Author | Photos Wade Hudson

Diana Reyes (a.k.a. FLY LADY DI) Discusses Her New Dance Explosion “Third World,” Happening This Week At SummerWorks

SummerWorks–a SDTC summer fave–starts up again this week, and we cannot WAIT to check out the dance explosion that is Third World: thirty minutes of high-intensity Voguing, Waacking, Hip-Hop, B-Girling and House Dance combined with Filipino folk dance. This emotionally charged performance stars (and was choreographed by) this year’s artist to watch, Diana Reyes, who is perhaps better known for her moniker, FLY LADY DI.

For over a decade, the Toronto-based choreographer has been garnering much-deserved attention all across the country. She was the first Filipina-Canadian to be featured in Chatelaine magazine as Ms. Chatelaine, and she was named one of Canada’s Best Street Dancers by CBC Music. Reyes has worked with some of the world’s most renowned choreographers as well as artists like Jason Derulo, Kiesza, Fall Out Boy, Ashley Simpson, Ciara, Pharrell Williams, Fabolous and Teddy Riley.

She has travelled the world teaching her brand of House Dance and Waacking and has judged several international street dance competitions, and now she’s bringing her unique style to Canada’s largest curated performance festival with a performance that is sure to bring up A LOTTA FEELINGS.

We caught up with Reyes this week.

SDTC: How did you first learn to dance?

DR: I started out as a chubby kid who was often teased but couldn’t resist busting moves at family parties. My childhood friend Katie Barrett took me to dance class one day after spotting me imitating Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” music video in the schoolyard in grade seven. It was then that I learned choreography and discovered I was fast at picking it up, but for the most part, I’m self-taught.

My dance training in New York City with members of MOPTOP/Elite Force Crew/Dance Fusion (who performed and choreographed for the likes of Mariah Carey and Michael Jackson) whooped my ass and transformed my dance practice astronomically.

When did you know that dance was something you wanted to do? 

Watching Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” music video in 1989 changed my life. It was that moment when I decided dancing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

How has being a professional dancer shaped who you are today? Aside from the obvious physical skills, how has it affected your perspective or the way you live your life?

Being a dancer and being a human are very much the same thing. Whenever I teach a dance class, I often find a congruency to life and dance; for example, you should never give up. Mistakes are your greatest teachers and you only live once, so you might as well try your best! Things like that.

Like any profession, there are ups and downs. You love it at times, you hate it at times, and it loves and hates you back. The most important thing is to remember is why you are there in the first place—because you LOVE to do it. It can be easy to forget this, the deeper you get into it.

Where did the idea for Third World stem from? Why was this such an important project for you?

The idea for Third World came about as I was watching the work of a fellow Filipina artist by the name of Caroline Garcia who is based in Australia. We were at a mini-symposium for Filipino artists in the diaspora in San Francisco. She’s known for twerking and doing really cool installations and video work that is often Filipino in theme, and I thought to myself I should be making work like hers, which incorporates my Filipino background in a way that looks really cool and interesting.

[Since] last summer wasn’t very busy for me, I was afforded the time and focus to write a grant to the Toronto Arts Council to create a high-impact, thirty-minute dance piece that incorporated projection and original music from the people I often collaborate with (Maylee Todd, Lex Junior), which I was lucky to receive. From there I wrote and received a TAC production grant for it and was accepted into SummerWorks, and now here we are!

This project is super important for me in a lot of ways. I often struggled to find acts I identified with in the theatre setting. I also found myself racially outnumbered as an audience member. This can be uncomfortable, unsettling and discouraging, especially for an artist. What I want with Third World is to not only represent my work as a dance artist but also to exist as a professionally artistic female of colour. I want this to be my way of existing in the world, and for those who are coming to watch the show (who identify with my struggle to find representation) to exist as well. I also want to show the world how amazingly rich my Filipino ancestry is. There is so much character in the movement vocabulary and I can’t wait for people (especially the younger Filipino-Canadian generation) to want to learn more about it and connect to it the way I connect to it.

What can audiences expect from the show?

Audiences can expect a high-intensity thirty minutes of dancing with a range of styles from Waacking, Voguing, House Dance, Hip Hop, Bgirling and, of course, Filipino Folk dance it all its realness! In addition, [expect] some eye-popping projection design (by Maylee Todd) and toe-tap inducing beats (by Lex Junior).

Because we’re curious, what is your favourite music to dance to? What do you blare at home when no one is watching?

This is an excellent question. I love me some Hole “Violet” and Amy Winehouse “You Know I’m No Good.” I’ve gotten a noise complaint once from an Airbnb for thrashing too hard to Hole. It’s an undeniable banger! Everyone knows that’s my “chune”!

Third World is running at The Theatre Centre–Franco Boni Theatre (1115 Queen Street West)–as part of the SummerWorks Lab programming. Show times are Thursday, August 9 (6:15 p.m. – 7:45 p.m.), Saturday, August 11 (10:30 p.m. – 12:00 a.m.) and Monday, August 13 10:00 p.m. – 11:30 p.m.) Get tickets here.

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