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Flex Dancer Jamal Sterrett Talks Creative Movement in Nottingham

26 January 17 words: Bridie Squires
photos: Louise Clutterbuck

With limbs that contort and tremor like icy liquid, Jamal Sterrett can certainly claim a few moves on the dancefloor. Also a photographer, cameraman, graphic designer, and student who’s won awards for his creativity, the movement artist has derived his own style from flex and bruck up. You might have seen him around and about Nottingham’s streets with your jaw hanging by your knees. Yeah, that’s the one. We grabbed him for a chat…

photos: Louise Clutterbuck

How did you get into dancing?
Watching the video for Jay Z’s Picasso Baby. At that time I knew nothing about dance or flex. I researched all the artists involved and there was one particular dancer I was really into. He led me to type in ‘flexing’, and it opened up a whole other world of dancers in Brooklyn – it captured me. I said to myself, “I can do that and I wanna do it.” I started studying, mimicking and mimicking, until eventually I found my own style. There was a lot of rewinding and playing.

You’re also a photographer...
I’m studying it at NTU, and I work as a freelance photographer; my company’s called Visual Fold. When I was young I was into biology and science; always studying insects, whole encyclopedias. I was just really into knowledge. I could tell you everything there is to know about ants – their weight, what they eat, how they can carry their own body weight. I started documenting insects with a camera; my love for photography grew from that.

One of my dad’s friends gave me my first version of Photoshop – shout out to Kevin – and my love for graphic design came about. I chose to do it in college, and my photography grew from there. 

You won Young Creative of the Year at the 2014 Young Creative Awards...
I didn’t expect to win it at all. I was working on the film Guillemot at CRS as an assistant cameraman, and we submitted it to YCA in the film section. I thought I should submit the poster and one of my dance videos – you can do two categories. I would definitely recommend it to other creatives, not so much for the purpose of winning, but more for entering into something, enjoying the process of making the art, and believing in your work.

The video that won you the award in the dance category, From Nottingham with Love, is very rainy and emotional. How do you approach making work like this?
All of my dancing is improvised. I’m an emotional dancer, so anything I’m feeling in the moment, I’ll translate it. For years I’ve thought about who I am, my identity, I’ve always been fighting myself inside and it took a long time to accept myself – it’s through dance that I did. That video is just an example of the fight within. I was feeling isolated, like there was a lot of pressure to fit in and just make people feel comfortable around you. You’re not born for everyone to like, and the moment you become yourself, the people that are meant to be in your life suddenly appear and the ones that aren’t just kind of go away. People love it when you’re coming from a place of realness.

We often see you practising around and about town near reflective surfaces, have you had any strange reactions?
When I first started doing that I got a ton of negative reactions but I just ignored it. For some reason, this year people hardly say anything bad. I get left to do my thing, which is really great. Sometimes people come up to me, some people are scared and cross over to the other side, some people film me. I love practising outside, being in the energy and absorbing the busy streets – it motivates me, makes me feel connected to the world more.

You were caught on camera outside Rock City and it went viral…
I like to dance on my uni break for an hour, so I went to Rock City – I thought it was closed because the lights were off and the doors were locked. There was a poster with a reflective surface, so I was just practising some moves there. Later that day, I was shopping with my dad and he got a message saying “Have you seen your son on Facebook?” My phone was out of charge, so I couldn’t check. When I got home there were loads of notifications, and comments like, “Who is this guy?” And other people backing me up saying, “Oh, that’s Jamal, he’s a dancer from Nottingham.” Rock City decided to have me on as a performer that same night. It all happened in one day, it was really hectic.

What’s it like having producer Nick Stez from CRS Community Recording Studio as a dad?
I have a really close relationship with him – he’s like my friend. On a creative level, he lets me do my thing and get on with it – he’s never told me what to do, he’s just let me grow and be free, let me discover my own talent, but guided me. He’s given me good morals and values to make my own decisions in life, and certain books to free up my mind.

You mentioned that you have plans to go travelling in the future...
After uni, I wanna save up to travel. I’m gonna get a nice speaker for outside, take my laptop, get a GoPro for vlogging, and just gonna travel the world, busking and taking photos. The closer places I'd like to hit are Amsterdam, Paris, Spain, Albania and Greece. But I’d like to go to America; it would be interesting to go to Brooklyn where the style originated and show them the twist that I’ve put on it. The furthest place I have in mind is China or Tokyo. I’d love to go and market myself as some kind of anime character performer.

I’ve always been fighting myself inside and it took a long time to accept myself – it’s through dance that I did.

What other plans do you have for the future?
I want to keep working with film directors and make really dope videos. Maybe get sponsored by a trainer company, maybe star in music videos for indie artists like Aurora and other electronic synth artists. I think dance [music] is heading in that direction; people need dance in their videos. I want to be represented like any singer would. You can have a singer who makes words dance in people’s heads, and dancers do exactly the same thing, just visually. I think dancers will become the new musicians eventually, we’ll be on the stage as ourselves.

I also want to teach. I want to go to America and learn the style, then I’m gonna teach it to kids in my own community, give them the voice and confidence that was given to me. Then, if my feet hold out long enough, I want to put on my own shows and tour the world, doing workshops in other countries, showing them the same formula I use to learn any dance style. And alternative modeling – there are poses that only certain people can do, especially in terms of arm contortion and things like that.

Anything else you want to say to LeftLion readers?
Follow your heart, get a job on the side to fund your art, and most of all, don’t get bogged down trying to achieve anything. Enjoy the process of working. Do it for the love of the art. Everything you need, all the resources, will come to you naturally.

Jamal Sterrett on Twitter

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