The Right Place at the Right Time: Beychella

Over the last few weeks, before Kanye lost his mind, the hot topic on every news outlet and social media platform was Beyoncé’s electrifying performance at Coachella.

Over the course of the entire weekend, there were 41 million live views with fans tuning in from 232 countries in addition to the 99,000-person venue capacity.

April 14, 2018 #Beychella made its mark on history with Beyoncé being the first Black woman to headline in the 20 years since the festival started. The two-hour spectacle was dripping in a luscious cultural sauce that was only amplified by a custom bleacher style pyramid that filled the entire stage; making the massive marching band, dancers, majorettes, steppers, krumpers, and flexers a kinetic backdrop of bodies throughout the entire show. Choreographers JaQuel Knight and Chris Grant pulled musicians from Atlanta and cast a barrage of beautiful dancers to pay tribute to historically Black colleges and universities as well as Black activists and artists, including Malcolm X, Nina Simone, and Fela Kuti.

Through all the hype, there was a celebration that paralleled the wave energy that swept over the world. For those of us who have been in the dance industry we understand what a night like this means for our friends who have worked tirelessly and on occasion without reward, without pay, and without acknowledgement, to create the type of career experiences that they’ve always dreamed of.

Almost 15 years ago, I met a bubbly group of girls in Inglewood who loved to dance. Being a few years older, my friends and I took them under our wing and protected them like our own sisters. We shared our life lessons, our downfalls, and our accomplishments. Whenever we got the chance to, we would give them opportunities to perform at Carnival (choreographers showcase in Hollywood) or cast them in music videos just for the industry experience. One of these little divas was Shellee Samuels.

Since we met, I’ve been blessed to see her grow into a dynamic performer and phenomenal woman. As soon as she told me she’d be hitting the stage for Beyoncé’s Coachella debut, I knew God had His hand in this. Everyday that passed, I got more and more excited to see someone I’ve watched her start from Slauson Ave, travel around the world, then go MIA for her education and after that, dive back into the dance community to now be in the space to receive a blessing of this magnitude.

To truly align with your purpose, being in the right place at the right time is necessary mentally and spiritually as well as in the physical. Shellee’s story is a testament to that.

Name: Shellee Samuels    Instagram handle: @ishellee

Age: 25                              Astrological Sign: Capricorn

Where are you from and was dance an active part of your life growing up?

I was born and raised in Inglewood, CA. Dance was always apart of my life. I pretty much began dancing as soon as I could walk! Everywhere I went and every time I heard music I would dance. My parents knew I loved it and enrolled me into Lula Washington Dance Theatre.

Who are some artists / choreographers that have inspired you?

I’ve been inspired by so many along the way. Artists like Beenie Man, Shaggy, Sean Paul, Beyoncé, Janet Jackson, and Rihanna have been an inspiration. Choreographers that inspire me include JaQuel Knight, Chris Grant, Luther Brown, Betty Rox, Luckie, Charm, LaurieAnn Gibson, Tanisha Scott and Fatima Robinson and plenty more.

How did you receive the news that you’d be doing Beychella?

I received the news via email. I remember I had just pulled into my driveway and I checked my email before going into the house. I screamed out “Thank you Jesus!” like a hundred times. I sat there and tears of joy began to fall.

Have you danced for Queen B before or is this your first time?

Beychella was my first time dancing with The Queen. I worked with JaQuel a while back and recently I was invited to come in and audition for Coachella.

Tell me about the first day of rehearsal. How did you feel and what was your mindset going in?

The first day of rehearsal was magical. I walked into the room surrounded by some of the dopest dancers in the industry. The energy was crazy and it was such a vibe. We were all dancing for our lives and it felt so good. I should’ve been exhausted the way I was dancing but I felt like I was walking on clouds when I left that first rehearsal. The room was magic.

What was the inspiration for her show and how does it personally connect with you?

The show was inspired by the culture of historically black colleges and universities (HBCU). Examples of this were seen with the stepping, strolling, the marching band, choreography, set, costumes, and more. As a “Devastating Diva” of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. this performance meant so much to me. Literally stepping and chanting the words, “Imma Ah Diva” with Beyonce’ was so memorable. This show invited America to get a close up view into college experience at an HBCU.

Did you have to keep it a secret that you were performing?

I did keep it a secret because when something is that magical you allow the magic to speak for itself.

What was your favorite part of the performance?

I’m not sure if I could say I had one specific favorite part. Each number I performed had its own feeling and brought out a different emotion, which each felt amazing in their own way. The opening was exhilarating; no other number felt like it. Then there was “Déjà vu’” with Beyonce’ and Jay Z which was so epic. The style of this number brought me back to my drill team days performing in the bleachers during the Inglewood High school football games. Also, “Run the World” was another incredible number. During this number I felt the girl power flooding the stage. The choreo is so empowering, the song is one of my all time favorites, the lyrics speak my truth, and during this number Beyonce’ walks down the stairs right past me. Then we dance all together with her. This moment was historic. Talk about an experience of a lifetime!!

Growing up in LA, did it always seem like the entertainment industry was right in your back yard or were there doors to bust down like anyone else?

It definitely didn’t feel like “Hollywood” was in my backyard. I lived in Inglewood and I trained in that area. My family was from Jamaica and didn’t know anyone in the industry. The doors were definitely still there for me to bust down. I learned how to Krump and began training with a dance group called Hall Of Fame. During the beginning of the Krump era I was picked up by a dance agency and worked with some amazing choreographers. I never could afford to attend any of those Monster dance conferences so getting anywhere close to the industry required long drives to North Hollywood. I had to PUT IN WORK. My dedication to taking classes after school and the support of my mom definitely got me to where I am.

Was there a moment you thought the circumstances of your surroundings would be a hindrance to your dreams?

Never that! My mom has always taught me that all things are possible with faith in God.

How does growing up in LA affect the foundation of your style?

Growing up I enrolled at Debbie Allen Dance Academy where I trained in a variety of styles ranged from ballet, hip-hop, tap, African, dancehall, salsa, reggae, modern, and jazz. However growing up in LA I learned the street style known as Krump, which will always enhance my freestyle and strengthen my performance.

What was the BEST moment of the overall Coachella experience?

Finally arriving to show day, the anticipation of preparing to present to the world what you have worked so hard on. It’s the greatest feeling to be on stage interacting with over 100,000 people for over two hours. But just being on stage with one of the greatest artists of all time was a truly extraordinary experience.

What’s next for you?!?