The breakout dancer to keep on your radar? Say hello to 26-year-old movement artist and leader of Pharrell William’s BAE girl gang Mette Towley. Her forename is a forecast of sorts, pronounced Meta (aka, to denote something of a higher or second-order kind). Towley has had an incredible year so far: having her head shaved into a buzz-cut by Rihanna on screen to starring in Beats by Dre‘s #AboveTheNoise campaign last month and most recently starring in N.E.R.D and Future’s politically charged new music video ‘1000’. Hunger caught up with the rising mover and shaker to talk the unifying power of dance, reclaiming black beauty and calling RiRi her hairdresser…
Hi Mette! What was it like being part of Beats by Dre’s #AboveTheNoise campaign? What message did you want to get across?
Being part of it as a dancer and being so featured was such an incredible experience. For me personally, it signified that all those 10,000 hours [of work] really have paid off. When I think about above the noise – there’s no should’s in that space. It’s living in a place for you, and whatever authentic place that is. You’re just able to be who you are. For me, as a dancer, when I think of that space, it’s like my body is giving 100% because I’m taking care of myself so that I can push through rehearsal. I’m able to put myself in a place where I can do what I do so well because I’m prepared; because I don’t have any voices in my head saying you can’t do this, or you should do this or should do that. It gives you freedom.
"As a dancer...I don’t have any voices in my head saying you can’t do this, or you should do this or should do that. It gives you freedom."
What tracks will always get you on the dance floor?
Hearing the new N.E.R.D. album! I can’t wait for the world to hear it – it’s so good.
You’ve worked with Pharrell for some time now. How did your collaboration come about?
In January 2014 I auditioned for an NBA All Star game and N.E.R.D. were performing. Since then, I’ve been rolling with their performance ever since. As a dancer I made a really conscious decision that he was someone I wanted to work for. I just wanted to stay in his camp because he’s someone who allows you a safe space to be yourself – as a movement artist, that is very rare. Especially in Los Angeles.
How would you describe your dancing style?
Technically wise, I love modern dance and hip-hop [but I just] really enjoy movement and that’s the thing for me. I went to a university in Minnesota and that’s when I really dug in to training and dance theory. And a lot of my professors there had a background in American Modern Dance, but also I got to study contemporary Indian technique; there’s a beautiful femininity and spiritual quality. Dance is really transformative; it’s a universal language. That’s why I really love performance because you can really move people. In a lot of ways dance is capable of bridging a lot of gaps between us.
The performance space that I love to be a part of is one that recognises our differences but they don’t push us apart – it unites us. To be fearlessly feminine, love who you love, be yourself: when those things are allowed everyone is stronger. That is where I dance. I take classes in LA at this place called the Sweat Spot – it’s all levels. You don’t take videos and post it on the internet. Because for me I wanted to be in those spaces where we can be present.
The opening scene in Rihanna and N.E.R.D’s music video is incredibly moving. What was it like having your head shaved by Rihanna?
To be able to work with her is incredible. That to me is such a highlight of my career. Really getting connected to who she is for the world as a powerful female figure and musician. I commend her – she takes a social stand as well. Having that point of view is what really inspires me, you know, like there’s more places to go for me. To be on set with an artist that I respect, working with artists that I remember listening to in my teenage years it really brought me out of my teenage angst. That’s the best thing!
After Solange Knowles and Lupita Nyong’o called out the magazine industry recently for photoshopping their hair, narrating stories of black evolution in beauty and fashion is a huge topic right now…
I really just want young women to really get that natural is beautiful. As a young women if you hear that a magazine is altering the natural state of a woman’s hair…I think you just need to be woke about it and specifically beauty alteration of women of colour. For me it says like: ‘Okay, why isn’t this natural good enough? Because I definitely think it is.’ It’s really interesting – being in Los Angeles and having curly hair is an identifier for me. Like, it’s archetype here as a dancer. “She has curly hair, so we’ll put her in this group, and we’ll have all these girls dancing…” So for me, when Rihanna shaved my head it was like a reclaiming of my body. And of my identity, outside of this particular pool of dancers that have curly hair X, Y, Z… It was like ‘No! I’m gonna work and dance of my own accord and sense of identity.” You know, we’re just talking about hair but as a woman we’re in a lot of ways conditioned to have our hair, or be a representative of how well we take care of ourselves of a feminine nature.
How would you describe your day-to-day style?
In the last two years it’s been a lot of t-shirts and baggy pants! I dressed based on how much I have to move. One of the things I learned from Pharrell is there’s really nothing you can’t do. Favourite brands? I wear a lot of vintage mens Levi’s jeans from a $10 rack I don’t try on. I’ll get back home and think ‘that looks kind of odd there, but that makes it.’ I honestly don’t shop that much, I steal a lot of clothes from my brother!
What are you looking forward to most in 2018?
I think you’ll see me continue to dance as the N.E.R.D. album is released and I’m looking into acting and performing more too. My dream part? Just strong, female, protagonist roles. I want to explore who I am as woman through those roles and what I can be for young women. And women of all ages really. That’s important to me.