Throughout her career trajectory, Denee “Dnay B” Baptiste has been a highly sought after professional dancer whose rundown includes Jennifer Lopez, Kelly Rowland, Alicia Keys and Jason Derulo among countless others including, the Queen herself, Beyoncé. One could only imagine the rewarding yet fulfilling experience of working with such a legendary performer as Mrs. Carter while dancing under the biggest spotlights in the world but for hard-working, persevering women such as Dnay, dreams really do come true!
Of course, possessing a desire for the arts isn’t enough to make it the top and in Ms. Baptiste case, her tenacious spirit, willingness to confront challenges forthright as well as her quest to never give up and never settle created tangible opportunities. However, as we all know, you only have one shot to make a great first impression, therefore, the West Harlem native was not only eager for the opportunities but when it was game-time she was prepared for the moment.
Although her professional success is reminiscent of a wondrous fairytale the emotional journey endured from childhood to present day was not as easygoing as many would presume true. She struggled with rocking her black girl magic to its fullest potential because insecurities lingered at an early age to feel beautiful, bold and confident. In hindsight, she credits Kelly Rowland as a source of inspiration saying, “She’s [Kelly Rowland] positive and is definitely about the woman especially the dark skinned woman. When I was growing up watching and listening to Destiny’s Child I always wanted to be like her because I love everything she stands for.”
Fast-forward and after much soul searching, Dnay has created and cultivated a 360-degree journey. Serving as the embodiment of female empowerment with young girls aspiring to follow in her footsteps, she truly exemplifies what it means to be young, gifted and black in a world that at times is unable to appreciate innate beauty. I had the opportunity to chat with Dnay B about the complexities and nuances of being a top-rated dancer, what it takes to love the skin you’re in, how to achieve your wildest dreams as well as her most memorable moment from the Formation movement and Lemonade era.
Dontaira Terrell: Tell me, what does it mean [for someone] to be from West Harlem, NY?
Dnay B: It is the melting pot of all cultures and because of this West Harlem is such a beautiful place. There are also many outlets and programs made available for you to become involved with. If you’re unable to afford these programs then you still have the opportunity to do it on your own which is similar to how I received my start by dancing in the streets with my family and friends. I also believe being from New York in general, grants you unlimited access to various adversities and provides you with the essentials that are needed to make tough decisions very early on.
DT: You’ve worked with Beyoncé for quite some time. Beyond the glitz, glamour and world spotlight how would you say she has influenced you both personally and professionally?
DB: She is very involved in every aspect of her business and overall brand. I believe as a business woman it is extremely important that you know the ins and outs about everything that you are involved with or will become involved with in order to delegate and make decisions. She works hard and she is open to accepting challenges and changes which forces her to grow and become better at everything she sets out to do. For instance, from a dance perspective she doesn’t believe that she is a quote, unquote dancer but she is on stage dancing with her dancers as if she was taught from birth.
Sometimes she brings in new choreographers to challenge herself outside of her comfort zone and she also takes classes from time to time. Her decision to participate in classes inspired me to take ballet classes because I’m not a technical dancer per say. I’ve been placed in situations where I needed to understand the terminology or familiarize myself with various dance forms and techniques. From a dance and business perspective Beyoncé has inspired me in more ways than one.
DT: Within this past year, tell me the most memorable moment of being a part of the Formation movement and Lemonade era?
DB: The 50th Super Bowl is definitely one of the most memorable moments from this past year. The fact that she [Beyoncé] presented a new song that no one knew or barely heard of with women dressed, as Black Panthers on the field for the NFL’s 50th anniversary was a beautiful moment. On top of it all, she forced people to start a conversation whether they were positive or negative or whether they believed in them or not by interjecting her message and utilizing her very own platform to artistically express herself.
DT: Switching gears, as a professional dancer, what words of wisdom do you have for other young women aspiring to pursue a similar career path?
DB: I would encourage them to take a variety of classes and not to limit themselves to mastering just one form of dance but to become engulfed in everything, from hip-hop to ballet and jazz. These days dance is such a big part of the culture that it’s not exclusive as it once was. Because of this, you really need to be aware of all the styles to help you prepare for whatever job may come your way. Another piece of advice I would like to offer is to do your research, learn about the choreographers and become familiar with their personal styles. In the beginning it was really hard for me and I wish I had the opportunity to sit down with a veteran and pick their brain about the trials and triumphs within the industry.
Last but not least, you have to be self-aware, develop thick skin and tap into who you truly are because this industry is not only tough but it can also tear you down. It’s important to surround yourself with a great foundation filled with people who are positive and can build you up when you’re going down.
DT: From childhood to present day, what are three lessons you’ve learned along this journey of success?
DB: The three lessons I’ve learned along this journey of success include:
- Being patient with God, trusting the process and knowing that my time was going to come.
- Completing my research and understanding what the job fully entails. For example, one time I went for an audition in jeans and a t-shirt but the casting called for a sexy girl in heels. If you’re going to crash an audition you should know exactly what you’re going for (laughs).
- The third lesson, which I’m still working on, is solidifying my look! Honestly, you can’t go into an audition with a headshot of you rocking a bob but show up with a purple Afro because they are looking for the girl in the picture with the bob.
DT: If you could do anything right now that would make you your happiest in life but only had 24 hours to do so, what would you aspire to be?
DB: Since I’ve been doing dance for a good minute I think for my last 24 hours I would want to be a mom. I would be at my children’s school being the lunch lady, coach for the cheerleading squad and president of the PTA. I would also make sure I’m home preparing my husbands last meal too. Trust me, I would get it done in those 24 hours it would be lit!
DT: Fast break answering with the very first thought that comes to mind! If you could brunch with any woman dead or alive, who would it be?
DB: Kelly Rowland, because she’s a black girl that rocks. In my mind, she’s also my best friend. Although, I’ve been in her presence and I’ve worked with her before I would love to sit down with her, have a heart to heart moment, tell her how much she has inspired me throughout the years and how much I truly love her.
DT: Definition of black girl magic and what it means to you?
DB: To me the definition of black girl magic is being self-aware and knowing that you are great. I think it’s more so for the little girls that really don’t understand how beautiful they are. Growing up that was my problem but when I looked up to people such as Kelly Rowland, Naomi Campbell and Grace Jones I would think to myself, “WOW, I can be just as beautiful as them!” Now little girls write me in my DMs to tell me they want to be just like me when they grow up. I think it’s the gift that keeps on giving, because I’m who Naomi Campbell, Kelly Rowland and Grace Jones were for me to somebody else.
DT: Favorite way to spend your day off at home?
DB: I love having game night with my nieces, nephews and my entire family because I’m a huge family girl. When they come over I will cook a big dinner, we’ll have karaoke competitions, play games and have a talent show after I teach my nieces a few new dance moves.