In celebration of Alta’s 25th anniversary, Alta tutors around the country were asked to write about the impact the organisation has had on their lives.
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Living the Dancing Dream
Sade Ellis believes in the conviction of her dreams and not letting anyone tell her what’s not possible. With this personal belief, she is living her dream as a professional dancer.
Ellis, 28, was recently cast as one of the lead dancers in the music video for the official 2014 Fifa World Cup theme song We are One (Ole, Ola).
This was a big breakthrough for the Pointe-a-Pierre native, considering the many challenges she faced pursuing this path.
After Ellis left St Joseph’s Convent, San Fernando, she went to study computer drafting for architecture at Florida Technical College. But the move was not one she had decided on.
“I have always wanted to dance, but my parents did not think it was a wise career choice,” Ellis said.
After completing her degree, she had the choice of moving back to T&T or toughing it out to dance. She chose the latter. Ellis moved to LA and with little money, she began taking dance classes, through what she described as “cheap” means—visiting various dance studios where she would put in about two hours’ max of dancing, four to five days a week. This she did after her part-time job as a waitress at a Beverly Hills, making a little above the minimum wage—definitely not enough for her to put herself through dance school full-time. Jobs in computer drafting required her to intern without pay, but this was not a workable option.
Ellis also had the challenge of not having a stable place to rest her head.
“I really had no family out there in LA, so I was moving around from place to place, renting from friends, mostly sharing their home or apartments.”
But her sacrifices would not go in vain. She finally struck lucky when she met with Claudia Castillo, a Brazilian choreographer for the Copacabana Sambistas. Ellis began dancing with Castillo at her dance studio in Santa Monica, LA. Doors opened for her to gain recognition as she and her fellow dancers performed at weddings, parties, galas and corporate events. Each appearance made the group more popular.
On a personal level, Ellis also found herself growing, having met influential people along the way. One such person was Jean July, a well-known choreographer in LA’s Brazilian community. She encouraged Ellis to enter a beauty pageant, Miss Brazilian Summer Beauty. Although she says she isn’t the typical pageant girl, Ellis left such an impression on the judges that she won, beating ten other delegates.
“What was funny about the whole thing is that the two girls who won in 2010 and 2011 were both Trinidadians as well. I believe it is because our cultures are so similar. People would see us and automatically think we were Brazilians,” Ellis said.
A year after the pageant she moved back to Miami. Ellis had found a family and a home in Copacabana Sambistas and other Brazilian groups while she lived in LA. So she looked for a Brazilian dance group in Miami and wasted no time in joining the Gil Santos Carnival Dance group, led by Gil, a Brazilian dancer/choreographer.
This would prove a major breakthrough, as it was while she was performing with his group that Santos got word of a casting call for samba dancers to be featured in the 2014 Fifa World Cup theme song’s video. The song was going to be sung by Jennifer Lopez, rapper Pitbull and Brazilian singing star Claudia Leitte. Santos sent all his female dancers to audition.
“I remember it being a bit nerve-racking at first seeing so many people all at once. I honestly did not expect there would have been such a massive turnout.”
Although Ellis had gone with the group, everyone had to do an individual audition. Some dancers performed zumba numbers while others did samba. She was one of the few who auditioned in the samba style and was one of the four samba girls chosen.
“This was a really proud moment for me, because when I think about me being chosen over all the other great dancers—some even being actual Brazilians—I feel like I have been privileged.”
But being cast was not the only notable moment for Ellis. Meeting and talking with Claudia Leitte was special.
“Meeting her really made my day. I had heard of her through the Brazilian communities in LA and Miami, and the stories were always about the great music she makes. She is a huge star in Brazil.”
Ellis said she remembers most of all Leitte’s humility and the encouraging words she offered the dancers.
“She was really warm and she was quick to small-talk, dance and joke with us, which made it a lot easier for us to perform. She did not behave like a superstar at all.”
The video was filmed in Miami in about 12 hours. The dancers even taught J Lo a few samba moves, as she was not in tune with the popular Brazilian dance.
Ellis had waited a long time for her dream of dancing to materialise but on that day, she didn’t give a thought to the struggle she had endured to get there.
“I was just so happy, and honestly, the moment was the only thing that was on my mind. ‘I am here, let’s get this done.’
“It was only when I returned home that it actually hit me that I was a part of such a world phenomenon like the FIFA World Cup, dancing in the official song’s video.”
Ellis returned to T&T in February, a month after shooting the video. She said she had Carnival fever and just had to come home. But as a private, introverted person, she didn’t tell anyone about her recent success.
“To me it was not much of a big deal to go announcing it to people. I enjoyed what I did and that was all there was to it,” she said nonchalantly.
It was only recently since the release of the video that she began receiving text messages and phone calls with friends asking if she was actually the girl in the video. Almost reluctantly she would say yes.
“I am not being ungrateful or pretending to be overly modest about it. I really just did not put much thought into it being something that should be broadcast.”
Since she returned to T&T, Ellis has been teaching aerial dance at the Provocative Fitness Studio in Woodbrook. She plans on opening her own studio one day but for now she continues to focus on building her portfolio as a professional dancer.
For those who want to pursue an unconventional career path, Ellis says: “Follow your heart and follow your dreams and do not let anyone convince you it is not possible. The journey might be rough, but if it is really what you want, you will eventually get there.”
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