"If I wasn't dancing I would be nobody pretty much. That's how I see it because when people see me they see dance"
Photo Credit: Willow Street Pictures
Spoken By Liyanah Man
Written By Symone Corbin
With the spotlight on her, Liyanah, made her debut July 10th, 1997, at Reading hospital. Starting in North West elementary school, she ventured into various hobbies such as singing as part of a chorus, boxing, and even marching, which was a starting point into her one true passions, dance! She loved marching because to her “it went hard!” It was a hobby that required strength and dominance which is more her style, and she exudes this in the way she dances presently.
Liyanah was a straight A student with a 4.0 throughout her academic career earning plenty of awards. In middle school, Liyanah was a part of the track team, the basketball team and pursued the dance team the following year into high school. From middle school into high school Liyanah had joined the Reading high dance team where she met her fellow dance crew now. Liyanah, had been part of six different dance groups such as unique collect, DTP(dangerously talented people), mad house, the come up, Reading high alumni dance team, Damage Dolls, Lady Amulets and most recently This is Reading. Liyanah has future plans to dance with another group by the name of Sequence and her current group We Are Reading. Liyanah has a strong sense of self and a determination to make her dreams of dance come to life.
“When I make it, my city makes it too” said Liyanah Mann. Growing up in Reading, Liyanah had a lot of stereotypes that she had to break through and ultimately, dance through. From Liyanah’s stand point Reading was viewed as a horrible place full of “gangsters” and “gang bangers” as some would say. However, in her 20 years of life she has seen more good than bad. In fact, Liyanah is truly a successful product of her environment having made over a 4.0 grade point average by the time she graduated Reading high.
Liyanah’s independent and dominating attitude is what kept her on her own path doing her own thing. “When you grow up with people and see them go in the wrong direction and hear what they do, I was never affected by it personally because I’m not a follower. Growing up in Reading wasn’t bad, I just see Reading differently from everybody else.”
Liyanah proudly belongs to various communities within Reading. She says, “I could talk to anybody. It doesn’t matter who you are even if you’re Gothic, as long as you respect me, I’ll respect you and we’re cool.” Liyanah’s strong mindedness allows her to disregard any stereotypes placed upon her and exceed expectations.
As an African American woman immersed in hip hop dance and culture, she has been bet against more times than one. According to Liyanah “there are a bunch of stereotypes and I’ve been shutting them down. I don’t take offense to it if I don’t fit it. Even if I do fit it, I don’t take offense because I know who I am.”
At one of Liyanah’s first dance battles she was underestimated because she was one of two women among a group of men. Liyanah had made it to the final four which consisted of over 30 people. She consistently showed them that when it came to dance she could keep up with the male competition all the same if not better. “I was in there beating dudes, once I got to the final four I lost to a B boy but he didn’t underestimate me, that’s just an example of the many assumptions that come with being a female. They thought I wasn’t as good of a dancer but I can do everything the boys can do.”
Moving forward, Liyanah was no stranger to resilience and is always finding a way to improve her craft. She’s been dancing since should could walk. Her first official team was the Reading high dance team in which she joined in the ninth grade. Although Liyanah danced almost all of her life, she had no idea how good she was until other people outside of her family brought it to her attention. The Reading High dance team had enlightened her on just how talented she was. “It came to the point where everybody was looking at me, always looking at me.” Liyanah, is a self-taught dancer inspired by well-known artists like Ciara, Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson.
One of the people who saw potential in Liyanah was a woman by the name of Ms. Davis, who was the facilitator of the Reading High dance team. According to Liyanah, “she put me on a pedestal because she knew that I could reach that level. Whatever she wanted I could give it." But with great talent Liyanah, had to deal with the feeling of over exposure and the constant pressure to be in the spotlight because of how talented she is. This constant pressure made Liyanah want to share the spotlight with others signaling that she’s a true team player. “I’m always in the front or I’m always in the middle or I’m always the point of the center of attention. Everybody wants that but to me, I get tired of it after a while. If I’m in a group, I don’t want it all on me twenty four seven and I don’t like when people put me on a pedestal sometimes because I want them to challenge someone else.”
Liyanah’s style of dance has been influenced heavily by the people around her. Her close friend Richie taught her the fundamentals of free styling and pushed her to higher levels. Jaymes taught her how to be more versatile by pushing her to deviate from her comfort zone into dance moves that she wasn’t used to. To Liyanah, “as long as there’s somebody in the world that’s better than me, I’ll keep pushing to get better, that’s how I move.”
Just as much as Liyanah has been inspired, she has also inspired many. “When I’m walking in the summer, a bunch of kids run up to me like oh my goodness! You’re the girl from dance team or you’re the one that can break her arm and do the splits! I want to be just like you. I have people who are older than me that tell me that I inspire them as well.” To Liyanah dance is life. She says “If I wasn’t dancing I would be nobody pretty much, that’s how I see it because when people see me they see dance.” Not only does Liyanah receive overwhelming support from her family but also, she receives this support from the various communities that she is a part of.
Liyanah wants to continue to inspire those around her with hopes of one day owning her own performance studio, not just for dancers but also, for singers, rappers, and musicians. In Liyanah’s eyes “theres a lot of talent in the city that’s so small that it gets unnoticed because of our reputation and I want it to be seen. Part of my dream is to make the un-noticed, noticed. I just want to make a way for it to be possible to make it in Reading. That’s what my future hopes are. I want to make it. I want for all of us to make it so that our city can make it.”
One of the challenges noted by Liyanah, was that as a dancer in Reading, there is a lack of networking opportunities. In addition, there are stereotypes of dancers in hiphop that hinder opportunities for exposure and as a result, hip hop dancers struggle with the amount of employment opportunities available to them. Liyanah feels as though there is a lack of support in regards to be a hip hop dancer. She says “that’s what makes me feel stuck, it’s like no one wants to help. Getting jobs out here is hard and the pay is ridiculous knowing that we as dancers, need money to travel.”
However, This is Reading, was one of the very few opportunities that opened up a whole new world of connections for Liyanah and her fellow group members. “This is Reading was dope, it got us a lot of exposure, the pay was great, as well as the outfits. It felt like we were really up there. We felt like we were famous”.
Although Liyanah felt grateful for the experience, she couldn’t help but notice that there was a lack of representation within the performance by people that actually lived in Reading. “You would think that the spotlight would have been on us as dancers from Reading, but it was more so, on other dancers that weren’t from here.” Liyanah believes that there is plenty of talent here in Reading that went undiscovered, and that’s what motivates her to want to create these opportunities in the future. If she should ever reach these goals she wants artists to know that “if you want to become a professional dancer, come to my studio. You can go out of Reading if you want to but just know that you made it in Reading.” Liyanah is very passionate and proud of where she is from simply because of the person she has evolved into. Reading births talented people who may feel as though they are underdogs because of it’s reputation. However, underdogs like Liyanah, can dance circles around the low expectations that outsiders may have.
Liyanah aspires to one day dance at award shows. “I want to dance on the BET awards, I want to go on the centric awards, all the awards that have to do with hiphop.” For Liyanah, dance is more than a way to express herself, it is her sole purpose in terms of who she is and what she wants to do with her life. She says, “dancing is what keeps my head in the right direction, I dance cause that’s what I’m here for. It was like love at first sight, dancing was just meant for me, and that’s what I feel like I was born to do”. Instead of whining, complaining, or crying about something she’ll just dance. When Liyanah is creating a dance she starts with what’s trendy and makes its her own. She says, “I go by what’s popular and remix it. I’ll keep free styling to the same song until it becomes so repetitive it turns into choreography.
“When you put your emotions into dancing, it makes your dancing stronger.” Whenever Liyanah may be feeling any emotions she has the ability to channel it through dance and it becomes raw, powerful art. She has this overwhelming urge to want to be successful. With such high hopes and talent comes fears and obstacles. But these fears and obstacles manifests a hunger to keep reaching for her goals. In the words of Liyanah, “All I do is dance, practice, and eat.”