‘I dance because it’s what I feel’: Montreal tap dancer to compete on Quebec talk show

Jackson, 31, pictured above, has performed at Montreal's Jazzfest, at the Vancouver Winter Olympics opening ceremonies and on various tv shows. Photo courtesy Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson says he has been dancing for as long as he can remember.

“My mother always told me that she would put headphones on her pregnant belly and would feel my feet go nuts kicking her.”

At 31 years old, the Montrealer from the Sud-Ouest — born in Little Burgundy and raised in Pointe-Saint-Charles — is set to perform on Quebec media host Julie Snyder’s Noovo network talk show La semaine des 4 Julie on Wednesday evening.

The performance will compete with several others, and the audience at home will vote on who they want to see continue on until there is one finalist who wins the grand prize — money.

Jackson says his performance will be “tap, but hip-hop and afro-infused,” honouring his heritage. His mother is from Trinidad and his father is from Jamaica.

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“I grew up in a very rhythmic family. Music was always on; I was always dancing.”

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The dancer says growing up, Saturdays and Sundays were days where he would help his parents out around the house while they played Marvin Gaye, Etta James and reggae — music that he calls “the good stuff.”

Jackson got his first paying gig at 10 years old, dancing for a PBS segment that would air during Callou, the cartoon. “I started so young and I’m not sure I was fully equipped to deal with the industry.”

Jackson describes the dance industry as toxic, competitive, unsupportive and unkind. When he was a teenager, teaching a dance class for young kids, he says he would hear the parents insult him.

“It was hurtful,” he said. “It hurt me.”

Jackson went on to train at the Ethel Bruneau dance studio in Montreal and then spent time living in both Toronto and New York, where he continued training and taking classes.

He performed at the Vancouver Winter Olympics opening ceremonies, on The Wendy Williams Show, at the Jazzfest along with Quebec artist Ariane Moffatt, on several TVA and TV5 tv shows and on three seasons of So You Think You Can Dance Canada.

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“Out of 14,000 dancers I made it to the top 100 and then the top 40, twice,” he said.

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Jackson has also done Black History Month presentations in schools, like Dawson College, where he would talk about the history of tap dance.

“Tap dance has African roots, but it’s been shared and remixed with various cultures, like Irish, but it’s done by so many cultures.”

Despite stepping back from the industry several times due to what he described as its toxicity, Jackson said he never stopped dancing.

“I dance because it’s what I feel, it comes naturally to me. It’s self expression and it’s therapeutic, when done on the right days,” he says.

“Dancing and music gets people out of all bad times, but I’m talking about the old time good stuff,” he said. “Music that tells good stories that are more than just about money and nice bodies.”

You can watch his performance on Wednesday evening at 9 p.m. on Noovo.

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