Jovaughn McConnell ‘Stepz’ into the hip hop movement
They say once you get a taste of the good stuff, you just can't get enough. For dancer Jovaughn McConnell, that taste was hip hop.
Contrary to popular demand of the local culture, McConnell, who goes by the street and stage name Stepz, fell in love with the anomaly and rarity of the foreign genre.
Taking Dancers' Paradise to school, Stepz defines the term hip hop as a culture comprising four elements: DJ-ing or turn-tabling; rapping, also known as 'MCing' or 'rhyming'; graffiti painting, also known as 'graf' or 'writing'; and 'B-boying'; which he says encompasses hip-hop dance, style, and attitude especially with Krumping.
"To me, B-boying is the expression of an individual emotion that has morphed into a beat and that beat turns into music of the soul," he said.
Inspired by Michael Jackson in his formative years, Stepz became an active member of the first hip-hop crew at Manchester High School.
"Performing at Miss Manchester about eight years ago was an amazing feeling because we were the only crew that did hip hop as a group in Manchester," he recounted.
Once he moved to Kingston, he found a home with the BEAM family, formerly called ProMoves. He danced with the company for the Youth View Awards on three occasions.
From there, he created D'Crew with fellow dancers Aaron Linton and Chester Jones and took his passion to new-found heights.
Talent and experience
The dance community being predominantly dancehall and afro-centred, it was difficult at times for Stepz and D'Crew.
"Recognition of other different styles is sometimes a problem but it comes with time, talent and experience. There have been ups and downs, but that isn't fazing me. Dance is the music from the soul and whatever it feels comes out in our movement," he said. He believes that some dancers move to the music, but real dancers make the music match their rhythm.
Among the highlights of his career are choreographing for University Dance Society shows, and providing dance direction and choreography for the Cane Fields music video with Wayne Marshall featuring Kabaka pyramid and Jesse Royal.
His latest work includes choreographing the music video for dancehall pop artiste, Damion InGenious Bartley's new single, Cyaa Believe.
Internationally, Stepz looks up to various hip-hop dancers including Anthony Lee, Johnny Blaze, and the Jabbawockeez, and recording artiste and dancer Chris Brown.
"Their styles are much different from the normal hip hop you see in everyday music videos. But they represent the gritty and grimy side of hip-hop dance. The way they hit beats sometimes give me goosebumps and their videos challenge me to be a better dancer," he said.
Stepz got a taste of the international scene, attending a hip-hop dance class with a crew based in Florida. He described that experience as a surreal adventure.
Now that he is back in Jamaica, he can't wait for the country to officially reopen post-pandemic, so that he could make even greater strides all in the name of hip hop.
The lockdown hasn't stopped him from being active, as he creates movement and collaborates for fun on TikTok.