How Rihanna’s Choreographer Tanisha Scott Helped Me Get Over My Dance-Phobia

celebrity choreographer Tanisha Scott

I’ve always thought of myself as a confident person, but when I was invited to take a dance class—my very first—my immediate reaction was self-doubt. First off, I can confidently admit to having zero rhythm, and to raise the stakes even higher, the class would be led by Toronto’s very own celebrity choreographer, Tanisha Scott, who would fly in from NYC for the media event, hosted by Sport Chek to launch its LifexStyle collection. Talk about pressure, right?

Having grown up with a rare muscular dystrophy, I was tempted to opt out and use my disability as a fake-legitimate excuse not to go, as I successfully did as a teen to avoid any type of forced physical fun and embarrassment. But after running all the what-if scenarios in my head, I realized that turning down the opportunity to dance with the choreographer responsible for the iconic moves of “Gimme The Light” and “Hotline Bling” would be stupider than what I’d actually look like dancing, so I decided to go.

Celebrity choreographer Tanisha Scott teaching Toronto media how to dance at the Sport Chek event. (Photo: Jayscale)

The day of the event, I felt surprisingly pumped. The dance space was packed with more women than I expected (who were all in better shape than me), so naturally, I mentally assigned a spot for myself at the back of the room. But when it came time for the class to begin, so many other people had the same idea—to flee to the back—that I found myself at the front of the group instead. The what-if fears started to run through my head again, but it was reassuring to know so many others were intimidated by dance, too.

But why is it so scary anyway? “Dancing is mostly self-expression, but with your body and that’s why people tend to freeze up,” says Scott, adding that many of us would rather not move or be seen, whereas others can let loose and put everything out there. “It’s almost like public speaking.”

Which totally makes sense because I’m not a fan of public speaking either.

After the dance class—which wasn’t scary or embarrassing at all, BTW—I caught up with Scott to find out how this Toronto-born dancer gained the confidence to work with great artists like Sean Paul, Drake, Rihanna, SZA and Beyoncé, and to get some confidence boosters for my next dance class. Here’s what she had to say.

When did you start dancing?

“[Practically] from the womb. It’s always been a hobby and something I loved to do. Once I went away to university, that’s when I started with a dance troupe. I went to the University of Windsor, so I travelled back home a lot and used to just dance in the clubs. Plus, my dad was a DJ at the time, so house parties were always at my place. Dance was always a part of my life.”

What was your big break as a choreographer?

“My big break was Sean Paul’s ‘Gimme The Light’ music video here at home with our famous Toronto director, Director X. I was a dancer and he called me up to do choreography for the video, and that was the first time I did any type of choreography. As a dancer/choreographer, your business card is visual—music videos, a stage show—so once that music video came up in the light, it became a big phenomenon and everything propelled from there.”

How do you physically prepare for a rehearsal day?

“A regular work day for me starts at the gym or working out outside. I do a lot of cross-training, running, plyometrics and a little bit of weight [training], but I always try to start off doing some type of movement outside dance. I teach a lot and you can’t have your body be stagnant doing one thing all the time, because you don’t grow or get any stronger—you just kind of plateau.”

What advice do you give to new dancers to help boost their confidence?

“The best advice, really, is to have fun. Breathe! You need to be so sure of yourself—who you are—and have a lot of body awareness. Just have fun and let go and be free.”

Where do you get your confidence from?

“Overall confidence comes from self-love and knowing yourself. But the best source of daily confidence comes from what I’m wearing. Like my dance, I need my sporting gear to reflect who I am, while making sure whatever I have on I can move in and still look fly. When you look good, you feel good.”

Can you describe your personal style on and off the dance floor?

“My style is very flexible. My go-tos are Adidas and Nike, but I always venture to find things that make sense, so when I wake up I can go to the gym, go to rehearsal and go to a meeting all in the same outfit. I wanna put on something stylish that can be appropriate for anything. And especially living in New York, I can have this [outfit] on, put on a pair of pumps at night and be ready for the bar.”

celebrity choreographer Tanisha Scott
Celebrity choreographer Tanisha Scott, sporting Converse Women’s Chuck Taylor All Star Waterproof Leather Boots, $150, and Nike Women’s Archive Jacket, $105. (Photo: Jayscale)

What’s the most important part of your outfit?

“I have to make sure whatever shoes I have on are good. I’m a Pisces, so we’re always worrying about our feet. If my shoes ain’t right, I ain’t right.”

What do you say to those who are afraid of dance?

“Don’t give up and do not think what you do now is the only thing you can do. I didn’t start off by learning trendy dances. I’m not a trained dancer with a [repertoire] of tap or jazz. I came from a freestyle background, meaning music is what motivated my movement. So when I hear music, whatever it makes me feel [dictates] how I move. It’s never too late to try, so don’t live in a box.”

You inspire dancers everywhere, but who inspires you?

“I try to re-inspire myself. Because the great people, as in the people who do a lot, always re-challenge themselves. I don’t try to emulate anybody else. I just try to keep reinventing myself to be better than I think I could be.”