Since age 5, Safiyyah Rasool has found her home on the dance floor. Through competitions and training with some of the most renowned names in dance, Safiyyah has also made a place for herself in Louisville. As co-owner and creative director of Safiyyah Dance Company, her exuberance and utter joy in dance are contagious, rivaled only by passion for equipping people of all ages with the confidence to express themselves through dance. Safiyyah Dance Co. is going on six years of educating dancers on all styles of dance, including hip-hop, jazz, technique, breakdancing, ballet and contemporary. We are delighted to introduce today’s FACE of Louisville, Safiyyah Rasool.
What inspired you to become a dancer?
Janet Jackson and all of the amazing dancers from the ’80s and ’90s.
What was it about Janet Jackson and the ’80s and ’90s style that inspired you?
I think it was the high-impact energy. They never stopped dancing and were so entertaining. When they were dancing, they were having a party on the stage. I saw that and instantly knew I wanted to feel that positive energy.
Did you always know you wanted to be a performer?
At that age, I didn’t know I wanted to be a performer, but I knew I wanted to dance. I was involved in a school talent show and then got involved in lip-syncing competitions around town. I would reenact Janet Jackson routines. My mom used to help me with remaking all of the Janet Jackson costumes and my hair.
How long have you been dancing and teaching dance?
I’ve been dancing since I was around 5 years old and teaching since 2003. I’ve taught about 1,600 classes since 2003.
When did you take your first class?
I never knew about actual dance classes until I moved to Atlanta. I stumbled upon a hip-hop dance class in the gym I was working out at the time. I tried the class, and it was so hard! I was so intimidated because everyone danced exceptionally well and picked up the steps easily. Not me!
How did that experience shape you into the dancer and trainer you are today?
Wow, Atlanta definitely gave me my foundation. While I was living in Atlanta, I trained in jazz, hip-hop and some ballet. All of the dancers were so supportive, and helped push each other to be better. Atlanta is very diverse, so it was really great being in an environment like that which helped me to become more open-minded with my creativity.
What is your most memorable moment of dance training to date?
In 2007, I trained at my first hip-hop dance convention in Greensboro, SC. I travelled by myself and knew no one. I took the convention the first day and left crying my eyes out! It was so hard, and I remember calling my family and telling them dance wasn’t for me. I look back on this day and laugh now. I realize life is not that serious, and challenging things reap great benefits! I’m glad I pushed through and continued with my training and teaching.
What do you hope to teach the dancers at your studio?
The culture of hip-hop dance and how dance and the discipline of dance can influence and change your life tremendously. I always tell my dancers that I don’t expect them all to become professional dancers, but I expect everything that they learn in dance, they can use in their everyday life.
Besides age, what is the biggest difference in teaching younger children and teenage dancers?
Creativity! From the dancers I have experienced here, I can be more creative with the adults, but with the kids I can give them more challenging building blocks for their bodies. Adults become more settled and harder to push if not mentally prepared. It’s harder to break the adult shyness and self-judgment. But I love teaching both, because it’s very rewarding seeing the students come out of their shells.
Out of all of the locations you have trained in, which has been your favorite?
Debbie Reynolds in Los Angeles and Fair Play Dance Camp in Poland. Debbie Reynolds offered all styles — crumping, tap, salsa, ballet, African.
Dancing at the L.A. dance studio was overwhelming. I wanted to travel out and go and dance with them, but had no money. So, I received a grant to go out there and train, and it allowed me to fly out there and pay for the classes. I was so terrified but excited all at the same time. I was out there with some crazy amazing talent from all over the world — people from China, Europe — all over. It was really cool to experience that because they really wanted it as much as I did.
What was it like traveling to Poland as someone who is unfamiliar with the culture and language?
It opened my mind completely to the world. It was the key I needed to get out there and dance. It was mind-boggling. The hip-hop culture has truly taken over the dance industry. I felt like it was bigger outside of our country — they really claimed it as their own.
There were about 30 choreographers from all over the world. I wanted to experience dancing with other dancers outside the country. More togetherness and community — not many egos. People were there to just dance. It was about the growth and fun instead of pressure to get it right. It was just fun — just smile about it and keep moving.
Being an African American in Poland was an experience too. There weren’t many African Americans there. When we were there on the university’s campus, it was not very diverse race-wise, but culturally, there was so much to absorb.
Sometimes we couldn’t communicate with each other with words, but we could through dance. That was a really cool experience to see that we could still communicate without speaking the same language.
What are some of your accomplishments that you are most proud of outside of the dance studio?
Raising my amazing daughter. She just finished her first year of college! I’m also proud of choreographing two stage productions this year, while still running a business and teaching, and being in business going on our sixth year with talented adult and kid dancers!
Other than your career, what else occupies your time and energy?
I am married, a mom and an aunt. And I have two dogs.
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
I don’t know if I could do anything outside of dance! But if I had to choose, I would love to direct TV show productions.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I’m so unfiltered that I think I show everything!
What is your best piece of advice?
Trust the process. If you can think it, you can achieve it.
With the exception of faith, family and friends, what are three things you can’t live without?
Music, quality time to myself and traveling
Thank you, Safiyyah! To learn more about Safiyyah Dance Company, visit safiyyahdance.net.
Thank you to Christine of Christine Mueller Photography for the beautiful photos of Safiyyah!
To be inspired by other great Louisville women, check out our other FACES of Louisville here.