"I dream it, I work hard, I grind til I own it...
Saying that every woman dreams of having it all can feel like the understatement of the century.
We all crave that work-life balance that is inclusive of an amazing career that we enjoy that keeps us financially afloat, a wonderful marriage to the partner of our dreams, and eventually, maybe, kids that are a little them and a little us to join the mix. We’re constantly given messages that we can “have it all”, we just have to work for it.
For Dnay B., who rose to notoriety when she got into formation as a background dancer for Queen Bey herself, most women might look at her life and think she’s has it all – the dream job, the ability to travel the world, rocking the stage of massive stadiums with the girl boss of all bosses Beyonce.
But, with big dreams come big sacrifices.
Like many successful, ambitious women, Dnay B. found herself making a choice between what she loved so dearly and who she loved so effortlessly as both were promising a happy, abundant future for her – just in different ways. It all came to a head while touring the world as a principal dancer alongside Beyonce for the Formation World Tour in 2016. Staring at the height of the ladder this early in her career and looking down at what could be the man of her dreams, she had to make a decision.
The guy in her life became the man of her dreams as the result of a budding friendship blossoming into something more. “He was my boyfriend for three years in high school,” she recalled. But like many high school sweethearts, the puppy love faded for some time as she began to explore more career options at 18. The two reconnected in 2010, a bit more mature and settled in their ways at 22 years old.
“He’s always been my friend, [we’ve] always been in communication with each other, but we just started hanging out again. He was very supportive at the time,” Dnay said about their rekindled love. Still, an important aspect of their relationship seemed to have trickled down from familial patterns. “I always ended up with guys that would be like, ‘Oh that’s cool, you dance’ but they would never come to a show, or never watch it on TV, or anything like that.” Reminiscent of her father, who she obviously adores and seeks for advice, she found herself attracting lovers who mimicked his shortcomings – something she was able to forgive in a parent, but would come to learn that she was unable to forgive in a lover. He was different in this regard, which made her appreciate their relationship even more.
The challenge of the relationship didn’t appear until her career went into overdrive. In 2013, she got a last-minute call from Beyonce’s team that they wanted her – immediately.
“Everything was good for the first two years, but it was right when I started the [The Mrs. Carter World] tour and how I had got the tour, that things were just a little shaky,” Dnay expressed. “I literally found out about the tour the day that I had to leave. So, it was like dropping a ton of bricks or buildings on somebody. He had already been through a lot, which I understand. At the time, his mom was dying of cancer. He’s an only child so he was looking for [and] he needed support, he needed love. But at the same time, I was stepping into my own light and being recognized as this new dancer embarking on a new tour.”
Still, the relationship continued on in good merit, even as she traveled the world. “Three months turned into six months; six months turned into a year; a year turned into two years,” she said. “And in that time, his mom passed away, I wasn’t able to go, so there was just a lot of resentment.”
Stuck between a rock and a hard place – the want to be physically present for your lover in need and having to stay focused for the most transformational time in your career – Dnay felt the heat. She wanted to make the relationship last, but she was also working a rigorous schedule day in and day out. On top of that, she wasn’t receiving much support on her end, either. “We would talk when we could and I would see him when I could, but because my schedule was so demanding, he was like, ‘I can’t just be dropping everything because you have three days off.’”
Still, he also wanted to prove to Dnay that he was committed to their relationship. On October 29th, 2015, on her 28th birthday, he surprised her with a marriage proposal. It was something they had always talked about, but for Dnay, the timing was off.
“I think in his mind, he felt it was going to change my mind about what I wanted to do. It’s what every little girl dreams about, but because I’m a little different…the outcome wasn’t really what he expected.”
Whether we care to admit it or not, a lot of the entertainment that is pushed our way as young girls lead to a servant mentality where we’re taught that our voices, our gifts, our desires inherently come second to the men we may grow to love and adore. For black women, in particular, we are often taught that good men are rare and that you must hold on to the one you get once you find one – this mentality can become crippling to our strength and our potential.
That’s why Beyonce – a woman who demonstrates that you can have a bomb ass career, a loving marriage, and kids, too (aka you can have it all and not settle, sis) – played such an important role in Dnay’s life at a crucial time in her journey. With powerful women figures from her mother, step-mom, aunts, grandparents, and more, Beyonce gave her a name and a mentality for both what she learned from them and what it was she was seeking; not just feminism, but the courage to want and demand more.
[Tweet "Beyonce gave her a name and a mentality for the courage to want and demand more from her life."]
“I guess I really started becoming aware of my independence,” she confessed. “I knew I was over the relationship in February (two months before the first tour date of the Formation World Tour). It just took some time to build up the confidence to actually tell him… it took me those months to really deal with it.”
It’s no coincidence that the daily backdrop to all of Dnay’s woes were all of the critically acclaimed songs on Beyonce’s Lemonade visual album. Not only did Dnay assist in creating the beautiful imagery onscreen and onstage, but she was living it right along with everyone else who experienced the power of her songs and lyrics. An album that chronicles the story of love lost, abandoned, scorned, forgiven, and manifested into rebirth and activism – Dnay found her inner strength. It’s no surprise that “Don’t Hurt Yourself” became her motto.
“During the practice for ‘Freedom,’ we had to dance in the pool for the tour. And I am not a water girl, at all – I don’t do water; I don’t go to the pool; I don’t go to the sprinklers. I don’t do any of that,” Dnay laughed. “And I don’t know why the choreographers chose me to be the test dummy for the pool. So, we’re in this pool and [Beyonce] is like, ‘Oh, this is going to be perfect!’ And [at that moment], I fell. And when I fell, I sort of fell fast. And I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m drowning, I’m drowning!’” Disoriented, Beyonce offered her a word of assistance. “She was like, ‘Dnay, you’re standing straight up – open your eyes.’ I just felt like I was 10 feet underwater.”
“Every night that I did that performance, it was just so freeing,” she expressed. “I never felt sad… I just felt such a huge release every night, every time I hear that song, it just takes me back to that moment when I fell and I’m just standing up and I’m free. I’m not drowning, I’m not dead. I thought I was going to die, but I didn’t. [It was] a strong release of so many different emotions. It’s like you’re being baptized every night and just washing away all the negativity, all the sins, everything that’s wrong in your life. You just get to be free and pure after it.”
Following the proposal and with a renewed and even deeper sense of purpose, Dnay found herself drifting further from her partner. “[I was like] OK, this is what I want to do. This - [dancing] - is my goal. This is my path that I’m setting for myself; the outcome wasn’t really what he expected. So, his faith kind of fell through in a sense. And in the end, it was like, I’m not happy,” she added. “He was stressing me out because he wanted me to be home, he wanted me to be cooking, he wanted me to do this, and I was like, I can’t. I can’t be stressed out at home and then I’m stressed out trying to learn these steps on this floor. I can’t do both. I have to ultimately do what’s going to make me happy.”
Happiness and having it all for Dnay was choosing to leave him behind and continuing forward while honoring her journey, her talent, and her power. “I felt like I was leaving behind sadness, doubt, negativity, frustration – just from being loved the wrong way. I can’t say he didn’t love me, but it wasn’t the love that I necessarily needed,” Dnay admitted. “I left behind so many different things. I left behind a lot of tears. And I just get to walk away with my joy. I feel like I found joy leaving the relationship. Because happiness is temporary but when you find joy it’s something that’s unexplainable.”
[Tweet "“I left behind so many different things. And I just get to walk away with my joy.” - @DnayBisMe"]
What’s her advice for anyone else who may be struggling with the same battle?
“I would say that you should get to know who you are and get to know the things that you like and the things that you want and the things you need for you to find your joy,” Dnay asserted. “Without challenge, there’s no change. And you don’t want to just be in a challenging relationship and think things are going to change. If it’s not helping you, you’re not going to grow. So, you need to be able to walk away from the challenge for there to be change.”
Dnay’s next personal challenge is empowering women, men, and children through her events.
“My workshops are not necessarily to become the perfect hip-hop dancer, but more so to remember why you love to dance,” she said. “[I look forward to] walking in my truth and sharing my story, sharing my light with people. And I hope it just touches someone to be great.”