My journey as a dancer for Beyoncé’s Homecoming

Photography via Tajana Bunton-Williams

I’ve been training as a dancer for about 15 years now, since I started back in London. I first got the chance to dance with Beyoncé when I successfully auditioned for the Formation World Tour, appearing alongside her at multiple performances ever since. When I got the news she’d be playing Coachella, I knew it would be huge.

I’m a seasoned dancer and train hard for my career, but this was easily some of the most gruelling training I’ve ever been through. For Homecoming, auditions were actually re-opened and long-time dancers weren’t necessarily guaranteed a spot. When I got the confirmation, I started to physically prepare myself for the long run of training, eventually working out around five or six times a week to stay fit.

We were learning under a series of choreographers who have worked with Bey for a long time, so naturally they had very high standards! It was an intense process, and rehearsals would sometimes run up to 16 hours long, mainly as there was immense attention to detail in the choreography, mixing a blend of different styles. As dancers we had to know absolutely everything to keep the performances tight and accommodate for any changes that had to be made – I can’t say it didn’t add any pressure.

“I’m a seasoned dancer and train hard for my career, but this was easily some of the most gruelling training I’ve ever been through. Bey was training with us from morning till night, as well as having close input in every detail”

Our dance group entered into the hundreds, meaning I met so many new faces and people from different walks of life. Despite the large size of the cast, myself and the other performers formed some strong bonds and the energy was incredible. I remember running to the auditorium day after day to watch cast members perform and being blown away each time. There was such a fresh energy around with people gearing up for what might have been the biggest performance of their lives.

What’s even more amazing was working with Beyoncé herself. When she was in the room, we were aware of being in the presence of a legendary performer, and the pressure was slightly on to keep your dancing tight. But it was less about intimidation but more about her work ethic – Bey was training with us from morning till night, as well as having close input in every detail from lighting, to sound, to the cues that would signal us out. I’m still awestruck from working with her during training as it’s amazing to see her insight into her craft.

Photography via Tajana Bunton-Williams (centre)

On the night of the show, there were so many little things I had to think about. With any live performance, there’s always a pressure to get it exactly right and live up to what you’ve done in rehearsals, but it can come out differently in front of an audience of over 100,000! At Coachella there wasn’t much time to practice on stage because of the multiple performers and tight schedules, so I was aware of little logistical things that could go wrong. My hat could fall off, I could trip in the six-inch heels, I might not change costume in time and I hadn’t had a chance to practice in my outfit yet.

People often don’t realise the immense technical quality you need to have as a dancer besides just following choreography. I was the first dancer to break out into routine on stage, which meant some of the other dancers had to follow my moves. Not just that, but I had to be exactly on count and not miss a beat, because if I did everyone would notice! The pre-show nerves were something everyone was sharing in a little, but before going out we prayed as a group which always gives us more confidence.

When we finally got out on stage, I couldn’t believe the energy from the crowd. To hear people singing their hearts out and cheering us along was incredibly powerful, and the sound was insanely loud. From what I could see, it looked like a never-ending sea of people just continuing into the distance, and at times it was like the crowd was inside a trance.

“People came off the stage in tears of accomplishment, and I could tell that in that moment some of us were still in awe that we had even been out there”

Onstage, the energy was insane – we were all as vocal as you can see in the documentary, screaming and cheering each other on like in rehearsals. People came off the stage in tears of accomplishment, and I could tell that in that moment some of us were still in awe that we had even been out there.

I got the news that the footage would be going towards a documentary when the trailer came out online; we actually had no idea about usage of the behind-the-scenes footage while filming. When I saw the preview, I was so excited and kept counting down the days until it would finally be out. On the night of release, I held a viewing party at my house with the other dancers, a video of which has now gone viral. The house was packed and so many of us were laughing, crying, and just so excited to see ourselves on screen. Seeing it from the other side and watching myself alongside Beyoncé, everything looked so effortless to the point you can’t even imagine the manic stuff that happens behind the scenes – it’s incredible to think that I was part of that history.

“As a British dancer of Sierra-Leonean heritage, earlier in my career there were many times I’d be the only black girl on the roster, but this time there were so many talented black artists and dancers involved in the creation of the show”

Besides that, so much of Homecoming was important for sentimental reasons. As a British dancer of Sierra-Leonean heritage, earlier in my career there were many times I’d be the only black girl on the roster, but this time there were so many talented black artists and dancers involved in the creation of the show. It’s something I saw mirrored in the crowd too, and I actually think Beyoncé’s performance drew in black audiences that Coachella probably hasn’t seen before. As a British person, I learnt so much about what we were representing with showcasing the black college experience and HBCUs, and I can’t even imagine what it felt like for African Americans to see their culture represented on stage.

Since the release of Homecoming, people have actually recognised me from the documentary and it’s humbling to be met with such responses. The experience was incredibly empowering – for an African girl hailing from Catford, I felt like I’d made it and it was truly one of the highlights of my career. On that stage, I knew we were making history in that moment, and I’m proud to have been a part of it.

Tajana Bunton-Williams was speaking to Christine Ochefu.

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