BY JEREMY CURTIS
Toronto-born dancer Latoya Webley has graced many of the world’s biggest stages and performed with superstars Rihanna, Drake, Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and more over the last 16 years. She’s dispatched her outstanding concoction of dancehall, African, Soca, hip-hop and street jazz dance styles internationally, on tour and for music industry leading events including the Grammy Awards, BET Awards and Much Music Video Awards, to name a few. Webley’s dance career has been characterized by persisting success that’s spanned from North America to Asia, propelling her to a coveted position at the pinnacle of the industry in which many strive for and few achieve.
Webley’s indelible, sought after talent keeps her name rolling off the lips of artists, choreographers, decision makers and audiences aplenty. But there’s a lesser known chapter of her story that’s of essential importance to her career and journey as a dancer. Webley dedicates a segment of her craft in giving back through teaching, guiding, mentoring, inspiring and empowering youth through dance. She has the rare ability to make her moves move others.
The trend can be traced back to her own origins when Webley first began dancing and teaching at community centers around Toronto, including the East Scarborough Boys and Girls Club. And since 2013, she’s engaged the same for A World Fit for Kids! (WFIT), an afterschool expanded learning program based in Los Angeles.
For the community based non-profit, Webley teaches a dance program for Virgil Middle School students that’s complete with educating in fitness, health and nutrition.
WFIT program director Ian Keiller said, “We’re a community-based non-profit in the afterschool world. With the resources we have, to have that top notch talent, it’s very difficult. We felt honored to have someone of her caliber working with her our kids.”
Webley said, “These are all life skills. It’s not all just dance. It’s a fitness package. It’s a life package.”
Founded after the 1992 Los Angeles Riots, WFIT provides award-winning, daily programs at Title I schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where 84 percent of students come from economically disadvantaged homes, according to WFIT’s website. Programs are for students of every grade level in elementary, middle and high schools. Parents get in on the action too. Programs feature core areas of physical activity, nutrition, academics and mentoring.
The goal is to promote physical, mental and emotional wellness, and the goals have been met. WFIT received the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Gold Medal award and a National Community Leadership Award from the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
CEO Normandie Nigh explains on WFIT’s website that WFIT has brought more than $46 million to underserved LA communities, served more than 300,000 children and young people, trained over 10,000 teachers and staff and employed more than 2,900 local community residents. WFIT has also trained more than 1,500 Nike employees as physical activity volunteer leaders and Community Ambassadors, as well as others in the U.K., Australia, Canada, France and South Korea.
“What I really like about World Fit is throughout the year we do various training that tackles different aspects of health and wellness,” said Webley, who more recently is participating with the program’s Nike training extension. “As much as people may think I know, I’m always a student and learning. They always have ongoing programs that inform us on what’s new and healthy, and what we should be doing. It’s not only for us to teach the kids, it’s also for our self-awareness.”
Webley developed the dance program that serves Virgil Middle School, located north of Koreatown. Her students undergo a training program to begin and rotate different activities for different days ranging from health, fitness and nutrition that each supplement dance instruction.
“We strive to improve kids’ grades, get them to build friendships, physically release energy and sharpen problem solving skills,” she said. “We demand that from them and they have to maintain grades to participate.”
The program, which runs throughout school years, draws student dancers of all skill levels from beginners to those experienced. Some go on to compete at dance events such as Beyond the Bell and Sharp International at Knott’s Berry Farm.
“There is an array of all skill levels, so we have to create a program that has balance,” said Webley. “We start off by assessing where the kids are at. We teach routines to them. The bulk of the routines are usually hip hop, but we incorporate other styles like dancehall, breaking, African, jazz and ballet. Aside from dancing, there’s also running and strength training. We incorporate elements of stretching, flexibility and acrobatics, and we encourage kids to participate in the dance teams at their schools.”
The WFIT dance team from Virgil Middle School is this year’s Beyond the Bell reigning champion.
“She’s got a great presence and rapport with kids,” Keiller said of Webley. “She was the right temperament for middle school. It’s a tough age group to reach.”
Webley has been serving in similar roles for years. She currently choreographs for the Los Angeles SparKids, the official kids dance team of the WNBA’s Los Angeles Sparks, along with dancer Brandee Evans. She has taught dance at the Osaka School of Music in Japan and conducted dance workshops at Osaka’s Myster Dance Studio, AX Dance studio, Alley Opp Dance Studio and the Unity Dance Studio in Hiroshima.
Webley’s music video debut came in Sean Paul’s “Temperature/Breakout” video in 2005. She danced in Rihanna’s first video, “Pon de Replay,” in Drake’s first video, “Replacement Girl” and in the Diddy, Lenny Kravitz, Pharrell Williams video, “Show Me Your Soul.”
Webley danced in many recurring performances with the internationally famed singer, Shakira, including her “She Wolf” promo tour, NBA All-Star Weekend performance, Yahoo and Clear Channel shows, on George Lopez Tonight, Good Morning America, The Late Show with David Letterman, So You Think You Can Dance (USA) and at the 2009 American Music Awards.
She has danced and toured with Kardinal Offishall, who opened in part of the 2005 50 Cent and G-Unit tour. Webley has also toured with Sean Paul, JoJo and Jamie Foxx in America, and with Destra Garcia in Trinidad and Tobago. While working in Japan, she danced at the 2009 Japan MTV Music Video Awards with the Black Eyed Peas.
This year, Webley danced in Rihanna’s smash hit video, “Work” featuring Drake, and she’s featured in a forthcoming Drake video that recently filmed. Last year, Webley danced in Will Smith and Bomba Estereo’s “Fiesta (remix)” video and at the Latin Grammy Awards with Fifth Harmony and Maluma.
Keiller credited Webley’s credentials as an asset to her work with WFIT and said the students “respond to people who really know what they’re talking about.”
It’s all collectively made for a positive experience that Webley helps cultivate.
“Her teams were always top notch, very organized and not only good performers, but a good group of kids,” said Keiller. “That stems from the leadership and the example she demonstrated. She was able to give them something to strive for to give them focus, keep them committed and set goals for themselves to strive to do their best.”