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Dancing With a Music Icon: Aimee Payne

At some point we are all the same. Inside each of us is a young person with dreams. Aimee Payne has achieved many of the goals she held on to as a young aspiring dancer. She’s performed in front of massive crowds, on hit television shows and even in feature films but getting the call to dance for and next to Janet Jackson gave her the chance to fully realize a childhood dream. Being inches away from the iconic Ms. Jackson during “Rhythm Nation” was magic for Payne and proof that a dream must be pursued with tenacity in order to be manifested. Dancing alongside Janet to a capacity concert crowd at the Rogers Arena in her hometown of Vancouver made the experience all the more poignant for this Canadian talent who felt she always had to work a little harder to get where others were.

Payne had worked with Jackson’s Creative Director Gil Duldulao before but when she received a call from him to perform with Jackson, the dancer was understandably ecstatic. When “Rhythm Nation” (the actual name of the record is “1814” but is commonly referred to as “Rhythm Nation”) was released almost thirty years ago, earning Jackson nine Grammy nominations and top selling tour of 1990, it was likely that Janet would still be performing it to legions of fans for some time. What would not have been predictable is that all these decades later Payne would be dancing shoulder to shoulder with her. Aimee confirms, “I’ve been fortunate to work with some very well-known people but Janet is truly at another level. There’s so much appreciation for her as an overall artist, including as a dancer. When I received Gil’s call my heart skipped a beat. When he asked if I wanted to dance with Janet, I was over the moon. After our run through of the production, Janet was so sweet; very beautiful and thoughtful. I kept pinching myself.”

There’s perhaps no more validating experience than performing with an artist of Jackson’s caliber in one’s own city of residence. This was the situation for Payne when dancing with Janet at Rogers Arena. Having performed in her hometown previously at BC Place for events like the Paralympic Opening Ceremonies with an audience of 54,000 meant that she was prepared but the reaction of fans was altogether different. They included two very special to Aimee; her mother and her childhood dance teacher Jocelyn Peden who had danced for Jackson when she herself resided in Los Angeles. Aimee relates, “The crowd was so loud and excited. I was aware that I had family and friends in the audience but to be honest, your mind kind of goes blank in that situation. Thank God for muscle memory! I do remember thinking ‘Ten-year-old Aimee would be freaking out to be doing this right now! It was a euphoric moment to be doing what I love with such incredibly talented artists and to have the people I love in my life there to be a part of it all. It was like a dream.”

Adding to the longevity of this specific moment was the fact that Entertainment Tonight aired footage of the performance across North America on their broadcast, resulting in Aimee’s family and friends reaching out from multiple locations with giddy phone messages of congratulations. It’s rare that you see someone simultaneously so in touch with where they are and where they once were; someone like Aimee Payne. While some of the most legendary names in her profession and in the music industry enlist her talent for their projects, the sense of perspective she possesses is endearing. One hears a sense of gratefulness and accomplishment in her tone. She conveys, “Achieving your dream is rarely easy but well worth the hard work. I’ve learned a lot along the way. If I could speak to that younger version of myself I’d tell her to not sweat it so much, to be kind to herself, and avoid comparing herself to others. Your time is coming so breathe and trust your journey.”

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