In May 2018, Jamaican born Entrepreneur and Creative Connoisseur, Heather Elliott-Whitehead took a group of Toronto’s female players and created the world’s first Dancehall Lifestyle reality show, then called Dancehall Divas of Toronto. After a few changes and a new cast line up, the series now called ‘Dancehall Divas’ is back on the radar of Caribbean reality enthusiasts in the Diaspora and around the world. Since its introduction in Toronto; arguably the most prominent international dancehall city, the concept has continued to gain traction with potential viewers across a diverse demographic. Now that the series is getting set to air in the coming weeks, we wanted to know more about the cast and crew of what is believed to be the first reality show of its kind to date in the reality TV genre. The show’s first season was shot entirely in Mississauga, Canada and will premiere on September 10th on CEEN Caribbean TV and the Divas official website globally. We will feature some of the people behind the season to get an intimate look at how a series like this is put together. In their own words, some of the key players from this historic series share their experience on the set.
HEATHER ELLIOTT-WHITEHEAD: Creator & Executive Producer, Showrunner.
My job as Showrunner is best described in this Jamaican saying; “If a egg, mi inna di red”. There is no show without my input. I am basically omnipresent in all areas of pre and post production, business and personnel matters. I hire, fire, out fires, deal with interpersonal issues, stakeholder concerns, cast and crew concerns while running the administration and business of the show. It’s looks glamorous on paper, but it’s the hardest thing I have ever done. My biggest concern is not even about production quality as it is ensuring that all the people involved are vested in it.
This the first season, we filmed entirely on location in Mississauga Canada. The girls were in town for a while and we created the entire season around that. We set up our core production in a mansion we rented and everything revolved around that command post during the period, except the various film studios and location shoots that were spread across the city and environs. Every day was a joy and a challenge at the same time. Some days were very tense due to conflicts and those were somehow the best days to shoot because you get whatever it is they are feeling on camera. The episodes were based on what was happening during the time some of the cast were visiting other cast who reside permanently or temporarily in the Province of Ontario. We filmed some of their daily life scenarios and how the women generally interconnect with each other throughout all of that. It’s exciting to see how it all came together. We put it very long hours with little sleep and in some cases the cast were completely diverted from their normal way of life including their dietary habits. Set food is not always gourmet if you know what I mean. I was a beast with a clipboard and a checkbook the entire time, but they tolerated me and understood what’s at stake, so it was well worth it. I learned so much about the resilience and commitment of the cast during that period and its simply unmatched. There are five 30 minutes episodes in this our preview season largely because of the impact of Covid on our production, but the entire experience was magical. We can’t wait to resume production.
BABATUNDE AJANI- Director of Photography (DP) – Lagos, Nigeria
It was a great experience to have collaborated on this project with people from diverse background and culture from the prestigious Toronto Film School. It was our first time working on a reality show, so there were many lessons learnt and some significant tasks achieved of which we are proud. As a Nigerian film maker, I got to learn some of the Jamaican culture and understand better the subculture of dancehall including getting clarity on some of the popular misperceptions.
My most memorable experience was when the cast members open up their concealed pain during the course of their lives, which they shared with us during their confessionals. That was powerful and emotional for me. Film making is a universal language where professionals tell stories with light and camera. With Dancehall Divas, we knew the task ahead and we made adequate plans during the development phase. I want the show to do well so we can all do well and everyone can be satisfied with their contribution to the show.
MADONNA WILLIAMS-Chief Stylist – New York, New York
I am super happy to be a part of Dancehall Divas Reality Show as their style maker. It was sometime in January that the producer reached out to me and shared her vision for the styling and explained the concept of the show. I often refer to myself as the Diva with a capital D in fashion, so this was an easy decision for me and I said count me in. Working with the cast has been an awesome experience. It was interesting to work with a range of different personalities and individual styles onset, but that’s part of what made it so special for me. Every cast had their unique sense of style.
One of my favorite moments filming in Canada was riding from one location to another in an SUV with the divas and the chauffeur suddenly starts pumping music and dancing. It was as if seeing us ignited some type of excitement and in no time the vehicle was transformed into a mobile dance floor. It was nothing short of magical. I am so proud of the cast and I can’t wait to see the full premiere on September 10th. I am confident the series will do well.
Natasha Wright (The Makeup Doctor)- Chief MUA – London, U.K.
Being part of the Divas Glam Squad is exciting and nurturing. When I first got together with the rest of the support team and although I was meeting them for the first time, I immediately knew that I was surrounded by a bunch of people who all have the same vision and drive to make the dream happen. The thing I’m looking forward to the most about “Dance Hall Divas” coming to air, is seeing all the pieces of the puzzle fit together and watch all the action come into play.
My most memorable moment filming Dance Hall Divas was creating all the individual makeup looks for the girls, as they are all so different and seeing their individual personality come alive on camera. Secondly. They really do shine when those lights come on. I am so thrilled just being part of this new found Dance Hall Divas Family.
Joenessa Bent- Chief Hairstylist – Scarborough, Ontario
Working on the series with the Divas was amazing. I enjoyed working with every last one of them including the staff and other crew members. It was my first experience working on location with a film crew and seeing firsthand how a series like this comes together. It was surely an experience of a lifetime and I enjoyed every moment. I am so ready for people to see what we created and I can’t wait to get back on set.
My favorite memory would have to be when we were filming a scene at Simma’s Birthday Party. Seeing the women dressed so exquisitely with their varying hairstyles was magical. Everything was perfect. I was so happy that I was able to contribute to them feeling and looking their best.
Jerome Smith(Flash Films Studio)-Head of Photography – Toronto, Canada
I have been with the series since the first time they met in my Mississauga studio over two years ago. I have experienced all the hits and misses and the I am happy to see the development finally. Photography is my passion and working with these women have always been something I look forward to. They are like family. As a photographer, you goal is to study your subject and their angles to create that perfect shot and with this cast, I have the autonomy to do that so that’s great.
My favorite moment with this last production was taking the women to Mint Studios downtown Toronto, one of the more in demand studios in the Province of Ontario. We had a few hours to film, but because we were having so much fun, time caught up with us and we almost got kicked out. That was a good day and everyone was in high spirits and the women looked great. I am proud of how far they have come and I look forward to working with them for the long haul.
Audrey Dennie -Set and Series Executive Assistant – Etobicoke, Canada.
My role in this series is quite unique as I am charged with ensuring everyone’s wellbeing is taken care of. At times, I am the chief counselor, confidant and cheerleader. I take a very impartial position in the work that I do with the cast and crew. I have been working with the production since the inception and I am so very proud of how far we have come as team. I have witnessed the changes, the challenges and the growth. It’s an awesome story to tell and I am so happy that we have a cast who will represent the dream of the people who put them out front.
Every day on set is a joy for me, but my most memorable moments are the off cameras ones where anything goes.