YaYa DaCosta is more than just a pretty face. As a triple threat of actor, dancer, and model, she has set out to take the industry by storm since her time on Americas Next Top Model. While many reality television stars utilize their newfound fame as leverage for an entry into acting, YaYas been doing this for years. Her latest project Take the Lead has given YaYa the role closest to herself a young woman who finds her inner strength through dance.
Speaking with YaYa, she recounts her days on the set of the film, learning a brand new dance style and her early struggles as a dancer. Lets not forget to mention, shes an Ivy League graduate and connoisseur of World music. With both brains and beauty, Hollywood better brace itself.
AllHipHop.Com Alternatives: For those who have not yet seen Take the Lead, please describe your character.
YaYa: My characters name is Lahrette Dudley. She is a 17-year old girl who spends her afternoons in detention in a New York City public school. Shes a good girl that hasnt had the easiest life. She raises her younger siblings while her mom turns tricks. [laughs] Shes really finding herself, kind of like an ugly duckling becoming a swan through ballroom dance. Antonio Banderas plays Pierre Dulaine, whos a real life ex-ballroom dance teacher who really helped a bunch of kids like the ones in the movie find their inner strengths. Its a really beautiful story and Im glad that I got to be a part of it.
AHHA: What was it like working with Antonio Banderas?
YaYa: It was great! Hes a really serious actor so it was nice to see him on set, nice to see him prepare, nice to see him work. But then at the same time, he was a really cool down to earth guy. He was really friendly and hung out with everybody when the cameras were off. We had a ball.
AHHA: Did he really grasp the Hip-Hop culture the way he perceives to in the movie?
YaYa: Well I think the point of his character wasnt to get down completely with Hip-Hop, but only to the extent that he could connect with the students and gain their trust, which he did totally. I mean in real life, he danced with us occasionally. He has rhythm hell tell you that hes not a dancer- but hes good! It was just more about the universal aspect of dance that is fun, and when youre dancing you feel good. He was able to transform that same feeling from the Hip-Hop to the ballroom. He didnt necessarily have to pull his pants down and turn his baseball cap backwards to make them believe he was one of them. Obviously he wasnt, so that was the whole appeal too!
AHHA: How did your past dance training play into your role?
YaYa: I had danced on and off my whole life, actually doing different styles like ballet, modern, West African. But Id never done ballroom dancing before, so this was really new and exciting for me and everybody! All of the actors started from scratch [with ballroom dancing]. Some people had dance experience, some didnt, but we all just learned it together and grew together.
AHHA: Was it difficult to learn ballroom dancing, especially with a dance partner?
YaYa: Yeah it was definitely harder than I thought it would be. As a woman, you are actually following and never know what the next step is gonna be. Someones hand indicates. So its nice, a totally different kind of dance.
AHHA: Was acting something youve always wanted to pursue?
YaYa: Absolutely. I had done educational films when I was younger, and had a great acting coach when I was eleven years old, in public school actually. We had electives, so my school was a little different than the one we had at John Drake, but one of the teachers that inspired me was Ann Ratray. After college I got back in touch with her, and through her got a manager and started going out auditioning for things.
I found this audition [for Take the Lead] and the casting director cast me without ever seeing my face [in person] before. They didnt see me on TV, just my audition tape, which was nice. You approach this as an art, and want people to see you as an artist. It was really crazy because the casting director said, If I had known you had been on reality TV, I probably wouldnt have cast you. That was crazy to hear because some people think that its helpful, but sometimes its not. It was a very organic process, I loved working with everyone there, and yeah just definitely encouraged me to go out and door more and get better and better.
AHHA: Did you feel that it was easier this time behind a camera, playing a character, as opposed to Americas Next Top Model?
YaYa: No, because youre not really yourself on television, and acting is definitely a craft that takes a lot of concentration and skill. Its a lot harder than it looks. Thats why Im working to get better!
AHHA: Do you mind the constant attachment to Americas Next Top Model?
Yaya: I dont really talk about it unless someone brings it up. I tend to forget about it. I know they still air it on the marathons on VH-1. I forget that it even happened sometimes, because Im so into what Im doing now. I mean its fine; it definitely was an experience. It had its wonderful moments and had its useful moments. I definitely have moved on. Its interesting how people still attach me to it, but I think with the more that I do- because this is a field in the public eye- people will associate me with Take the Lead and other projects that Ill do! In due time.
AHHA: What was your college experience like at Brown University?
YaYa: It was college. I was actually really curious because people make such a big deal about Ivy League schools. I researched why they are called Ivy League and I mean yeah, they are some of the best schools with the best faculty, but lots of colleges are hard that are not Ivy League. When I was applying to colleges in high school, I almost went to Swarthmore, which is not Ivy League but was rated the best college that year. Part of me thinks I should have gone there, because that was a full scholarship and no loans, unlike here at Brown. I thought it would be great to go to an Ivy League, but now I have all these loans to pay back, so all of my money goes there.
However, it was a wonderful experience, [laughs] and I loved the freedom to take all different kinds of classes since I am interested in so many different things. Brown allows you to take a little bit more time exploring than other schools do. Its a great school; they have a great president, Ruth Simmons. Ill give her a little shout-out! It was a nice community; I loved being in Providence. People are just running around, doing their thing and encouraging each other, rather than New York where everyones always in competition. Thats one thing Ive grown to dislike: malicious competition.
AHHA: Since you are a very spiritual person, how does that spirituality translate into your dance?
YaYa: Thats a nice question. I think in any setting. Right now I mentally went to this Congolese dance class at the YMCA, and then I went to a ballet class, and then I went to the club where its late – but you really dont wanna go home because youre having too much fun. No matter what setting Im in, theres a certain level Im really releasing. That can definitely be a spiritual practice. Its a way to massage your heart; youre paying attention to your most basic instincts. When you get to that place, you dont care that people are looking at you. Youre not trying to do the latest dance move; youre just doing what feels good with what the music indicates. Thats true abandonment and is really beautiful.
AHHA: Whats your opinion of dancers in Hip-Hop videos?
YaYa: [laughs] One of my favorite cousins is a guy and were about the same age. When we were younger, we used to dance a lot. He did more breakdancing and I did more well whatever dance class I felt like taking that day. He was working [in dance] and I wasnt. I was working in retail and proofreading, and I really wanted to dance. Its so hard for dancers sometimes, because music videos are one of the few things you can get if youre not in a company, which is really hard to do. So he was getting all of these jobs in music videos and dancing backup for this person and that person. And you know the kind of dancing I thought was like dancing backup for Janet. You know, people who actually dance.
But you know so few videos these days really have people dancing. I mean, yeah theyre dancing, theyre freakin it. But its more dancing you can find in the club, its not necessarily trained dancers, which really turned me off as a teenager. I would get to some auditions and be like What?! Its hard because you never know. All you know is the name of the artist, and you just go to the audition because you love to dance and you need work. Its really hard to discriminate, especially as a starving artist. So I decided not to really get into that, but its unfortunate. I love to see dancing in videos. Its a treat now when something comes on and the background dancers are actually dancing! Because anybody can drop it like its hot.
AHHA: What music are you currently feeling?
YaYa: Ive actually been listening to a lot of foreign music recently, because I havent had many people to talk to that much to practice speaking non-English. Just listening to lyrics in French or something. I like Youssou NDour; hes from Senegal. He has this one song thats half in English/half in French. Seven Seconds Away is like my new favorite song. But yeah I like to explore in what people like to call World music. I love real instruments. Ive always been Mary J. Bliges biggest fan. Ive loved me some Mary! Always. Always. Ever since Whats the 411? shes been my girl.
AHHA: Whats next for YaYa: more modeling or more acting?
YaYa: Honestly, its always been about acting. Modeling was fun, but a bit of an interlude. Actings hard work so well see whats next. Im just trying to learn the craft and get better at it, and well see what happens!
AHHA: If you werent here, where would you be?
YaYa: If I werent here doing this, Id be here in New York trying to do this! [laughs]