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National Dance Day: WilldaBeast & Janelle Ginestra Talk Inspiring Through immaBEAST Hip-Hop Collective

Meet Willdabeast Adams and Janelle Ginestra, the leaders of one of the strongest brands in the dance industry, immaBEAST.

Growing up in Indianapolis, Ind., Will Adams didn’t have the support he hoped for when it came to his dreams of becoming a performer. However, several years later, he is not only living his dreams, but with the help of his dance partner and fiancée Janelle Ginestra, he’s aiding in discovering burgeoning talents and giving future stars of all ages a platform through the art form.

Known affectionately as WilldaBeast, the 28-year-old is the founder of the company, immaBEAST, one of the leading brands in the hip-hop dance world. Before becoming a star in his own right, he danced for entertainers such as T-Pain, The Black Eyed Peas, Jason DeRulo, Zendaya, Madonna and Usher. Likewise, 27-year-old California native Ginestra, who has been dancing since the age of two, also has a packed resume, with credits dancing for Beyoncé, P!nk, Jennifer Lopez and in Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video.

Together, they’ve choreographed for artists like Trevor Jackson, Jordan Fisher, Missy Elliott, Jennifer Lopez, on shows such as So You Think You Can Dance, and for brands such as Nike, Delta and BET.

However, their roads to dance superstardom did not come easily. A hampering football injury has made long-winded rehearsals a challenge for Adams since starting his career, while Ginestra explains that typecasting has made competition stiff, which makes booking gigs difficult.

“[Typecasting] leads to a lot of comparing and a lot of self-doubt, and that makes you feel like you want to give up,” she says over the phone. “But if you be yourself and stay true to who you are, and just know that someone is gonna like what you bring and that [your abilities] are different, it helps.”

Adams’ dance training didn’t begin as early as his fiancée’s; he acknowledges his love for music helped him find his footing on the dance floor.

“I was obsessed with music and dance, but I did not go to a dance studio,” he says. “My first taste of that was when I was 15 years old. I went by [a studio], I did that for a little while. I really started training seriously at 18 years old, when I graduated from high school. I started going to dance conventions and stuff. I fell in love with it and I could not stop going.” At the age of 21, he made the move to Los Angeles to pursue dance full-time.

The dynamic duo met as dancers in California’s “Carnival,” a dance showcase with performances from some of the top choreographers and dancers in the industry. While the often-professional Ginestra “rolled her eyes” at Adams’ bad boy aura during rehearsals, the two hit it off and began dating shortly after.

“Usually on first dates, you have to try any find things to talk about, and it's awkward and it feels forced, but this was natural,” she explains. “We kind of knew that this was gonna turn into something.”

#BEAUTYndabeast Just pushing ourselves everyday ... @immaspace @janelleginestra @willdabeast__

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As for what they bring to their dance partnership, Adams says that Ginestra’s competition background helps bring polished moves to their routines, while he offers freestyle flair.

“I'm good cop, I get my energy out, I freestyle, I make a lot of choices and I’m really confident with a first or second choice,” he says of their choreography and teaching process. “Janelle is more strict in rehearsals with dancers, she takes her time more. She'll make sure the things we do are really clean and meticulous, and it's good because we balance each other out. We've kind of made each other's weaknesses strengths.” They describe their choreography as “quirky” and experimental, as they’re open to different types of movement. This is due to their knowledge of older styles of hip-hop paired with tapping into what the kids are doing today.

“We know that structure of when TRL and 106 & Park was huge, and every R&B and rap video had choreography breakdowns in it, but we're also still very young to where our ears and our eyes are on everything that's still young and new, whether it's the milly rock or whipping,” Adams says.

“I also think that we're unpredictable,” Ginestra adds. “I think a lot of teachers stick to a genre and stick to a style. We like to be all over the map. We like to dibble and dabble in everything, and I feel like dibbling and dabbling in everything makes us better choreographers in a particular style if we do pick one.”

These creative dynamics have also made the couple great business partners. During the early stages of the immaBEAST company, Adams told Ginestra that he wanted her by his side to create something magical for the dance community.

“'Listen, we can do this together, and we can build an empire together,’” she says he told her. “‘I don't want you to quit your dance career, but I think that this can be something massively huge.’”

“Massively huge” is an understatement. ImmaBEAST has showcased some of the industry’s most talented performers, who vary in age, gender, race, religion and sexual orientation. Currently, WilldaBeast’s YouTube channel has over one million subscribers, and the choreography he and Ginestra have created has amassed over 500 million views online (which is not an exaggeration). Adams’ popular choreography to Beyonce’s “Upgrade U” has more views that the actual music video.

While the exposure has been impressive, the duo explains that the immaBEAST movement’s implications go deeper than views, retweets and favorites. “ImmaBEAST is what we want America to look like,” Adams says. “The thing that's so cool is that we have dancers from over 35 states and from over 10 countries. We're this big melting pot in Los Angeles. We represent change, we represent the future, we represent everybody.”

Each year, thousands of dancers from around the world audition to become a part of the immaBEAST family. If selected, the new members are put into different groups that make up the collective. The youngest dancers, ranging from about five to eight years old, are called “BabyBEASTS,” while “lilBEASTs” are nine to 12-year-old talents. Thirteen to 16-year-olds make up the “teenBEASTS” group, and the dancers ages 17 and up are part of the “immaBEAST” crew. “Everybody belongs in immaBEAST, but that's how we categorize it,” he says of breaking up the collective by age, not ability.

What’s even more heart-warming about the collective is that dancers from all walks of life come together to join the family and to help other dancers excel in their craft. “We have kids from Compton that grew up getting recruited in gangs, who are now the mentors to kids who have lived in Orange County their whole lives,” Adams continues. “That's what our family is like. It's beyond dance; we support each other.”

What is the caliber of dance ability, that je ne sais quoi, that Adams and Ginestra look for in immaBEAST recruits? Ginestra says that their dancers have to be “hungry” and willing to leave it all on the floor through self-expression. Their dancers also need to be kind-hearted “team players” who have good reputations.

To many onlookers who may not possess the ability, dancing is just movement. To the couple, dancing is therapy from life’s problems, and a way to connect to people. “[Dance] literally is my church,” beams Ginestra through the phone. “It's my happy place, it's my everything. I feel like I dance always with a purpose, and that purpose is to release and to let out my emotions and just to be authentic.” For Adams, his love of dance also pairs with his love of connecting to people.

“I live for God, and I live for making other people happy, and putting smiles on other people's faces,” he says. “Dance has given me that thing that when I'm sad, when I'm happy, when I'm confused—it's given me an outlet. I feel like that's why God put us on this Earth, for us all to connect to each other. [Dance is] definitely a universal language, and it makes everybody so happy to see. Even if they can't dance, everyone can connect to it.”

The duo has been working overtime, as they announced to fans they’ve been tapped as choreographers for the film Dancer, which they held auditions for in late-June, and recently finished choreography for Step Up 6, which filmed in China. Their annual convention, “BuildaBEAST Experience,” was held over five days (June 18-22), and saw an estimated 1,300 dancers from all over aiming to learn from the best of the best. Not to mention, members of the immaBEAST crew competed on the NBC show, World Of Dance.

While both creatives acknowledge the blessings they’ve been fortunate to have in their careers, they both still have higher goals they’re striving for.

“When Cirque Du Soleil became a huge phenomenon, when the Jabbawockeez’s show took over Vegas… we wanna be a part of epic moments in history where people's jaws drop,” Adams explains. “So it's not one specific thing as a choreographer. We wanna be known as, ‘oh, those are the people that started this, this is what they're doing now.’ How the Tesla drives itself? That's what we wanna create with art: stuff that people haven't seen before.”

“We choreographed for the nomination announcements for BET's Awards [in 2016], and Will got to watch them in Times Square on the mega screen,” Ginestra says of one of their most exciting moments. “So doing stuff like that that's never been done before, and being groundbreaking and giving our dancers and artists opportunities to do stuff like that.”

As dancers, Ginestra hopes to dance for Lady Gaga “before [she’s] 80 years old,” and Adams hopes to work with Usher, Beyonce and one of his favorites, Lil Wayne. However, they’re just enjoying the thrill of doing what they love, and connecting people through the art of dance.

“I think we just wanna make people feel something new and different and break boundaries,” Ginestra says. “That's our main goal.”

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VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

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