Changing the Game for Dance Creatives : A Q&A with the Talented Taja Riley
For Taja Riley (she/he/they), Black Girl Magic isn’t just a trend phrase, it’s the style of their life. The talented dancer artist-athlete successfully spearheaded a movement (on behalf of as many as 400 performers!) to ensure that all dancers for the halftime show of football’s biggest game of the year got fully compensated for their time and energy. [Source: Dance Magazine] Inspired by music that embodies a feminine essence, Taja believes the people they need closest to them are the ones that directly align with their values.
We’re raising a glass of Black Girl Magic Sparkling Brut to celebrate Women’s History Month with this incredibly talented artist who is pursuing a better future “where dancers are valued and the dance community as a whole is elevated.”
Dress : @openingceremony
Tell us about your business and what inspired you to start.
My Business is people, and using my movement to connect to/with/for them. God made me realize why I have these gifts, and it forever inspires me that he trusted me enough with the responsibility of being here for the reasons I am. I’m inspired by the fact that I get to uncover more and more of that full picture. Some call my business by the words of “advocacy”, or “Entertainment”, but I try to widen the net when I’m asked because I don’t want to limit my capabilities to expand on what I hope my business here will bring me, which is a meaningful legacy.
Who inspired you to break the rules or think beyond them as women in your industry?
Ah. Easy. Mom. Sisters. The most powerful mentors in my life, are in my blood. IYKYK
I am so geeked up that I get to love on these women, and keep them close to me as examples. Besides them as the top shelf, I find myself inspired by music that embodies a feminine essence. They may not always be women, but the spirit guides me to believe in the empowering building blocks in musical sequences, that add extra hip to my walk, or depth in my tone, more groundedness in the way I make my daily choices. I think you can tell a lot about the type of power a woman has by her music taste. As for rules, I think my mom would affirm that I’ve been hard headed since I came out the womb.
Custom Dress: Cameron Willie
Headdress: Gifted custom piece
How does your sisterhood - friends, family, and colleagues - support you personally and professionally?
To expand on previous sentiments, I’m totally in transition right now in learning what kind of support I need personally and professionally. I set some boundaries earlier this year and had to keep it real with a lot of friends that weren’t supporting me in the way that I felt would be beneficial — not really for myself, but more so for the way I want to and choose to serve my community. I understood last year (towards the end) that some of the things I tackle have been trying on the body, mind, and soul. At the end of a day combined with Advocacy, Career Developments, and my Mental health balance, the people I need closest to me are the ones that directly align with my values. They don’t need to agree with what I do or how I do it, but they need to have a voice to speak up on whatever it is that will be productive in the growth of continuing my journey.
Support for me is keeping it real, and doing it with style. Support is praying with me, and praying for me. support is loving me til I’m me again. Support is being someone I can look to for inspiration, empowerment, and insight through the experience you're having because you doin’ the thug thizzle in your corner of the world. I noticed how sensitive I was to that after the harder days and how keeping this kind of company now has made a huge difference for my spiritual fuel, and my emotional well-being. Spiritual stamina is a thing, and I’m tryna skate this advocacy pavement like sha’carri Richardson.
What does Black Girl Magic mean to you?
It means so many things. I think that hearing that phrase is equal to the smell of my grand mom’s soul food. Hearing that phrase takes me to a montage filled of visual poetry, slow swaying hips, bright dimpled smiles, Sunday school double Dutch hearts, tree swings. It makes me think of riding in the back of my moms car after a competition weekend, listening to Jill Scott, Mary Mary, India.arie. Musical performances with my sisters on holidays.
Black Girl Magic isn’t just a trend phrase, it’s the Style of my life. It’s the curation of my roots. It’s the respectful nod to all the sisters that are and we’re before me. I feel proud and honored to possess it, and I am happy to continue presenting and spreading that type of matter everyday. Black girl magic is the black girl's inner anthem, affirming how tall and powerful our essence stands. As an individual + as a collective group/class of black spiritual warriors.
What goals would you like to achieve this year to advance yourself and your business?
Dang. I am sooo ambitious, but building Rome in a day for my dance industry, too much to ask? Hahaha.
Truly it would be amazing to finish out the year feeling that everyone is involved + active in the discussion to rectify the current inequitable treatment for dance creatives. Since I’m only in control of me, I hope that I can remain consistent with growing in my journey to serve my dance community in every aspect of the Entertainment mountain: directing, supervising, educating, motivating through speech, modeling as an example, using my gifts to perform in all creative mediums, and becoming an experienced or knowledgeable mother in the ideas birthed or implanted in my mind, heart, soul, and brought to life through my work.
No pressure lol.
What’s your favorite Black Girl Magic Wine?
Definitely saved the hardest question for last. I see you.
Favorite Black Girl Magic Wine: might have to go with that Black Girl Magic Sparkling Brut, which is crazy because I’m more of a UB40 song. I guess I’m evolving?
Creative Direction: taja Riley @tajariley
Photo: Lee GUMBS @leegumbs.photography
Bts Videography : Sevyn Eutsler @sevyn9000
Hair : Lucy Romero @braidqueenla
Makeup : Draco @drvco