By Raoul Pillay
Through Jazz, I found the gift of self. Growing up as coloured in Zimbabwe but black in Canada, it felt like two very different stories. I had to relearn mine. Who is Raoul?!
I spent a lot of my teenage years isolated, going from one form to another. It felt like a never-ending journey and the one thing I was chasing, could not be found. I got so occupied in this sense of being, wanting to prove a point to myself and others that I kept moving further and further away from who I truly was. Not to long after I lost my father to mental health. It felt like my world was over but from then on, I knew I had to make my dad proud.
I was offered a position to be in a company called Holla Jazz run by the artistic director Natasha Powell. I remember vividly trying to understand the material. It felt like I could not dance or count. I would always go to the back when we did the form across the floor and would often wear suits, as a direct reference to the people I studied. Certain characteristics within this vernacular were harder to embody and others to compare, to the other forms I studied. Having a powerful leader such as Natasha Powell, made the process easier to bare. She would lead the lessons with stories, and pictures and her knowledge and dedication to the form was downright inspiring. We went on to win a Dora award for best ensemble and we just knew, we did us. We felt in purpose and had a duty to bring light to the true form of Jazz. I remember shortly after doing a show in front of other Jazz dancers. I had imagined similar embodiment and cultural representation. It was not what I expected. A woman approached us shortly after. Her eyes flared up and immediately gave us a hug. With offerings of candy, she whispered to us “Thank you, finally some more black people”. I remember telling myself from that day on, I had a bigger responsibility.
To understand my purpose I had to retrace the stories of the elders. Preaching social environments that birthed these forms. I spent a few years watching and imitating. Being a student to the environment. I had finally fell in love with something. It felt so out of body that the phrase “Catching the ghost” made sense. I spent a lot of time studying the roots and the more spiritual I became, the more curious I did as well. Seeing that Jazz is the root form I thought why separate the forms. It really defined my style and birthed my name “Jiggyman”. The free flow of house, the spirit of Jazz and the embodiment of my ancestors. I found me and my purpose. The kid who was once lost had found his life again. It felt like I could see the music as I moved. Almost like clay with its ability to be formless and adaptable. I began to theorize things and the more I learned, the more I unlearned. I then attended symposiums with cultural leaders and lectures affirming cultural memories and the expressive form that is Jazz, including the dance Immersion Legacy Series Jazz Dance Symposium. Moncell once said “We are spiritual beings, having a human experience”
I also recently attended Vernacular Spectacular. An event filled with jazz and its root connections. Lessons run by lecturers who understand the historical lineage from past to present. I met someone I really look up to. Chester Whitmore! He understood and lived life in such a youthful way and we got along to the point, that on the last day he didn’t want me to leave his side. I cried that day. It was never about dance but more so the cultural memories. He portrayed a father figure, an embodiment of being and a representation of who I was. I now walk with my head high. In full purpose speaking the language of Jazz and affirming my presence within it.
Jazz is not just what you watch or try to study. It is a way of being. These are dancers that were oppressed, so I will not be taking this form lightly. As they say “When you learn its name, you learn its power.” My name is Jiggyman and I live the spirit of Jazz in many forms. Through lived experiences I am but an idea that remains formless and in full spirit. Here to reclaim the power of the people and to speak the truth.