By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – The music kicks in, a dubstep mixture of bass lines and drum beats arranged to be repetitive but catchy. Toes tap in the audience as those watching the performance move in their own unique way to the beat and rhythm. But for Donovan Jarvis, the movements to the music are far from mere rhythmic toe tapping. For the 16-year-old freestyle dancer performing for the crowd, the movements are both personal expression and an integral part of who he is.
The Grade 10 Morinville Community High School student began his path as a freestyle dancer about eight years ago and has been building his skills and his style ever since. “I just started listening to music and moving around,” Jarvis said of his introduction to dance, adding he really began to get serious about it in middle school at the age of 13. “I just started doing waves, and then in Grade 7 I started doing a lot more dance moves and doing my own thing. I never took any dance classes. I just started watching Chris Brown and started copying him. After a while I started doing my own thing.”
But as Jarvis’ dance style was just starting to come into its own, he packed it away for a time in the eighth grade. “I was just getting bullied about it,” he said, adding one of his dance routines met with ridicule from some of the students. “People were just being rude and I didn’t really know what to do then. When I was being bullied, it wasn’t that great, but when Grade 9 hit I just started to ignore it and do my own thing.”
As the student made the transition from middle school to high school, the dancer re-emerged with a greater confidence and a greatly reduced level of concern for what others might think of his passion and how he expressed it.
Last year Jarvis took part in the MCHS talent show, showing off his moves to his fellow students and their families, all of whom gave the performance an enthusiastic applause. The freestyle dancer is a regular presence at Higher Grounds Espresso Bar in Morinville during their monthly Hot Dogma talent nights. With each performance, Jarvis shares his love of dance with his audience, and usually does several dances between singers to give the event some variety.
But at the October performance, Jarvis split his entertaining between dancing and his other passion, beatboxing – an entirely vocal percussion that replicates the rhythm and beats of drums and other guttural and mechanical sounds. Like his development in dance, Jarvis said he began beatboxing by replicating the work of those experienced in the art form but gravitated to his own style as time progressed. “I just mash up a bunch of beats into one and keep going with it,” Jarvis said of his own style now.
That transition has also occurred with his freestyle dance routines. Breaking, krumping and tutting were part of his movements a year ago, but he said tutting and popping are part of tools in his dance style now – moves he describes as a bunch of dance styles mashed into one.
Jarvis said tutting is a form of dance with the fingers whereby they make various pictures to the music. Popping is making various parts of the body seem to pop out in time to the music.
But whether popping, tutting or some combination of both, freestyle dancing helps Donovan Jarvis become Donavan Jarvis. “Dancing is my life and always has been from the beginning when I started,” he said, adding the attraction to dance comes from the ability to be himself and to do his own thing.
He has recently started taking dance lessons at Dance Connections to better understand and implement choreography. Although Jarvis’ dance knowledge now includes a more structured style of dance, he said he will continue freestyling at the local coffee house where he has been given both a venue and an enthusiastic audience.
“It feels great having my friends support me and come to watch me,” the dancer said of the monthly open mic nights. “It feels really, really great.”