Today we’d like to introduce you to Brandon Mathis.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Brandon. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
Hmm…I would say the start of this chapter in my journey began in high school when I decided I would pursue a professional career in dance. As a native to LA, I’ve been surrounded by art and entertainment my entire life. My relationship with movement began when I was six years old; I was always dancing around the house. Whenever music was playing, whether it was mine, my mother’s, the neighbor’s, the ice cream truck, it didn’t matter. You can find movement in any melody and that’s something I learned at a very young age. The main reason why I enjoy dancing is because of what moving does to my spirit and how music moves my soul.
I taught myself everything I knew about how to move my body up until the four years of training I received in college at Loyola Marymount University (LMU). But before training, it was always about watching and listening, paying attention (it still is). I studied dance videos, movies, people in person, attentively taking note of what was being done and how it was being executed. If you’ve never seen the movie Drumline, Nick Cannon is the main character and he’s one hell of a drummer. He fools his way into Atlanta A&T and onto the band, without being able to read music. His character has a visual brain and can pick up a routine simply by watching it; I’m this way with dance.
Growing up, my mom didn’t have enough money to put me in classes so I started choreographing and teaching myself at home. I’m naturally a do-it-yourself kind of person, so it never felt like I was missing out on something by not training in a studio; I was still training. Playing with movement was my way of digesting all of the knowledge that I was visually soaking into my body.
I was nine when I publicly showed my work for the first time. I was in the fourth grade and I choreographed a trio with myself and two of my friends to Usher’s Caught Up for our after school program’s talent show; we won second place. The following year I choreographed a solo for myself to Chris Brown’s Run It and took first. I remember that day and that routine so well, ha. The choreography was so literal. I glided across the stage and used my hands to draw a sunrise in the air for the lyric morning. I also created a section where I went down and did a few eights in front of the judges table. I was so determined to win, especially because it was my final year. I had something to prove to everyone…I still feel that way today.
Fast forward to when I was fourteen and found out about technique. Wow, had I been living in a bubble.
It was the second season of America’s Best Dance Crew and there was a new crew auditioning by the name of Fanny Pak. They were an intricate jazz funk crew lead by Matt Cady, and they blew my mind. I have a super quirky personality and at the time, I was obsessed with 80’s fashion and culture. Immediately when I saw them, in fanny packs and all of their neon 80’s glory, I legitimately lost my sh*t. I was so moved by their style that I incorporated their aesthetic into my own movement and went from doing solely hip hop to something totally different.
I combed the depths of YouTube and studied every video I could find for years and dreamed of the day I could take Matt’s class. And then, one day a new class video was posted, and it was lyrical/contemporary. This was the first time I saw men, men that I admired, doing movement I thought I couldn’t because it would be seen as feminine. It gave me the courage to step outside of my world and try something completely new. So I switched my focus and began training in a new way, I taught myself technique. Granted, it wasn’t the most refined, but it was good enough to get me into LMU and the rest is history. Now I’m a professional dancer. And although my career only began about two and a half years ago, I’ve already been so incredibly blessed to work with a few leading names in the industry; artists, choreographers, brands, companies, etc.
Fun fact, my audition for LMU was my third time ever having done ballet. I almost had a panic attack at the barre so I went into the bathroom to breathe, do a leg split on the wall, and went back inside. If that’s not a testament to “you got this” I don’t know what is.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road has not been smooth by any means *softly laughs*. The entire journey has pretty much been an uphill battle. There have been many times where I doubted myself as a professional and mulled back and forth over a life of normalcy, or my dreams. It wasn’t until I figured out what I truly want to do with my time here that I fell in love with the idea of my life. I’ve grown to enjoy overcoming obstacles. Through all of the grit and aggravation, confusion, and ennui. I come out better on the other side, no matter what, because I’ve learned.
My work ethic is guided by the principle that I must do the work, all of it. One’s journey doesn’t end simply because a wall was hit, no matter how many times you crash. You simply need to change your perspective until you find the one that helps you avoid the wall. A challenge excites me, things that are easily acquired generally bore me. There has to be some type of effort that goes into obtaining what I have in my life. Whether it be an object, a job, a meaningful relationship, what have you, I prefer having to work for it. Otherwise, nothing will have true value. The work I’m currently doing serves the purpose of getting my family and I back on our feet. We were homeless for about a year and a half, and are now living in a motel as a means of transitional housing. My mom was laid off from her job when I was in high school and that’s where things really started to get rough.
While my mom has been looking for work, my younger sister and I took the reigns of the family’s financials. When we became homeless at the beginning of 2018 it was fairly do-able to manage with both of our contributions. We started off in pretty good shape! But as you can imagine, trying to maintain shelter and provide basic needs for three adults and a five years old at the time can be challenging while also working toward a completely stable life. You constantly take steps forward, but when you get knocked back…it’s hard to recover that ground.
Last summer, I started a gofundme and asked for support from strangers, which wasn’t easy for myself or my family to do. We were leaving our storage unit one night after freeing up some room in the car for us to sleep when it suddenly died. We were able to make it down the street to my mom’s mechanic where we parked and slept. That night I made the account.
Albeit extremely helpful, the assistance we received from the gofundme was short of what we needed to get back into a place. However in the interim, I was able to get my mom a rental car for two weeks, and we were at one motel for a solid three months. In addition we had ample food, water, and other essentials we generally couldn’t afford, such as consistently clean laundry, gas, bills paid on time, etc. But most importantly, with that money I was able to replace my mom’s 2006 Dodge Status with a new (used) 2017 Jeep Compass.
It’s funny how some of the most memorable and amazing moments in our lives are coupled with moments of tragedy or sadness. This year has been an amazing year for my career, honestly the start of it. I was given the opportunity to perform at Coachella, and after the second weekend when I got back to the city I met my family at our Jeep. My mom was parked alongside the Holmby Hills park in West LA. Her and my seven years old brother were safe in the car. I stayed up as long as I could and then grabbed two blankets to wrap around myself while I napped on the bench right outside. That was my first time sleeping in a park.
Oddly enough, performing at Coachella isn’t a highlight of my career. Aside from that, I’ve been extremely fortunate to dance for both Solange and Beyoncé. I got signed to the agency of my dreams. I was able to travel to Boston and Martha’s Vineyard for the first time to assist a friend with a movement workshop. So many incredible things happened, but it all happened amidst me being homeless and dealing with the most intense struggle of my life. My family’s situation has taught me extreme responsibility. More importantly than that, it’s taught me how to ask for help. It taught me that I don’t need to do everything on my own, even if I successfully can. That there are people in my life and beyond who genuinely care for and want to help me. It opened me up after having been closed off for so long.
I was also dealing with my own internal demons in addition to my family’s situation. As unfortunate as it is, last summer I attempted to commit suicide…it was one of the lowest points of my personal journey. I didn’t have a great relationship with my mom at the time, tensions were always high, and my mental strength was at an all time low. Stability was again fleeting for us, leaving me to resort to theft in order to have food. That too tore away at my psyche. I felt like I didn’t know who I was or what the point of living was anymore. I was genuinely ready to go. But I reminded myself who I am and what I’m meant to do on this earth and because of that I knew I would make it through.
It’s not my time to go yet. I have to be calculated, I have to be decisive, I have to be responsible with my time, and I have to remain alive. I don’t have any other options. I have somewhere to be, and I am well on my way. My journey is far from over.
Please tell us more about your work. What do you do? What do you specialize in? What sets you apart from competition?
Dance is my specialty for sure, but I don’t see it as my only profession, or at least it won’t be for long. Overall I’m a creative individual, so what I have to offer extends further than the boundaries of movement alone. My other career interests range from affordable housing for disenfranchised families in non-disenfranchised areas to the company I will have that will serve as faculty to a studio and school for dance, along with philanthropy work for young people in the entertainment industry and their mental health, and much more.
Aside from having an unknown reservoir of energy inside of me, one of my most prominent characteristics that sets me apart from others in my work is my helpfulness. That and my willingness to go the extra mile. I genuinely enjoy being a nice person. It makes me feel good to walk down the street smiling, paying compliments to strangers for no reason. Or to be in an audition and help someone I see struggling just because there’s no reason to be a dick. There’s so much darkness in the world today, I do my part by not adding to it.
A tool I use everyday that has helped me tremendously is remaining present. I stay open to what may come my way and I ride the wave of life. I allow myself to experience emotions, opportunities, failures, surprises, all as they may come, but while staying focused. I try my best to never lose sight of my goals and to remain true to my intentions and the future I see for myself. Having confidence in your own dreams is what brings them to fruition. That is the root of the foundation I live and work by. As Rihanna said in her recent Savage X Fenty show, “I am the muse…ME. It’s all ME…”. I am the source of my inspiration. Because if you don’t show up for yourself, how do you expect others to show up for you?
I could go further in depth about what I’d like to do, but I’m learning to become a man of few words (ironic, because talking is one of my favorite things to do). It’s easy for me to go on and on about what I’d like to do because of how much passion I have. But talk is very cheap, and for the types of dreams I have and the world I envision for myself, some people can’t handle hearing it. I get bewildered faces, or the ‘okay girl’ response when I talk about my dreams, so I don’t speak about them. I prefer to let my work speak for itself. Let me show you what I can do first, then we can chat about it. It’s super corny but I honestly live by this Lil Wayne verse, “real G’s move in silence like lasagna”, I say it to myself almost everyday.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think questions like this are always so funny because as humans we often ponder the idea of a different life. If I hadn’t made that decision, dated that person, gone to that party, what would’ve happened. Truthfully? I really don’t know or care. It’s hard to pin-point one moment or even a segment of time in your life where you can definitively say I would go back and change xyz, because. Anyone can say they’d change something, but the reason why is what’s important. What about it for you, deems it as needing to be altered? Is it to better your life? Diminish someone else’s? Or is it simply because it didn’t feel good and if you could go back and make it feel good, you would? If that’s the case then you really must ask yourself, is that considered change, or is it running?
If I started over, I genuinely believe I would do most everything the same all over again. I may want to change a few personal choices, but even with that, I firmly believe everything happens for a reason so I probably wouldn’t. Every single detail of my life is stitched together to reveal one big picture. It’s the same with clothing. If one stitch is off, the entire garment can be off. Everything has to be just right.
At this point, I’ve been through so much at such a young age that I know there’s a reason for it. If I’m still on this earth, and I’m still able to do what I love regardless of everything that has been thrown my way, I know it’s because there’s something so grand in store for me that I had to go through what I did in order to fully appreciate it. So I’m just ready to see what it is because there is no going back, there are no do-overs. We are HERE. And we are READY.
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Evan Woods, Tyler Mitchell, Carter Knowe, Lucy Sandler, Getty Images