Fly Lady Di Interview
by @IamJamesMatthew (Matthew J)
What’s up, Diana. Rather than have me introduce you and muddle up your story, I’d like for you to introduce yourself to the readers and let them know who exactly is Fly Lady Di. Educate them, Diana.
FLY LADY DI: Fly Lady Di is a Canadian-born artist based in Toronto from Filipino parents raised in the middle class suburb of Markham, ON. She is an alter ego of Diana Reyes, the actor, dancer and visual artist known for street dancing and live painting. FLD is an artist through and through, also known for being a fashionista who JDGAF (just don’t give a fuck – *haha*). She’s a tomboy, an academic, an indigenous queen, an artistic rebel and a fly girl. She is DISCO*CUBIST – meaning that she is a vessel through which different perspectives are filtered at once. She’s probably one of the first (if not THE first) Filipina-Canadian woman you will hear about making waves as an artist of different genres.
As much as we find ourselves living in the supposed “post-racial world”, the fact remains that euro centric ideals of culture, beauty, and life are the prevailing images we are bombarded with. Being Filipino and finding yourself in a prominent role (teacher/role model), how important is for you to represent Filipino culture? **Obviously, due to you recognizable status, as a dancer, you have the pressure of being a “leader” for your people; I want to know how do you deal with that/factor that into your life? Does any of that ever cross your mind?
FLY LADY DI: These are great questions. Whenever I hear someone who is becoming increasingly famous answer the question of what it is to be a role model with, “I can only represent myself, not everyone who looks like me or is where I’m from,” I can’t help but feel the same way. There is no way one person can represent an entire diaspora, they can only represent themselves the best way they can in hopes that the messages they are spreading are well received and in good taste. With that being said, I feel like it is important for me to know who I am, where my roots are and my ancestry as I know that being in any way ‘notorious’ inherently does mean that I represent the people of where I’m ‘from’. So I do find it important, but it’s also important for people to know that I’m Canadian, and my roots are here and will always be here. Lastly, I can only be a leader to myself, if it so happens that people take heed to what I represent, then that’s a great thing, but I think it would be pompous of me to say that I am a leader of a particular group of people. Maybe a leader in the sense that I would like to attempt the impossible as an artist, or that I’m breaking ground as a woman of colour, but not much else.
I don’t necessarily want to put you in a position of be the “spokeswoman” for Filipinos and other people of colour, however, your life-experiences, thus far, have given you a lot of insight which can be very useful to helping them accomplish their goals. So with that being said, I want to ask what advice/knowledge would you impart in the lives of those people who find themselves at a “disadvantage” due to their uniqueness in a world which does not always provide equal opportunities?
FLY LADY DI: The answer to this is very simple. Be the very best at what you do, no matter what. Know what the rules are to the game you’re playing, play the(ir) game and then break the rules. Sometimes, because it’s harder for us as people of colour, we have to go above and beyond ourselves, our limits, to exceed the successes of people who may be more ‘advantageous’ than us. So work your hardest and be the best – so that you can’t give anyone an opportunity to tell you ‘no’. Be undeniable.
I want you to talk about JUMP OFF and how the event came into existence. Who is involved in the project and what is its mission statement?
FLY LADY DI: The Jump Off Dance Battle came to be when my good friend and collaborator Jojo Dancer and I met up at a coffee shop one day to discuss our plans and he asked me what I thought about putting together a dance battle and workshop, bringing our dance family from New York to Toronto for the first time. I thought it was a great idea and since then we’ve been partners and have had 2 successful battles and workshops together. It’s been fun, but a lot of work. The mission behind TJOB is to expose the genres of House Dance and Waacking to larger audience in order to gain more recognition and praise. Jojo and I work with House and Waacking respectively and sometimes feel that they are two underserved dance genres because they aren’t always the most ‘lucrative’ styles to learn – meaning there’s not a lot of work generated from knowing them. We want to, above anything, serve the art form and also PRESERVE the art form by giving our dancers the original pioneers of these styles to impart their history and mastery.
I want to congratulate you on being featured in a recent issue of Chatelaine Magazine; that is huge accomplishment, especially within Canada, where the magazine is iconic. Now, for those who do not know the background story (or may not read the publication), what is the significance of that particular feature, in the publication, and secondly, what does it mean to you, personally?
FLY LADY DI: The significance behind being featured in Chatelaine Magazine as Ms. Chatelaine is that in the 82 years the magazine’s been in existence, I am the first Filipina to be featured in that section. This makes me ecstatic not only as a Filipina but as a Canadian woman, representing the diversity of my home country. Also, I’ve had a fair share of press – there was a time in New York when I went to Barnes and Noble and opened 5 magazines at once which featured me – but being in Chatelaine means a lot because it’s literally the #1 woman’s magazine in Canada. I know that for sure because several people from age 30 to 70 have come up to me saying that they’ve seen the article, or that their Mom subscribes to it, and so on. I feel like I’ve gained a bit more respect from older white woman, which is interesting because I often feel regarded by them as someone ‘lesser’ or undeserving of that kind of attention. But now with this article, I get all kinds of greetings from women I’ve never met before in my life all of the sudden saying my article should be framed and in the dance studios I teach at!
I want to switch gears a bit, and talk about motivation, as I’m interested in learning about an individual’s ability to find a breakthrough in life: Delays are not denials, and although they may appear to be similar, many people tend to get discouraged and see a setback as being proof that a dream/goal cannot be reached. I want to ask you, what motivates to keep going? You are in a highly competitive environment, and I have no doubts there are times when obstacles may look insurmountable. How do maintain you drive to succeed? Where does the inner-strength come from?
FLY LADY DI: The goal is really the motivation. Because I am competitive by nature (I get a kick out of being among the best), I tend to create missions for myself that are seemingly impossible. For example, my current goal is to be a lead in a series – when has such a role been given to a woman of colour? Or to be more particular, when has an Asian woman held a lead role? The way things are set up, it does seem impossible (or unlikely), but it can happen! It will!
Acting, painting, dancing, and writing (blogging) are some of the different hats you wear; in essence, you are a modern-day Renaissance woman. I want to know more about your motivation to pursue all of these art forms came from. You mentioned it being “the goal” but I wonder what drives you – towards “the goal”- and keeps you wanting to expand your [artistic] resume?
FLY LADY DI: Like a lot of notable people, many of my endeavours never came with a plan. I tend to become restless easily; I have a lot of interests, so I often take it upon myself to learn as much as I can about something new and then use it to express myself. As an artist of multiple facets, it’s fun to find new outlets, and rediscover old ones, too; especially the ones I’ve been fostering since childhood. I guess the motivation comes from expression and keeping things fresh.
I want to go a bit further with the “expansion of your resume”: You have established yourself as a dancer, and are recognized as one of the top performers in Canada. A lot of people would stay in that lane, but recently you made the choice to get involved in acting and music (DJing). What is about acting that peeked your interest, and what is it you hope to achieve with this medium?
FLY LADY DI: I really chose acting because as an artist I want to use my face, body, and voice to express myself further. Acting is a different ball of wax! Using your voice to express yourself along with text is a good challenge for me because I’m so used to using my body only. I want to represent women of colour and I feel there aren’t enough of us being presented in the acting world — especially Asian women, which I mentioned earlier.
I mentioned DJing, in the last question, but didn’t get to ask an actual question about that career. I want to know the story behind your move to become a DJ. Obviously, music has close-ties to your dance background, but what made you want to get behind the turntables and spin?
FLY LADY DI: It actually all happened by accident. At my birthday party, a good friend of mine, who was playing music, had to go to the bathroom so he gave he a flash course on how to use the program he had and so I started playing. I started playing music and the people were really feeling it. This happened again, another time, when my DJ crew and I (The Vortex) were playing at our monthly party at Cold Tea Bar in Kensington. At first, I was kind of scared and somewhat hesitant to play – being a neophyte and all – but once I started to perform, everything turned out to really well. Afterwards, I was getting compliments and people were asking for business cards. From that point on, I decided to get focused and learn how to play for real. My cousin DJ C-Note, who has been deejaying for 23 yrs , helped teach me the basics, and that is how I learned to mix-music on wax and Serato. It’s still a learning process but I am getting better and better. Not to brag (too much *haha*), but I am being booked to perform at some pretty dope gigs. It’s a really cool blessing, which came out of nowhere; all stemming from my 31st birthday. As for my “DJ name”; like all of my performance names, I use “Fly Lady Di”, just to keep the brand consistent. I also like “DJ Short Stack” as well, *haha*, but Lady Di is the one I’ll stick with. My typical playlist consists R&B and House (obviously), as well as Hip Hop from the 90’s up to now. Of course, Funk is fun to play, too – it gets the crowd excited. I have also been getting a lot of support from some DJs whom I have looked up to for years – such as DJ Spinna and the legendary Bobbito Garcia. It’s honor to be recognized by people you hold in high-esteem. It’s a blessing.
At which venues are people most likely to catch one of your DJ performances?
FLY LADY DI: As I mentioned earlier, I have a monthly party, on Sundays, at the Cold Tea Bar in the Kensington Market (60 Kensington Ave. Toronto, Ontario). When possible, I do the odd show with my crew The Vortex (Jojo Dancer Zolina and MC Illa Brown are my cohorts). I also play at Happy Child, and I recently played House music at the cypher floor during the 2013 Manifesto Festival, in September. I’m proud to say I have a lot of gigs lined-up, at the moment, so it’s hard to remember everything (laughing) *smiles*.
Thus far, what would you say has been the biggest honor for you, in relations to your art?
FLY LADY DI: Probably having my work hang in a group show at the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest esteems of my career. Being featured on CBC a number of times and Ms. Chatelaine isn’t bad for national recognition either. But, I’ve been going to the AGO to look at art since I was a kid, so to have my work hang there and to say on my resume that I’ve shown there is a big deal for me.
Currently, you live between Toronto and NY, and know it is subjective to compare and contrast the two cities, yet I am curious to know how (if in any way) the two cities have benefited your work? Obviously, they provide different opportunities regarding exposure and creativity; tell me what the cities have meant to you/your career?
FLY LADY DI: Well I’d be remiss to say that both cities didn’t have any impact on me as an artist. They both absolutely did. At this point, I’ll have equally lived in both cities for the same amount of time, maybe longer in Toronto. It had been my childhood dream, growing up, to live and flourish in The Big Apple, and when it happened to me it was as if I was just living my destiny or claiming what was already mine.
New York benefitted my work in that it’s the media capitol of the planet, and so that most of what I did got automatic international exposure. Also it didn’t take much for people to put me in numerous print magazines from here to Tokyo, because the access was just that great and that easy. I also built relationships with people who worked at magazines, which gave me the chance to appear numerous times in most of the magazines I was featured in. And also, being around a lot of hyper-cool likeminded artists didn’t hurt either as I collaborated with ones I felt I could exchange with on a certain frequency. That is something I have yet to find here in Toronto, although there are tons of amazing artists here too.
Toronto benefits my work in that it’s home and the more work I pump out the more I get to represent Toronto – a city that has been under recognized for so long and ‘at the brink of an orgasm’ for years. I feel like now we are finally starting to get love and have our own identity and be comfortable with ourselves instead of looking to other cities like New York or LA to see what’s cool. So hence everything that I do, whenever I become recognized for it based in Toronto, automatically gives Toronto more recognition as the place to be!
Shout-outs? Any individuals you’d like to salute? Do you have any final words to share before we go?
FLY LADY DI: I, of course, wanna give big ups to my beloved Big Norm, for being by my side even before we got together. He has been my cheerleader since day one and I hope to be the same for him as an entertainer. If it wasn’t for Norm introducing me to everyone in Toronto, I wouldn’t have known anyone and I wouldn’t have felt as ‘at home’ here as I do now. I felt like such an alien when I moved back here from Brooklyn years ago, but now it feels like home. And final words, racism is wack, don’t do it bro!