominic Lawrence, was my favourite. The third piece, by Ramon Baynes, was the smoothest, and it was quickly obvious why he had worked with Beyoncé, Britney and Janet Jackson.

“I never used to think as an artist you had a responsibility. I just thought you made work and I spent the first year doing that. And then you start realising how important it is, how healing it is” – FKA twigs

Before long, I had tapped out, and it became quickly apparent that my writing skills were stronger than my dancing skills. I was encouraged to continue to seek more experiences like this. Because, more than anything, it was fun as hell. It also didn’t hurt that everyone who showed up got two free tickets to the show the following night.

At the end of the session, twigs spoke to everyone personally. Surrounded by sweaty fans, she was gracious and humble and huggy. I asked her the question on everyone’s lips. “Why did you decide to come to Baltimore? Why now?”

She responded. “I came to Baltimore because I always found it confusing that New York is so close to here and New York has so much but when you tour you don’t really go to Baltimore,” she explained. “I grew up in the countryside and I lived in a really weird place where nothing ever happened, and I always had to travel to get workshops. When I was 13, 14 I begged my mum to take me an hour away so that I could go be with a gospel choir for a week. And I found those things really healing.”

“I never used to think as an artist you had a responsibility,” she added. “I just thought you made work and I spent the first year doing that. And then you start realising how important it is, how healing it is. I come from a youth work background. I did youth work for three years, and I wanted to take everything I had learned. I hate the phrase, ‘giving back to the community’, I think it’s kinda patronising. It’s (more) like an exchange. It’s a two-way street. And I just wanted to start doing things like that.” 

The following night, Travis Scott cancelled his performance, and rising star Abdu Ali and club music legend Blaqstarr opened for twigs’ new Radiant Me² show. I was able to interview one the of the chosen dancers for the performance, Jade Sky. Jade took a 15-hour bus ride from Toronto to Baltimore for the workshop. “Honestly, it’s been a dream come true,” she said. “She’s my absolute favourite artist. Just to spend time in the studio with her has been unreal. To get to go on stage with her, (it) still hasn’t hit me. I’m so excited.”  

Learn more about twigs’ new Radiant Me² show – including its July tour dates – here.