Usha Jey is bringing traditional Tamil dance to the world

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A big moment for you was working with M.I.A, who you’re a big fan of, for an Off-White show back in 2021. What was it like getting to work with her in such close proximity?

M.I.A is such a big inspiration for me as she’s also Tamil, and we don’t have any representation of that in the hip-hop scene. So when she asked me to choreograph for the Off-White set, it was such a big opportunity that I’m really, really grateful for. She’s an icon. And when the event was finished, she sent me flowers at home, and it was so cute. I was grateful that I could just talk to someone that I always look up to. Since then, I’ve been working with her, and I’m even working on her European tour this year. She’s someone that I really appreciate, and I’m so glad that I now know her as a human being.

Going back to the Off-White show, did you have many interactions with Virgil Abloh at all?

Actually, there’s a video on social media where Virgil Abloh comes up to me and says that he loves what I do. Just to meet him was unreal, and then for him to compliment my work was such an inspiration to keep going because he’s someone who always supported the next generation, and he always did things outside of the box.

One thing that you always try to do with your art is put your heritage front and centre. How important is it for you to put that on display to the world?

It’s really important. Just so you can understand, my parents had to escape Sri Lanka because there was an operation against the Tamil community. So we’ve had to make sure we keep the culture of our community alive. For instance, I can speak, read and write Tamil. I make sure that I keep learning about my history, but also to keep showing my love for it as much as I can, and so this is something so important for me. They wanted to erase our culture in Sri Lanka, so I make sure that wherever I go, I mention my culture and how proud I am.

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