My Folklore: Afro-Fusion Dancer Izzy Odigie on the Expressive Power of Performance Art
Born in Brooklyn in New York but raised in Nigeria in West Africa, Iziegbe “Izzy” Odigie is a dancer and choreographer who captivates global audiences with her undeniable rhythm and fierce moves. Odigie, 25, first discovered her natural gift for dance at school, where her talent was noticed by a friend, who then encouraged her to join dance competitions. It didn’t take long for others to notice her God-given ability and the way she dominated the competitions. In college, Odigie became part of a dance team, where she demonstrated a stronger commitment towards performing. Trained in ballet, contemporary and jazz, Odigie sought out shows and concerts to perform, while building her personal brand in the process.
Odigie’s dream of becoming a dancer was quite contrary to what most African parents want their children to pursue. The common expectations are to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer. Interestingly enough, Odigie’s parents had not known of her pursuit of dance until she established a successful brand for herself and gained a large following of fans, which is when her parents decided to invest in and support her dreams.
Odigie’s love for dance stemmed from her keen interest and love for hip-hop music. It wasn’t until she returned to the US to attend college in New York, where she fell in love with Afrobeats. Dance is a way for Odigie to interpret the music; the melody, speed and rhythmic complexity of music influences the way she grooves to it. The music and her interpretation of it leads her to different styles of dance.
In the few years of her burgeoning dancing career, Odigie has been granted opportunities to dance on historical and iconic stages with globally renowned artists such as Tiwa Savage at the Budweiser “Made in America” festival and Grammy winner Burna Boy at the famous Apollo theater, where she performed her jaw-dropping Zanku dance during Burna Boy’s song, “Killin’ Dem”. Before the coronavirus pandemic, Odigie was yet given another memorable opportunity to go on a world dance tour to Asia, Europe and Africa. However, the unexpected pandemic put a pause on the world tour, which caused her to slightly switch gears and instead draw inspiration from the health crisis happening around her by creating her dance film Iziegbe. The project is dedicated to her closest friends and family to show gratitude for the role they played in helping her grow into the artist she is today.
Beyond the world of dance, Odigie enjoys fashion and has been shot for The Folklore exclusively wearing the new collection from Nigerian brand Sisiano, which is a sustainable womenswear label founded in 2017 by Paolo Sisiano. Similar to Odigie, Sisiano is also a trained dancer and stage performer who found his way into costume design. The latest Sisiano collection consists of hand-dyed watercolor garments that are flowing and elongated. From hand-burnt petal shirts to colorful danshikis, Sisiano strives to design clothing that leaves people feeling comfortable, confident and free. Given the effortless nature of the clothing, it allows one to move about freely without the worry of the garment sticking to your skin. The Sisiano collection was crafted with the designer’s love for dance and fashion in mind, ensuring that every garment maintains fluidity and movement through its soft fabrics, playful shapes and bold patterns.
In this episode of ‘My Folklore’, we sat down with Izzy Odigie in Lagos to talk using dance to connect with people, breaking the fashion rules, and falling back in love with African music and culture. Watch the video below and on YouTube, and read excerpts from our interview below.
“I moved a lot, especially at a young age, so I utilized dance as a social tool in order to adapt to my surroundings, find friends, connect with people, etcetera.”
“I’ve always been attracted to anything performing arts but in boarding school you have no access to TV, you have no access to cellphones, everything is contraband, so you have to find ways to entertain yourself.”
“Right now, the thing that’s feeling everything is the music. I remember back in 2014, I heard ‘The Matter’ by Wizkid [and] Maleek Berry and I was just like, “who is this guy?” He made being ‘bush’ sound very cool. So, literally, that song is that made me fall in love with African music again and the way I can express my love for African music is through dance.”
“When it comes to fashion, even from my upbringing, from boarding school to MLK to Laurel, we’ve always been boxed in by uniforms. In boarding school, you find ways to be creative with the limited resources you have… You have to find different ways to express yourself and stand out from the crowd but also following the ‘rules’ to some extent.”
“With this love for dancing, love for Afro styles, it allows me to travel. Dance is opening up the world for me. When I meet people who are so interested in learning so much more, it motivates me to go and grab more knowledge. It just feeds into itself; it’s like I want to learn more about my culture and then my job requires me to learn more in order to stay relevant. So, literally, dance is life, for me.”