There are few feelings more human than the eyes-closed, hips-squared euphoria of dancing to a song you really, really love, whether your move of choice is a casual two-step or a complex back-bending, limb-isolating routine. Sean Paul may not be a technically skilled dancer — a friend once joked that his confidence is an inspiration to all people who love to dance and aren't particularly good at it — but his emphasis on incorporating dancehall moves in music videos is an important part of his legacy. "Sean is a true dancer in his heart," longtime choreographer and collaborator Tanisha Scott told The FADER. "He may not be technically trained, he may not have all the tough moves, but he loves to dance and he loves to big up dance."
Indeed, Paul had been successfully making dancehall tracks for years before the massive hit that was 2002's Dutty Rock; but the combination of Scott's genius choreography and clever directing by the filmmaker formerly known as Lil X put dance at the forefront of his image, and drove his crossover into global pop stardom. "What we did changed everything. We really pushed a new thing, we really set a new standard that changed music and music videos forever," said Scott, who also coached Drake through his "Hotline Bling" video. She explained some of the most important moves and cultural references in five of Paul's most iconic videos. Dance will never die.
TANISHA SCOTT: "Gimme The Light" was the first video I ever choreographed. That video started my choreography career. After that, I started getting calls from people. As Sean Paul bloomed and became bigger, everything became bigger: dancehall music as well as the dance. Just as true to dancehall as Sean Paul's lyrics and his music was, I made sure the choreography represented the same exact thing, which is why ["Gimme The Light"] became a huge phenomenon. People were losing their minds because they were like, "What style is this?" Director X's simplicity and his style of just focusing on the artist and the visuals, and then adding the choreography — it was right there in your face. There wasn't any other element but just the music and the dance.
SCOTT: One move that actually became a thing after this video was the 'Spiderman,' that [dancer] PonyTailz was doing. Beyonce later did it in her "Baby Boy" video, I think. But PonyTailz: that was her freestyling, doing a dance she knew, and she killed it. A strong part of dancehall choreographed dance is you usually have this one meter and everyone follows along, and the second thing is that everyone freestyles. Every video we've ever done, there's always an element of freestyle in it with the choreography. And that's just, 'Okay, everybody come bruk out; it's your time!'
The majority of the dances in "Gimme The Light" — not all of them because I did create some — originated in Jamaica. You had the Taliban, the Log On, we did the Driveby, you had Badman Forward, Badman Pullup, and the Heel Toe. Everything we did was predominantly dancehall dances because I couldn't do anything less. I had to do justice to dancehall.
SCOTT: At the ending of the video, that's myself and Director X. We had just finished shooting and we were like, "That's a wrap!" And everyone was just dancing; I just dancing on the platform and he came up and we ended up keeping it in the video. We were all clapping and happy. That moment was not supposed to be there! We were all excited and I was just dancing and the camera happened to be there. It was not a thing, it was a real moment.
SCOTT: "I'm Still In Love With You" is a love song, so there's a lot of winding in it. X told me I had to get to the guy, to somehow make my way to him, so I figured I would just back up slowly. It was totally intentional but also kind of natural. It’s just how I move, how people from the culture move. I wanted to show that it was a specific kind of dance — it’s not hip-hop, it’s not Hawaiian, it’s not belly dancing. At its core, it centers around the hips, but it follows the music, so it’s controlled, purposeful movement. Not everyone can do it, but if you’re from the Caribbean or if you’re from Africa, it might come naturally to you.
SCOTT: This moment is true-to-life. When you're getting ready with your girls, it's like, Okay, I'm gonna get sexy and nice. And you're always playing your track to get you in the mood. Instead of having a drink, the music got you there. Men know, but they really don't know sometimes. I don't think they know we take that time to get ready and it's always a moment with our girls. For guys, it's not that serious. Behind closed doors they could be doing the same thing, but it's not in a group. We're more open with dancing and having fun. [The dancing] is sexual, sexy dancing, but it's not like a mating call. We move with our hips. That's just the cultural aspect of it, that's just how the drums and the beat hit. Women when we go out, we look sexy, we feel sexy.
SCOTT: I really wanted to showcase a kind of couples dance that was inspired by ska. Like what our parents generation would’ve done if they were at a party back in the day. The kind of slow jam that’s popular in clubs, at the end of the night when you’re leaving the club, it’s the kind of thing you’re used to hearing. Actually, "I'm Still In Love With You" wasn't even supposed to be a single. I remember that it was Christmastime, when the music industry slow down, and this song was just everywhere. The clubs and the DJs made it happen organically.
I wanted to make sure that there was something soft and romantic about it. I wanted to bring romance back to dance. Things like daggering and the roughness that comes with that? "I'm Still In Love" was the opposite. It’s not all just aggressive kinds of dances; it’s more like, you’re partners, you’re guiding each other. That's why some guys had on the du-rags, it's not like they had on suits. This is kind of a romance to the club. At the end of the night, that's all it is, slow-dancing.
3. "Like Glue"
SCOTT: This was a really fun video, one of the only ones we did outside of Toronto. We did this one outdoors, in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is a place that's amazing for dance, if you're talking about dancehall. It's second to Toronto. "Like Glue" was the first time Sean ever did choreography in a video, and the first time he came to rehearsals. The idea was that he's walking through the party and as he's walking through, he's hitting all the popular dances with different groups of dancers, until he gets to the stage.
I had different crews there from New York come out and showcase themselves, their own choreography. There was a lot of movement that were dances created in Jamaica but at the same time, there are some dancehall dances created by New Yorkers. It was just a big free-for-all. It was really a party on set.
SCOTT: [Sean Paul's brother] Jason is on the mic and he's calling out the dances. That energy that you see on the screen? It resonated so much throughout the whole place. We hit the choreography really strong in this 'party' part. Jason calls out Signal Di Plane, Row Di Boat, Parachute, Pon Di River, Give Dem A Run. That's a thing that we intentionally wanted to happen; they were like, "If this is an outdoor party, [then] were gonna show outdoor parties." In Jamaica, this is how people dance in parties, we don't just stand up and look cool. This kind of thing of instructional dances, of calling out dances, it became a trend after Sean. Everyone started doing it in hip-hop, in pop, in every genre. He made it happen.
SCOTT: The Matrix is probably one of my favorite dances. It's the illusion of how low can you go and still stay in your spot, like a new age Limbo. At that time, everybody would hit the Matrix. The lower you went and the slower you went gave you the biggest props at any type of party, at any type of battle. You know, the Matrix was the ultimate dance to do because you need strength, you need flexibility, and you need showmanship.
4. "Get Busy"
SCOTT: "Get Busy" was a very specific Toronto type of feel. it was a perfect example of what parties are like in Toronto. A winter basement party, because we didn't party on the streets like you could in the West Indies. For the majority of us, if you weren't in an apartment, you lived in a house and you had a basement. Literally, the video was, "Let's give them a Toronto, a Caribbean, a West Indian, a Jamaican, a Grenadian dancehall party." You had the food upstairs where everybody's greeting the parents, but when you go downstairs and everything is just bruk-loose. It's hot, it's small, but that was it. You had the crews down there. You're banging on the furnace because you don't have a blowhorn. [Banging on the furnace] is not a good idea either, but you have to do it sometimes. If you don’t know what it’s like to bang on a furnace, you’ve never been to a real dancehall house party.
SCOTT: Sean was actually the first one to show me the Willie Bounce, which was a dance in honor of Bogle, the iconic "godfather of dancehall." That was his dance, his thing. It was created in Jamaica obviously. Because Sean loved this song so much he was like, "We just gotta beat this until it's black-and-blue so that we can get it right." Mr. Wacky a.k.a. Bogle's dance moves brought dancehall culture to the forefront again, which Sean really finds important. Music and dance goes one-in-one with him, and he wanted to bring dance to forefront, too.
SCOTT: At the end of "We Be Burnin',"there's a wide shot of Sean, and that's him doing his own dance that he created. It's looks like he's doing a Heel N Toe, but he's not, it's his on own creation: one leg is going forward, the other is going back, and it's kind of fluid. On tour, we called it, the S Peezy. If you see Sean doing the S Peezy, that's how you know he's really feeling the moment.