Esie Mensah - Dancer, Model, Choreographer, Teacher - professional accolades of which allude to the character of the woman, and yet not nearly enough. True to the essence of this interview, all things must remain true being the silent mantra; of which drives aspirations, and in truth, little was known of Esie Mensah, to Whispermaze, and not so much catching attention, more gripping such a scope, upon digging for character and substance Whispermaze has indeed unearthed a gem, in the shape of Esie Mensah. Esie was born and raised in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and when such information alludes to place and environment of birth, Esie Mensah of the Ewe tribe from Ghana and Togo, we are referring to her ever present African culture. She has appeared in Walt Disney’s films “Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam”, South African musical Umoja, and most recently Toronto’s Luminato Festival Apocalypsis, an opera with a cast of 1000 artists directed by Lemi Ponifasio head of the MAU company in New Zealand. Esie is co-choreographing for the Victory ceremonies as a part of Panamania at the Pan Am Games happening in Toronto this July/August. Commercially Esie has worked with artists such as Janelle Monae, Flo Rida, Nelly Furtado, Deborah Cox, Mariana’s Trench and many more. Esie is the founder and director of Black Stars, an elite Afrofusion dance company that is committed to bringing a unique and fresh face to Contemporary African dance across the globe. Her company has worked with FIFA Canada, TIFF, We Day, Afrofest, Black Canadian Awards and more. Her commanding and, often enchanting stage presence is what they are because Esie remains true to her artistry, solely born out of her dedication to her craft. Esie Mensah -African and Contemporary - a true giver of her art through the means of dance.
How long have you been dancing?
I have been dancing professionally for eight years, but I’ve been dancing since I was a kid.
“What got you into dancing?”
To choose dance it as a career, was rooted in the choice to be happy. I didn’t want to hate my job or question my major halfway through school as I did. Dancing was the only thing that made me happy, and that was my impetus to then carry it onto a career.
“And you say happy, what do you mean when you say happy, can you elaborate on that?"
At university I was doing a double major of Women’s Studies and Cultural Studies and just like any student you’re not always succeeding, you struggle a bit, and eventually I said to myself I can’t do this anymore, my heart was looking for a change and the only thing my heart gravitated towards was dance. I wanted a change, I wanted something I could see myself doing long term and dance was the answer at the time, I really didn’t have any formal dance training, and going into dance was a big challenge to see whether I could even make it, in the end I hoped that if I was good enough, maybe I can turn it into a career, and that’s basically where it all started.
“And taking your, how can we say, your clinical look at dancing in retrospect, what are some of the goals for dancing, for you?"
I always felt I’d make a difference in my community, even from when I was younger I felt that God had given me a specific voice, so, with that voice I was going to speak, and say the things that were on my mind, I began to realise that my voice would be one strong enough to voice the issues that surrounded me.
People seem to wonder how or why I do certain things without “fear” or hesitation. I realised that my spirit guides me towards things, and I follow, and I don’t realise the weight of me “going there”, or doing certain things until I’m in the midst of it or after they’re done, or while I’m doing it. For example: I said to myself, with my dance/theatre play I wrote a few years ago I couldn’t put on the show without having gone to Ghana, and for about 2 years I attempted to do the show without fulfilling that promise, now I’ve ventured to Ghana and to London this year, and I’m finally seeing my play Akoma come to life, I didn’t realise on a sub conscious level how these thoughts played out, after going to Ghana, it was only then I realised I needed to be here, to see it, feel it so I could write about it properly, and now this dream is finally coming true, because I have a proper foundation to write on.
“So what has your experiences, as a dancer, taught you, as a dancer, as a human being?"
I feel that my time in dance has taught me…who I really am, it’s through dance that I was able to understand what my life’s purpose is, I understand how I can give back to this world, how my art can really lend to making a difference and inspire people, I am here to inspire people, through conversations, as a teacher, student, artists, etc, and it’s as simple as that, sometimes you are unsure of yourself but once you accept the true pieces of which you are the people around you start ,and the minute I decided to affirm it as well that is when you know the universe and you are working together towards the same things, dance gave me a new life, and it’s that vision that has completely transformed my life.
“What are the hardest things you personally had to, have to face as a dancer?”
It can be two fold, or seen in two different ways. Part of it, for me, was accepting rejection, because the entertainment industry, is a rejection industry, you accept rejection a lot more than acceptance, you have to get used to that, and it got to the point in the commercial world where I felt there was no way I would quit, but it was hard for me to see myself continue down this path. From that rejection once I started down the path I was meant to be on it turned into a fear of accepting what God has in store for me, and the weight of this fear kept me scared for a long time, accepting who I am was one of the hardest things I ever had to do., you need to accept the things inside of you of which you can’t let go, as a result of accepting that you excel, you must accept who you are, and the weight of your path in order for your spirit to truly be free.
"So, how would Esie like to be known, for example if I had the opportunity to put on a show, and needed a dancer, why would I pick Esie?"
Well, you would pick me because I am different, I’ve always been different from the rest, you know, I’m a dark-skinned girl in the industry…
"...Is that a factor?"
Oh gosh yes! For example, in writing, it’s the words that you present that people see. If you have a “white” name like ‘John Smith’, or ‘Karen Andrews’, people aren’t thinking there is a black person behind this title, in dance, all I have is me, my physical self is my brand, and when they see me you then decide if you want me, this is the base of the commercial industry, understanding that my colour was going to be a factor I said to myself early on; I have to be so good that ‘they’ cannot ignore me, that was my way of dealing with discrimination, I told myself I wanted to be so good that they can’t tell me I’m “too dark” for the part, and these things hurt, and are the pills you have to swallow but at the same time these situations help me appreciate my blackness even more, it translates into how I bring my heritage, my Africaness; the things that make me Ghanaian, the things that make me Togolese.
“So what for the future, for Esie Mensah?”
Ahhhhh, for me, I guess for the future the sky is the limit, regarding the play it’s always been my vision to tour Akoma around the world, bringing the play to different countries, especially in London where I think a lot of people will relate to it as it speaks about an immigrant’s story, and his or her issue with deciding to return to his home or choosing to stay abroad. I wish to create more of a union and connection between the African diaspora and the continent through the arts, when for me both places are separated and very disconnected, I pray this show and many more can be the hope that will speak through our work so we can connect people to have a conversation of change.
"Well, it’s been an absolute pleasure speaking with you".
“Thank you for reaching out”.