If you’ve ever been involved with a flash mob, you know it takes guts. Now imagine how it feels doing it by yourself and with your eyes shut.
Just ask Jesse Afolabi, a junior computer science and psychology student at MSUM. He found his passion for dancing 12 years ago, but just recently found his distinction.
Two years ago, Afolabi started performing unchoreographed, interactive dances with his eyes covered. He explained that his style is interactive because he uses inanimate objects in his performances. He strongly believes in the idea of standing out.
“The dance industry has accelerated,” Afolabi said. “In order to stand out, it’s not about how good you are, it’s about how different you are. You want to do something that hasn’t been done before. That’s how I came up with the idea of dancing with my eyes closed.”
The idea arose from some chilly evenings at Concordia College. Before transferring to MSUM in spring 2017, Afolabi spent a semester at Concordia. He knew he had to practice his dancing, but they didn’t have a dance studio for him to use. Instead he would head outside into those late autumn/early winter evenings to practice and find his unique style.
“I would go out in the cold at night to dance in my hat and a light jacket,” Afolabi said. “The hat on my head, it would always come down and cover my eyes, so I figured I might as well just try it out.”
After this artistic revelation, he had his first performance in the spring of 2017 at MSUM, introducing his defining talent.
“That was me physically challenging myself and seeing if I can actually pull it off in front of a crowd at an event,” Afolabi said. “It went perfectly.”
Gaining confidence, Afolabi now found purpose and meaning in his dance.
“Dancing is an art, and I feel like it’s spiritual; you just have to learn to trust the music,” he said. “Dancing is about expressing the music, and I figured out I can do that much better with my eyes closed because there is less distraction.”
Since then, he has made many YouTube videos set in various campus hotspots.
One memorable performance took place in Kise. Afolabi said it went so well because it was on the fly.
“I had some tables around, and I just danced with them. It went so well,” Afolabi said. “It’s just another advantage of closing your eyes. You’re not relying on your eyes so much.”
His YouTube channel can be found under his name, Jesse Afolabi, but he does have a stage name as well: Klothes. With 130 subscribers, he uploads more than just dance videos, occasionally uploading educational tech videos.
When filming his videos, Afolabi said he mainly works alone, using a tripod or asking strangers to record him; but there is one friend he has support from. Moses Weefur, a senior majoring in psychology, occasionally records some of Afolabi’s dances. Weefur also dances, doing mostly African dances and hip-hop. They met back when Afolabi was a Cobber, just trying to keep his hat up.
“I recognized that he was a really good dancer, and that’s how we became friends,” Weefur said.
Afolabi used to attend a few practices for the Diversity Dance Crew and occasionally performed with the group.
“The thing about Jesse is, I can never really expect what he’s going to do,” Weefur explained. “He takes risks, and that benefits what he does. A lot of people don’t expect what he is doing, so he keeps the eyes on him.”
But before the MSUM performances and YouTube craze began, Afolabi was just a 12-year-old boy who loved Michael Jackson.
When Afolabi was younger, he had a good friend who also danced. His friend encouraged him, and they grew together with their talent, even performing locally.
“I’ve always liked the idea of dancing, because I’ve always known Michael Jackson,” Afolabi said. “We did a lot of public performances and he eventually stopped, but I kept going. Years later I came here, and life goes on.”
Afolabi is very passionate about his way of delivering dance and how it helps him.
“I’ve grown so much in my dancing just because I decided to close my eyes,” he said. “Dancing for me is a way to escape reality, one thing I can do to [alleviate] my stress.”
He does have an end goal in mind: he hopes to perform on America’s Got Talent this November in New York. The show hosts auditions at various locations in the U.S.
“I know if it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen eventually,” Afolabi said.
With that optimistic mindset, Afolabi is preparing for his next video on campus.
“Dancing with my eyes closed just opened up a lot more possibilities,” Afolabi said. “I wasn’t scared of so many things anymore, I could take more risks. I could do things I wouldn’t dare do with my eyes open.”