#FMFeline: Yaminah Legohn talks ‘Red Light Special’ and female empowerment
Embodying strength and sensuality
Art of Legohn founder Yaminah Legohn leads an organization that offers dance and musical performances, visual arts presentations, wellness and nutrition information, and other diverse services across New York City. The Art of Legohn Dance Company performs jazz, contemporary, West African, dancehall, modern, and other dance styles, and Legohn herself is a choreographer and professional dancer. In addition to her company’s endeavors, she teaches dance classes at EXPG Studio, Cumbe: Center for African and Diaspora Dance, and Brickhouse NYC, and is preparing to make Art of Legohn a bicoastal empire.
Legohn’s upcoming event is “Red Light Special: A Night Of Urban Burlesque” on Oct. 21 at Bushwick’s House of Yes. Far from your typical burlesque show, the performance is a liberating experience that is now in its third year. Legohn further described the “Red Light Special”:
“It’s a sexy, artistic and entertaining burlesque show. It takes you to a woman’s expression of self love, sexuality and confidence in her body. The show integrates dance styles such as burlesque, contemporary, dancehall, African dance and jazz dance. When I say African dance, I usually have at least one djembe player in the show… We have cocktails, art exhibits, and models that engage with the audience before the show starts.”
Check out our exclusive interview with Yaminah Legohn below!
FM HIP HOP: How and when was your business born?
YAMINAH LEGOHN: Art of Legohn was founded in 2010 in Los Angeles. I’m an artist and I wanted to express myself more creatively. I created Art of Legohn so I can choreograph work that I like instead of it just being a music video. Then I also created it to provide opportunities for myself and for other artists. I moved to New York and I revamped it in 2013. Following that, I formed an LLC, and it’s been going ever since. At first it was just me by myself, but then I added the music department and I added a visual arts department. It’s been a journey.
FM: With all of the discussion and awareness around women’s issues with #MeToo, #TimesUp, etc., how does “Red Light Special” in particular– or performances in general that speak to women being in touch with their sexuality– empower women in the current climate?
YL: The show definitely empowers women to be strong, being confident in ourselves, as well as being confident in expressing ourselves sensually (especially in an artistic way) without saying, “We’re trying to have sex with you.” Coming from the Hollywood world, I have been in a few situations where I have been sexually harassed because I am a dancer. The guy would see me in a music video half-naked and thinks because I’m dressed up that way, that I’m inviting him to touch me. It has been a ride dealing with those kind of things and it’s interesting that the #MeToo movement is here, because dancers in general go through that a lot.
In this show, it’s putting it in your face, [but it’s] not just about us being sexy and just wearing fishnets. We have a story. We have a meaning behind our expression. A piece may be about an abusive relationship that you have with yourself, and a woman watching in the audience may be able to relate to that because we’re telling you that it’s okay to feel insecure, it’s okay to feel like you cannot express yourself. With this #MeToo movement, some people are saying it’s these women’s fault. I don’t want that to make women feel like now we have to dress a different way, or now we have to be this way so we don’t get this type of attention. No. We’re going to do what we want to do. At the same time, we’re going to create boundaries letting you know that you can’t touch me, you can’t do this unless I say it’s okay. We make that very aware in our show. We tell the audience that we know these women are beautiful but you can only watch, you can’t touch, and that’s it.
For me, being a person who has been sexually harassed and assaulted– I’m a survivor of that. You would think that I would not produce a show like this, but I just feel that it gave me more confidence to express how I really feel. As a black woman, I don’t feel that the media portrays us in a way that we’re sensual. It’s either very ratchet or it could be very sexual and there’s no meaning behind it. There’s a meaning behind our sexuality and our sensuality. Each piece in our show relates to something. It could be where a girl doesn’t feel that she’s beautiful enough, or it could be a piece about a woman who likes to please herself [on her own]. Sometimes we have pieces where we talk about [us being] in charge and the men are submissive. I usually portray women in a dominant way to also help our audience feel that super power when they see a woman being dominant. That’s what I want my women to feel when they’re coming to these shows, as well as men looking at that woman in a creative way and not just a sexual way.
FM: Does Art of Legohn offer any classes or instruction?
YL: Yes. With the show specifically, I offer burlesque workshops where we focus on women and their confidence and being sassy, as well as training in heels. Then we’re producing an event called Dancehall Battle NYC where you get dancehall training for first half of the day, and then the second half of the day is a battle.We also do triple-threat workshops where I have our company members teach our students the styles that they’re more confident in and strong in. We have a person that may teach contemporary, we will have another dancer who can teach jazz, or switch it up with hip-hop or afrobeat.
FM: What or who inspires you as a businesswoman?
YL: Both my grandmothers have inspired me as a business woman. They’re the first people that taught how to save money. They would give me money and be like, “Make sure you don’t spend it all.” I would put it away. My grandmother was a nurse– a single woman, and she raised two kids– and then she has seven grandchildren. My other grandmother was from Mississippi. She moved to Los Angeles when she was 14, and she ended up owning property and giving apartments to low-income housing. I watched my grandmothers make work for their families, so that was a big inspiration for me.
I used to sell candy when I was a kid to make my own money. Plus, I’m the oldest of seven, so being the big sister you have to sacrifice. I started writing my own contracts at 15; I would choreograph for different cheerleading squads– different schools would call me in to choreograph for them. It’s just always been a part of my upbringing. Being a businesswoman has been inspired by watching the women in my family.
FM: What’s next for you and the business?
YL: We have our burlesque workshop coming up in December; we’re going to be publishing our calendar for 2019. We have the “Wine & Grind Dancehall Party” in November. Our next burlesque show after this will be for Valentine’s week in February. Right after this show, we’ll be in rehearsals for that. We have our dancehall battle in March. Then we have a few choreography projects that we’re working on through the company at the same time.
Hosted by multifaceted entertainer Shernita Anderson, “Red Light Special: A Night Of Urban Burlesque” features sounds by DJ Hard Hittin Harry, and begins at 7 p.m. on Sunday. The theme is “50 Shades of Red,” and all guests are invited to wear their favorite shade of the sultry hue. Tickets are available now on Eventbrite. More information on Art of Legohn is available on their website, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook.
Watch: “Red Light Special: A Night Of Urban Burlesque” teaser
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