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