South African Dancer, DJ and Choreographer, Courtnae’ Paul is on all levels, career and lifestyle goals right now.
The Durban born beauty has shared the stage with international artists such as Lil Wayne and Rae Sremmurd, choreographed and performed with the likes of queen Sho Madjozi and is on the verge of releasing her first DJ single titled No Other Way.
Glamour caught up with Courtnae’ for a candid interview about her career, being a woman of colour in the entertainment industry and the need for female representation from the LGBTQI community in South Africa. Take a look at the Q&A below.
Where did your journey as a breakdancer and overall creative powerhouse begin? As in, what sparked the passion and vision.
The passion was sparked rather unconsciously lol. I had been a gymnast from 6 and had little to no idea that I could dance. I think it shocked me just as much as it shocked my family, even though I was a regular performer along with my sisters and cousins in our family lounge, dancing and singing for anyone my parents told us to - sans payment lol.
I started dancing by mistake around 13 years old and it soon became an obsession, which saw me landing my first professional choreography gig at 15. Once I started dancing, I realised what I was supposed to be doing all along, and the rest is history.
My vision has constantly expanded as my achievements reach new heights. This also fuels me to see just how far I can take what is dubbed ‘not a real job’, and it hasn’t been a bad journey so far.
Have you had to deal with criticism and pushback as a woman of colour? How did you overcome?
Definitely! There are two barriers to success in that sentence alone. 1. Being a woman, and 2. Being of colour. My issues have always been slightly different, as a coloured female from Durban, I mostly sit on the fence. I’m not light enough nor dark enough, I don’t fit the industry female stereotype, nor do I fit the coloured stereotype that has been perpetuated by most media, and this alone causes a level of pushback.
Society is obsessed with boxing and labelling so if you aren’t easily placed, you aren’t easily put on. Being female isn’t and hasn’t ever been easy - in most industries or social settings. We have to work much harder to be recognised and even then, we are watered down to ‘you’re good for a female’ or being booked around Women’s month lol, it’s crazy.
Overcoming is constant effort. New levels of your life and career forces you to deal with new levels of adversity. I overcome by staying true to myself, putting my head down and being consistent, producing work I am happy with, and never wavering on my vision.
You’re very open about your relationship on social media. Have you always been open? Have you encountered any judgement or criticism that hindered your career growth or had a negative impact on you or your brand?
To an extent yes. We kept it quiet for about a year or so until we felt like letting the world in a little. I don’t believe in being secretive, but my life and relationship is kept more private than public.
Yes, to judgement, criticism and negative impacts. Just judging on the latest trends alone such as #MeToo and #AmINext most females speak on being harassed or manipulated by men in the industry for opportunities - imagine how much harder it is to open a door when right off the bat, you’re not interested in whatever the side offer is.
This has so many elements to it, but it definitely lands you valuable lessons, tough skin, and teaches you to get more creative with how you achieve success.
How accepting or respectful do you think South Africa is of bisexual, lesbian, queer women? I mean yes, we have our Somizi’s, Rich Mnisi’s, Athi Patra Ruga’s but women in the LGBT community seem to fade into the background.
They are still men and therefore get to keep their male privilege and place in society - even though this isn’t the case for all gay men. I think it also has a lot to do with perceptions. Gay men are perceived to be more fun to be around, flamboyant, funny etc. and lesbian women are perceived to be more serious, hard up, and trying to replace men - which isn’t the case at all.
Do you think mainstream media is ready for a female ‘queer hero’? Someone that the coming generation can look at and feel that success is attainable regardless of whether she is stereotypically feminine, or of her sexual orientation or her brown skin.
I’m not sure... maybe mainstream will be ready when it’s more profitable? We have many queer female heroes. One specifically is my friend Bev Ditsie. She was the first African lesbian to address gay and lesbian rights to the U.N., started the first Pride march in Africa and recently received an honorary doctorate from U.S. university.
One of my dreams is to give generations to come an easier, safer and less lonely path. A path with more successful heroes that look like them, sound like them, and made it through the struggles they experience. Representation is so important.
What's the greatest fear you've had to overcome to get to where you are today?
The fear of failure. The fear of having all the blood, sweat and tears amount to nothing. But I’ve learnt to get out of my own head and have blind faith in my vision because being average really doesn’t sit well with me.
Your work is physically and mentally demanding. What keeps you disciplined, focused and grounded?
Whenever I feel overwhelmed, I go back to the basics. Back to music, training, learning and realigning with what I want for my life. When I’m drained and feeling demotivated, I take some time to myself, re-centre, rest, spend time with the people I love, eat EVERYTHING and do the things that make me happy.
In this male-dominated industry, have you seen any acknowledgeable movement towards equality and inclusivity compared to when you started out?
Yes and no. You see the effort around Women’s month or when there is a hashtag, but no noticeable change yet. We will continue to fight for it daily.
If you could give 3 key pieces advice to anyone considering a career in the arts, dance, entertainment industry what would it be?
1.Educate yourself, and that doesn’t only include formal education.
2.Know where you want to take your craft because you need to pinpoint what will aid your growth or leave you stagnant.
3.Work harder than you need to, don’t get caught up in the hype, and take rejection on the chin, it’s just someone’s opinion after all.
How do you maintain a healthy work-life balance?
I don’t! LOL. I generally work way too much, but I love what I do so I don’t need the break. There are definitely days that see me wake up, shower and get right back into bed, but my work takes me to some amazing places, so I get to live my life, while I work. I don’t chase holiday’s but more of a lifestyle.
While my life may not be balanced in terms of work and rest, I love to keep it balanced with giving back and social projects.
What are your top three 5-year goals?
1.Travel and grow my brand globally. I’ve been booked in 6 new countries and travelled to 8 in this year. It’s not enough.
2.Have all my passion and social projects come to life.
3.Be alive, happy and healthy.
How would you describe your style?
Urban, androgynous and clean mixed with a little ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.’
But always a dope sneaker!
Who are your style icons? Local and international.
I wouldn’t say that I have style icons as I think I take bits and pieces from random trends that I like.
Do you have a skincare routine/ritual you swear by, what is it?
I’m not too hectic about my skin however I am a little OCD with cleanliness, so I love to keep it clean and never sleep with makeup on. This might be off-topic, but I also drink loads of water.
What are three things you never leave the house without?
1.Glasses (so I can see)
3.A good (or sometimes bad) attitude lol
What is your current go-to happy song?
My soon to be released first DJ single! #NoOtherWay
What do you enjoy doing with your free time?
Spending time outdoors, hanging out with family and friends, going dancing, but my favourite? Is just being in my home, arg, nothing beats it.
So, we know you are multitalented, you can dance, DJ, you’re a killer businesswomen and just overall powerhouse. Is there anything you’re really bad at?
I can’t draw to save a single life! Not one.
How did you and your current partner meet? Was it love at first sight?
We’ve been friends for many years, so it was more a realisation of kindred spirits at first sight. Like meeting a crazier, shorter version of yourself.
Photography by: Zane Titizana, Kevin Sawyer & Mpumelelo Macu