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If you’ve seen the Mrs. Carter World Tour, On The Run Tour, and The Formation World Tour, there’s no denying the force that is Dnay B. Denee “Dnay B” Baptiste grew up in West Harlem, NYC. Beyoncé isn’t the only music phenomenon the Harlemite has blessed the stage with. Throughout her dance career, she has worked with Kelly Rowland, Tinashe, Jason Derulo, Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown and many more.
The self-taught dancer learned to use her environment as inspiration for her art. She said growing up in West Harlem exposed her to a lot of things including violence and gang activity. This is part of the reason Dnay wanted to grow and experience a world outside of what she knew. She wanted to explore different possibilities and gain more knowledge so she could come back home and share that with her friends.
The PinkPrint Tour dancer worked towards her career while attending Repertory Company High School for Theatre Arts. She got her start debuting in Carnegie Hall and Off Broadway productions. Dnay’s experience working on Off Broadway productions allowed her to tap into acting as well as singing. One of her singles “Boom!”, an uptempo inspiring record can be listened to here. When Dnay is not on stage, she is teaching dance workshops called “Dnay B’s Block Parties” in Harlem at P.S. 4. Her workshops are created to help inspire the next generation of dancers.
Dancing is not only a career for Dnay but also an escape. She recently broke off her engagement due to lack of support in the relationship all while dancing in The Formation World Tour. The “Flawless” dancer said the relationship put a tremendous amount of stress in her life. Instead of her ex-fiancé being a safe haven, she found herself arguing with him numerous times.
“But dancing with Beyoncé and with those girls taught me that’s not what real beauty is—real beauty is respecting yourself before others respect you” — Dnay B.
Dnay said two months into the rehearsal process of the tour, she had to break off her relationship. When her ex-fiancé came to visit her while working with Queen Bey, Dnay made the decision to choose herself first. She found inspiration in Beyoncé’s 2003 hit, Me, Myself, & I, a song about loving yourself and letting go of toxic people. Dnay bought her ex-fiancé a plane ticket and never looked back.
I had the opportunity to speak to Dnay where she explained the journey it took for her to break off her engagement, songs that encouraged her, working with Queen Bey, and her future career plans.
Dayna: When did you start dancing?
Dnay B. : I started dancing really young. It was just something I was really into. I never took any classes, I just started dancing in the neighborhood with my friends and family.
How did growing up in West Harlem influence you as a person?
Growing up in West Harlem I was exposed to a lot of things, a lot of violence and gang activity. It just showed me that I wanted to know more about the world. I wanted to explore and I wanted to get out of my neighborhood, but never leave the neighborhood. I wanted to travel, learn, and gain a bigger understanding of what the world is really about. I could come back and share that knowledge with my peers.
Describe the Formation World Tour. How long are rehearsals and what has dancing with Queen Bey taught you?
The Formation World Tour was probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever rehearsed for because of the different elements that were involved, like adding water to a show. That’s one of my biggest fears, drowning. To actually have to dance on the water every night, even though it was not even two feet, it was crazy for me. It was one of my biggest accomplishments last year. The process is really hard and I had to take ballet classes. At one point we were doing aerial work and flying through the sky. Rehearsals were really long, sometimes 16 hour days. At one point we were dancing outside in the sun for 12 hours at a time in Tampa, Florida. Having to deal with bugs and heat made it really hard. Dancing with Bey has taught me there is no limit that I won’t go to keep growing, evolving, pushing myself, and challenging myself to be greater. She [Beyoncé] is always there, she doesn’t miss a beat. She’s apart of every aspect of the tour from content, lighting, music, wardrobe, she has a hand in every part of the creation. I’m really learning to be on my sh*t and push myself to go above and beyond the expectation, I might have set for myself.
What advice has Beyonce offered to you personally and other dancers?
I don’t think it’s anything personal, just more so the work ethic. For me, I think for camera purposes, she’ll watch a playback and be like ‘oh okay, this person needs to watch your eyes. This person needs to sit up straight.’ Just to be on top of what you’re doing and being in the moment.
What is life like when you’re not on tour?
Life not on tour? I’m wishing that I was on tour. I’m constantly teaching workshops and going back to schools to speak to kids. I want to motivate and inspire them. Letting them know that it’s very possible to pursue your dreams. Just to encourage the kids to be great in every aspect of their lives whether it’s staying in school, graduating, or if you want to be a dancer. Study your favorite dancer just so that you are aware and ready to compete with the best of the best. That’s real life off tour. I spend a lot of time with my family and everything is a celebration. But once I settle down, I’m just like ‘okay, it’s time to get back to work.’ I’m always ready to work.
“In public I was dancing for Beyoncé, dancing the message that women deserve respect, But in private I was in a five-year relationship that didn’t echo those values at all. Onstage I looked like I was an independent woman, joyful and successful, but behind the scenes I was completely depressed with someone who just wanted me to quit and come home.” — Dnay B.
What do you define as a toxic relationship? At what point did you realize it was time for you to walk away from someone you love?
I think a toxic relationship is one that is not healthy when someone is not supporting you, when they’re not helping you to grow, when they’re speaking death into your life, and speaking negativity into your life. I think that’s definitely a toxic relationship. I figured out I had to walk away from my relationship during the Formation Tour because I was so stressed in my personal life. When you’re with somebody that should be your safe haven and your comfort. You should be going to them to vent about your day, not going there to argue. I had to tell him I can’t be stressed at work and home. It must’ve been two months into the rehearsal process that I was just like ‘I have to get out of here. You have to go.’ He came to visit me and it was not a good visit at all. It was terrible. That night, I had to buy him a plane ticket so he could leave and that was probably the last time that I saw him.
What are some songs you used as inspiration during your breakup?
I listened to a lot of gospel. I love Betty Wright, I listen to ‘No Pain, No Gain.’ I listen to Beyoncé’s ‘Me, Myself & I,’ which is really a great one. I listen to Kelly Rowland a lot, Mary J. Blige’s ‘Not Gon’ Cry.’ All this heartfelt music. The same couple songs are on repeat a lot.
What does being the ‘best version of yourself’ mean to you?
Being positive, sharing my knowledge and what I’ve learned throughout my work experience. Being able to walk away from negative situations and having a good time. It’s living life because tomorrow is really not promised. I feel like once I removed myself [from the relationship] I saw a huge shift. A big weight was lifted off my shoulders. I feel like that’s the best thing I could’ve done for myself to become the best version of me.
What is your message to women about loving the skin they’re in? Is that an idea you still struggle with today?
I don’t really struggle with that idea today but I still have flashbacks of when I was younger, teased, picked on, and bullied. It’s not a struggle with me loving myself, but more so when I go out to auditions. They [judges] don’t say it, but you’re overlooked because of what the industry’s standard of beauty might have been. For the ‘Black Girl Magic’ Movement, things are shifting. For a really long time, they only wanted one dark skin girl, one brown skin girl, and the rest are light skin and ‘exotic.’ My message would be to not let the industry define you and don’t feel as if you’re not good enough. Just keep looking at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself that you’re beautiful because you are. Don’t let them define pretty for you. If you’re living beautifully from the inside, that glow is just going to shine. Eventually your glow up is going to happen, that’s what I would say.
You’ve danced for Chris Brown, Kelly Rowland, Beyoncé and more. What other celebrity would you love to dance for?
Ooohhh… I’ve always wanted to dance for Ciara. Ciara was my dream job growing up. I’ve always seen so much raw talent in her and I would say ‘oh okay I think I could do that.’ It was fun and exciting watching her as a teenager. I would love to dance for Ciara one day.
Lastly, what are five words you would use to describe the feeling of dancing on stage?
Fulfilling, exciting, nerve-racking, accomplished, and blessed.