Faith without dance is dead
St. Paul native DejaJoelle is a force of nature who uses dance and movement to inform healing and wellness, especially within the Black community. Her work, however, far exceeds what is classically defined as “dance.” “I refer to myself as a healing artist,” she said. “The way that I speak to my ancestors and speak to myself is through dance; that is my mode of communication.”
The art form of dance was a part of DejaJoelle’s narrative from an early age and almost by happenstance. “I started when I was four; it’s so divine how it happened,” she explained. DejaJoelle talks about how dance was always interwoven into her life by way of Black culture.
“I grew up in Rondo and dance wasn’t like this spectacular thing—it’s just—everybody dances,” she recalled with a laugh. DejaJoelle would soon learn that dance was not only a form of self-expression but also, of combat.
Dancing in the dark
DejaJoelle’s quest for healing through movement was serendipitous during a particularly challenging season in her life. “In eighth grade, right before high school, I got sucked into sexual exploitation that turned into sex trafficking,” she confided.
“I was experiencing new things with my body. I was wondering how I had this gift of dance, but my body was being used in such an exploitative way. I just didn’t understand,” she explained.
According to the National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, one in four Black girls will be sexually assaulted before the age of 18.
In 2018, circumstances linked to her traumatic past began to surface yet again. “When I say things began to come up…I realized I hadn’t fully dealt with them. [I had] suicidal thoughts. I literally lost myself. Someone that I would never want to lose again,” she shared.
The evolution of DejaJoelle
In search of transformation, DejaJoelle turned inward. Through music, prayers, and even creating a sacred space, “I turned my closet into a meditation space. I put a mirror in there, a whiteboard, my altar, candles.” DejaJoelle began to experience the metamorphosis that can occur with self-love. “I sang loves songs to myself and began to practice self-love… I realized I wanted people to love me when I wasn’t even loving myself.”
DejaJoelle then worked to further develop a ritualized practice: “I created a process, an aesthetic, in order to begin to heal myself and practice self-love,” she said.
It was not long until DejaJoelle discovered that she could share her personal self-healing journey and practices with her larger community, in a radical way.
To further shape her new ideology of wellness, DejaJoelle began to change the language that is classically related to dance. “I stopped calling it performance and started calling it observance,” she said. This terminology reinforces the idea that it is a gift for someone to witness her dance, her truth.
After pursuing an education in the arts, DejaJoelle’s professional pursuits became eclectic. “I knew I wanted to do something with health; I knew I wanted to do something with dance. I knew I wanted to do something with accessibility but I didn’t want to go fully down the road of just one of them. I knew my purpose was deeper than that; I was supposed to do something new,” she said.
And so she did.
BLAQ Girl Magic
In 2015, DejaJoelle founded her dance company BLAQ. The mission of BLAQ is to enable people “to create change and healing in themselves, as well as the world,”—truly informing self-love by way of self-love.
The BLAQ aesthetic currently being developed by DejaJoelle “is a dance process rooted in Traditional West African dance and Black culture to evoke self-love, healing, and body reclamation; centering Black women who have survived sexual exploitation/manipulation.”
In 2019, DejaJoelle expanded her practice by launching BLAQ LOVE, through which she teaches groups and individuals how to embrace self-love and healing with tools like dance, guided-meditation, and affirmations. “Dance is a prayer. Everything that you do with your body is a prayer,” she said.
Dancing with DejaJoelle
DejaJoelle is currently offering virtual BLAQ LOVE sessions to the general public through her platform blaqlove.com. Here she informs self-love, healing, and body reclamation. These sessions are currently free to the public.
“I am creating space virtually or physically when we can come back together… It’s all about manifesting something for yourself. Even if you say, ‘I want a promotion,’ and you reach your hand up over your body…you’re materializing all of the things that you want for yourself and you’re putting that in your body.”
In such an unprecedented time during the COVID-19 pandemic, DejaJoelle encourages people to move more and claim their destiny—through their stance and movements. “How can we dance this out in the best way possible? Because right now, we have no choice not to,” she said.
For more on DejaJoelle, visit DejaJoelle.com or her IG@ DejaJoelle.