Seven Questions with LaTissa ChaNellé

Published Thu, Oct 18, 2012 01:37 PM
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LaTissa ChaNelle' Courtesy of James Williams of Inergee Studios

Submitted by Mike Williams — Managing Editor (@imikewilliams)

Whether you know her as LaTissa Davis or as LaTissa ChaNellé (her model name), you know the 20-something Leland native likes to express herself. And if you don’t know her, you will.

In high school, cheerleading was her focus. Then, while studying at UNC-Chapel Hill, she turned to dance and choreography. After graduating, she started modeling. Now, well, it’s a little bit of all three. Aside from modeling, she teaches dance at Dancers Pointe Academy in Apex. And don’t dare think of her as a "promiscuous exotic dancer" or "ditzy cheerleader." She’ll gladly tell you otherwise.

"I think people just forget there are other avenues of dance other than being a cheerleader or being on a pole," she says. "When I tell people that I’m a dancer, the response is either, 'You’re an exotic dancer?' or '[Are] you a dancer like the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders?' [When] I explain to them what I really do and what I’ve accomplished, they’re usually impressed."

Here are my seven questions with LaTissa ChaNellé.

Q: You were the captain of your cheerleading squad in high school. How did you go from cheering to doing dance and choreography while at UNC?

I transitioned mentally from cheerleading to dance during my senior year of high school. As captain of our varsity squad, I had a direct hand at developing our team’s dance style. Choreographing hip-hop for the team renewed my love of dance, so I decided to retire from cheering at the old age of 17 and focus on dance during college. I joined Blank Canvas dance company my freshman year, a group that focused on teaching various dance styles in addition to performance. Through them I was finally able to learn jazz, ballet and modern, and I fell in love with dance even more. There was no turning back for me!

Q: Being a choreographer must be tough because your subjects have to perform what you put together. Ever get frustrated that your vision for a piece isn’t what you set out for it to be?

Honestly ... I still do! I hear this song, and I’ll know exactly what I want the dance to look like. In the beginning, it would frustrate me when a dance didn’t look exactly the way I envisioned it – maybe the dancers couldn’t do the moves right, or I’d have to redo parts because they were too fast or too slow for the music. But I’ve learned that sometimes you have to adjust your “perfect vision” to convey the true message that you want to get across to your audience. Just because the dance moves don’t look the way they did in my mind doesn’t mean that the message isn’t there. In the end, it’s all about compromising for the great good.

Q: Best experience as a choreographer?

I would say my best experience is the first time I was ever allowed to choreograph. My junior year of high school, I asked our coach if I could choreograph a cheer and dance combo routine for us. She gave me permission, and I started worrying: Would my teammates listen to what I had to say? Would it look right? What if they all hate it? In the end, the team embraced the routine and loved it! The coach decided to use it as the base of our National Cheerleader Association Regionals routine, which meant my choreography was seen by thousands of cheerleaders and coaches across the state. It was an overwhelming experience, not only to have my first routine used in such a way, but to know that others were confident enough in my abilities to take a chance on me.

Q: You’ve worked with several groups like the Lady Knights, Carolina Bengals and Lady Jaguars. Was there a difference in the type of dance routines those groups performed?

Each group had the same to principles – be entertaining and sexy! – but they each conveyed it a different way. The Lady Knights and the Carolina Bengals were dancers for football teams, so they incorporated a cheer element in their performance. The Lady Knights had more of a college HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) cheer style, with lots of stepping, hip sways and strong-arm movements. The Carolina Bengals used more of a hip-hop dance style on the sidelines as opposed to cheering. The Lady Jaguars were unique — they were able to do really intricate hip-hop routines and sideline dances because they danced indoors for a basketball league. But, overall, all the teams relied on precise dancing and lively facial expressions to really engage the crowd.

Q: You started modeling in 2007. What was the transition like from cheering and dancing? Any similarities?

I was actually introduced to modeling through dance. When I joined the Carolina Bombshells semi-pro dance team, the director wanted to market our looks as well as dance abilities. We did numerous appearances, magazine shoots and flyers all over the state. The transition was smooth for me because modeling felt like a natural next step from dance. Both involve an acting element; you have to use your facial expressions and body language to get your statement across. You also have to have self-confidence when doing both and there’s no room for insecurities.

Q: Moving on to modeling. What type of preparation goes into a photo shoot other than hair and makeup?

Most people think that a model just shows up somewhere, puts on clothes, and stands around being pretty. Definitely not the case! A lot of shoots I’m involved in are a collaboration of ideas between myself, the photographer and the client that will use the finished product. We discuss — at length — the looks, themes, and locations we want to utilize, and what the shots should look like. Everyone is working towards one goal: to make sure we get that one photo that exemplifies the statement we want conveyed. The night before a shoot I make sure to pack all of the outfits, jewelry, accessories and shoes I could possibly need. Also that my hair, nails, and skin are photo-ready, and I get plenty of sleep. On shoot day, you’re running around with numerous people making clothing decisions, doing hair and make-up, figuring out lighting, etc., so you need all of your strength. A shoot could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, so you have to stay focused, do your job and keep a professional attitude.

Q: Aside from your own career, you’re an instructor at Dancers Pointe Academy in Apex. What kind of work ethic do you try to teach the younger girls while they learn ballet and tap?

I try to teach these dancers a work ethic that is based on respect — respect for their dancemates, choreographers and the directors that will ultimately hire them. I want these students to learn how to respect their bodies and talent by training constantly to keep them at the top of their level. I want them to respect their choreographer’s vision and not question what is being asked of them [when it comes to routines]. I want them to respect a person that gives them constructive criticism without being insecure or combative. These principles will help them become great dance professionals. Directors want to see that you have the respect and graciousness to learn from others so you can bring a their vision to life. Respecting others is the only way to continue to grow and learn as a dancer.

Q: What’s your next move? You’ve done a lot in the industry already so what now?

Luckily, the entertainment industry is always evolving, so new opportunities are popping up all the time! I’m working with a few recording artists in the Triangle on choreography for upcoming shows, which has sparked my interest in creative directing. An artist’s stage presence and choreography style are very important for their career, and I would love to delve into that more. I’m refocusing on my modeling this fall by launching a new website and working with photographers to gain exposure in fashion and urban markets in larger cities. I’m also working with LP Models to start developing my own shoot ideas and runway scenes, which is all very new and exciting.

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