e have rhythms all over our body, they’re working all day, whether we know it or not: our heartbeat, our walking, our breath, it is all working in a steady rhythm at all times,” says T Damien Anyasi, founder of B-Better dance group.
So when someone turns up to one of his workshops or open events infused with the conviction that they emerged from the womb with a pair of left feet, he quickly settles them into the knowledge that they naturally have both the ability and capacity to stick to a rhythm and own a beat.
“Teaching people how to dance is about helping people to understand what they can do with their body,” says Damien, who’s been showing people the ins and outs of street-style dancing for almost fifteen years.
Damien, who grew-up in Woolwich, taught his first class in Balham, back in 2004. From here he discovered his thirst to show people, not only the skills and techniques behind various street dancing forms – from krumping to waacking – but also teaching them the history behind each style; educating them on its roots and inceptions.
It was at the tender age of 13, at a week-long summer programme in Portsmouth when Damien roots his desire to teach dance. “There’s a video of everyone in the programme dancing to Bobby Brown. When I come on screen, I did a very awkward little dance and a weird forward roll. I caught the hype but had nothing else to back it up with, you can see other kids looking at the camera like “what’s this dude doing?”
I feel like that instance and that video really resonated in later life. I know what it’s like to be the worst dancer in the room. I know what it feels like to be moved by music but not have the tools to let it out,” says Damien. “So when people come to our classes nervous, tense and not moving with the rhythm, I know where they’re at with that feeling. It is all about helping that person to get what they want.”
B-Better has always sought to bridge the gap between the underground street dance scene – from which Damien learnt his craft – and the general public. “We teach a lot of people in a lot of places,” he says, modestly referring to the 15 classes he and his seven-strong team run across the capital.
Damien guesses that he’s personally taught 50,000 people how to dance; considering the number of small and large festivals and street classes he’s given all over the world, that seems like no underestimate. B-Better have held workshops in destinations spanning NW5 to Baku – the capital of Azerbaijan, which, for those wondering, holds a remarkable instant resemblance to Trinidad, where Damien’s mum is from. Alongside B-Better, Damien also runs Manifest Nation, a 25-strong professional dance group – the youngest member of which turned ten a few weeks ago.“O
ur dancers are from all over, but Camdenites are our nucleus,” says Damien. There are eight classes in the borough; they are open to anyone and everyone from age six upwards. Notably, Herbert Street in Gospel Oak’s Thanet Community Centre is where Damien does a lot of his teaching, with two adult classes (Saturday and Monday) and a kids’ class on a Saturday.
“I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to have parents send you a video of their kid performing at school alongside a message that says how different the kid is; how much confidence, self-expression and musicality they’ve learnt from their sessions with us,” says Damien. That said, he’s equally invigorated by teaching a bloke how to dance so he doesn’t embarrass himself at his best mate’s wedding, or by teaching an 82 year old one-on-one as part of a birthday treat – as he did earlier this year.
Teenagers are a particularly interesting demographic for Damien. “They have the most inner conflict going on in their lives. Between 11 and 18, you’re trying to work out what you’re supposed to do; you’ve got exams, your body is changing; you’re tall, you’re short, your muscles are big, your back hurts; you’re wondering if you’re too fat, not popular enough. They’ve got so much to manage and if we can get results in our classes, giving them something to carry them into the week. That is crazy rewarding,” he says. “I always say to my team that we are changing lives. People come to us for an experience, we have to change their day, so when they leave they know their time was well spent.”
Damien has a finely tuned combination of determination, talent and passion. He’s confident that his company will keep expanding and evolving at the impressive rate it has so far. This confidence is in no way contrived: he’s driven by a desire to impart knowledge and skill.
Teaching teachers how to teach, “that’s a real honour, showing people how they can share their knowledge with others.” That said, Damien still regards himself as a student. “I am still learning, I’m still so hungry to learn: right now, this moment so hungry to learn, it rubs off on your students when you mess up in class, they get that you’re a student too.”
Whether you fancy yourself as a James Brown in the making or you need to be three pints in before you can even contemplate looking at a dancefloor, it’s worth popping along to see what wisdom Damien can impart.
Main image: Clare Hand