Moaning is most suited to being the center of attention, but he’s also famous for backing two of the world’s biggest pop divas. He danced with Janet Jackson during her infamous Nipplegate performance at the 2004 Super Bowl, which led to a job choreographing Beyoncé’s B’Day tour. (Moaning also appeared as a neon specter in the singer’s “Freakum Dress” video.) More recently, he taught his friend M.I.A. some moves for the video to her song “XXXO.” What links his body of work together? “It’s all about being free,” he says. “It’s flamboyant, but raw.”
Getting free wasn’t easy. Born in Portland, Oregon—land of hippies and organic farming—the lyrically named Moaning stood out in a crowd, to say the least. “I used to get teased as a kid,” he recalls. “‘Oh my God, Jonté! You’re moaning!’” He pauses and adds triumphantly, “Exactly. I’ll be moaning forever.”
As a teenager, Moaning played soccer and practiced the Brazilian martial art of capoeira. “My ballet teacher told me to stop because I had to keep beautiful legs.” It was valuable advice. Moaning’s next project—a workout video for his Japanese fans—will show them off. “I made the DVD to focus on the legs,” Moaning explains. “I have this dance called the Tori Groove. Tori means chicken in Japanese, so it’s kind of like the chicken groove. It’s all about the gams!” He’s got legs. He knows how to use them.
Not everyone can look tough-as-leather while dancing in six-inch heels. But choreographer and singer Jonté Moaning is a rare bird. Part sinuous Grace Jones androgyne, part futuristic Max Headroom cyborg, part anime come to life, Moaning and his athletic feats of footwork elevate dancing to an exuberant new level.
“Moshi Moshi,” is how Moaning answered his cell phone. (His even-keeled, chirpy voice belies his gender-nebulous warrior image.) He has been visiting and teaching dance in Tokyo since 2008, and has picked up Japanese from his students. He’s found himself right at home among the competitive dressers of his adopted country, as well. “Everybody in Japan dresses flawlessly,” Jonté says, “like walking art. And Harajuku, which is where I stay, is where all the crazy people are. Everybody looks like Lady Gaga. It’s so much fun. I love it.”
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