Updated: Dec 1, 2020
“This was the first year I set goals for myself and wasn’t able to meet all of them,” Iziegbe “Izzy” Odigie told me as I sat down with her for Amplify Africa. 2020 has undoubtedly been a challenging year for all of us, filled with despair and disappointment. The global pandemic has brought much uncertainty that has resulted in goals and projects being cancelled for many.
For some however, this year has served as an unexpected opportunity to accomplish goals that have long been pushed aside. For Nigerian dancer Izzy, this time allowed her to complete her newly released dance film, Iziegbe, which is an embodiment of her and her emotions as well as a tribute to the people in her life who have supported her, aided in her growth and been a source of inspiration for her. When I met with Odigie (virtually, of course), we discussed how she discovered her gift for dancing, her journey to becoming a prominent name in the world of Afrobeats and dance, the inspiration behind her first dance film, and the best advice she would offer to young creatives.
Odigie was born in Brooklyn, NY but raised in Nigeria where she attended boarding school. This was where she first discovered her natural gift for dancing, during school devotions. While praising the Lord, a senior recognized her natural talent and encouraged Odigie to participate in dance competitions which she dominated. Even then, she didn’t view dance as a career path, but rather a social tool searching for dance teams in every place she lived. Hip-hop was always Odigie's first love, though she is also trained in ballet, modern and jazz. It was after she returned to America and was attending college in New York that she discovered and fell in love with Afrobeats.
While in college, Odigie was part of a dance collective where she established her committed work ethic, seeking out shows to perform at as she built her platform and her brand. We all know that in general, African parents aspire for their children to become doctors, lawyers or engineers. When I told this to Odigie she laughed and said that her parents had no idea she was pursuing dance, and they didn't know until she had established quite the following. Their friends had been following Odigie's dance videos on Facebook and were already fans of hers by the time they shared the videos with her parents. Seeing she had attained a level of success, her parents made the decision to invest in her and support her dreams.
For the last six years, Odigie has been grinding hard to establish her name in the world of dance. Together with her dance team, she dominated the New York scene by performing at endless events and opening multiple shows and concerts. In 2017 she reached out to Kaffy, a choreographer she greatly admires and she volunteered to be a part of the One Africa Fest crew. That afforded her the opportunity to then perform with Tiwa Savage at Budweiser's Made in America Festival. "As my resume grew, so did my referrals," Odigie shared that she went on to perform with Mr. Eazi who needed a choreographer and dancers for his set at the TIDAL x Brooklyn annual benefit concert at the Barclays Center.
When I asked Odigie some obstacles that she has had to overcome on her path to success she said, "as a woman, one of the main things is having to constantly prove myself." When she was starting out she would perform for very small payments, but building her brand has put her in a position to be able to ask for what she and the other dancers deserve.
Naturally, Odigie's love of dance stems from her love of music. "The best way to interpret music is to learn the dance," she tells me as she explains that if you listen to South African music, then you will understand why South Africans dance the way they do. "When I hear music that I love I am inspired to learn the dances that accompany the songs." The music leads her to different styles of dance and she infuses herself into the movements, allowing her interpretation of the music to guide her.
In the last six years of her dancing professionally, Odigie has had many memorable moments. She shared one in particular with me, of the time she performed with Burna Boy on the infamous Apollo Theater stage where she showed off her impressive zanku during "Killin' Dem."
Another memorable moment Odigie shared is when she was the first Afrobeat dancer to go on tour in Japan. It was an experience that sort of fell in her lap but she grasped it with both hands not letting fear stop her from making the most of the opportunity. In fact, Odigie was set to go on a 2020 world dance tour to Europe, Asia, Africa, North and South America which was sadly halted due to the coronavirus. However, being a creative that draws inspiration from what is happening around her, she used this as a time to create her newly released dance film, Iziegbe.
The project is named after herself, and Iziegbe means patience in the Benin language. "We all have to exercise patience, but that has been especially true this year," she said. The focus of Iziege is to express gratitude to the people closest to her. The film features 5 visuals: Daffodil, Rose, Tulip, Violet and Iris - all of which represent her handing the special people in her life their flowers as she thanks them for the role they have played in her growth. Each flower has its own room on the website and is dedicated to specific people in her life. For example, Daffodil is a tribute to all the men in Odigie's life that have consistently inspired and supported her.
When I asked Odigie where she sees herself in the next 5-10 years, she said that amongst many things, she sees herself touring consistently and accomplishing one of her biggest aspirations which is to create her own dance festival.
Odigie is committed to her career in dance and that is because she found her own lane. When she first started dancing she saw no future in hip-hop because she felt like a tiny fish in a ginormous ocean. "When I discovered Afro Dance I was combining who I am with what I love to do." As we wrapped up our interview, Odigie told me that the best piece of advice she has to offer is to find your voice, your truth and to be yourself. "There is more than enough space for everybody to strive."