Cover Story – PAUSE Meets: Donte Colley


 Donte Colley

Talks fashion, mental health and dancing.

Photographer: Ollie Ali // @mrollieali
Creative Director & Stylist: Rhys Marcus Jay // @rhysmarcusjay
Interviewer: Johnson Gold // @johnson_gold

“dressing up and being ourselves is vulnerability”

Being yourself and accepting you is a big challenge we all face and Donte Colley is one that expresses him self on all levels, through dancing to dressing – you’re going to feel his energy. Breaking barriers through the internet, Donte Colley is inspiring the next generation.

A human filled with good energy and positivity, Donte started his career rise through social media, just by having fun, being himself, and sharing his creativity through positive messages gave him the power to inspire millions of people to keep going.

Touching people all over the world digitally and physically, Donte shares with PAUSE how to be mentally aware, woke and healthy by prioritising your mental and physical wellbeing.

We discuss with Donte how tips on pushing through life, his spark on dancing, mental health and how to stay authentic through digital life.

“You’re going to find your own unique things that you unlock on your path, just trust your process, because yours can’t be the same as anybody else’s; you have to write your own story.”

We sat down with Donte to find out his story.

So I’ve followed you for the longest time and I’ve seen your colourful outfits, ones that caught my eye even before you blew up. I remember us reposting you on PAUSE and thinking “Wow, people dress like this in Toronto?”. Tell me about what it was like growing up in Toronto, just being you.

The beautiful thing is that I’ve been following PAUSE since the jump! I feel like, you know, back in the 2015 era, we were deciding what we wanted social media to be, the ways we were wanted to connect with one another from all different parts of the world, and how we were seeing ourselves in each other. That was something super special, and I’m grateful to have been able to see your growth and see the brand’s growth in general because it’s always been rooted in love and who you are as a person as well. It really embodies exactly what it is that you’re looking to do, which is to amplify people’s voices in creative and inspiring ways, which is something I’ve always stood behind as well.

In reality, in the environments that we surround ourselves with, there are people who aren’t as open and unapologetic as we’ve been. Like, dressing up and being ourselves is vulnerability, it’s something that not a lot of people are going to understand, nor should they. I think that’s what our style is empowered with… it’s who we are and it’s something that nobody can really give to us. Nobody can make us choose what we want to be and who we want to be; we’re just that ourselves. There weren’t a lot of people wearing colour and leaning into curiosity with what the rules of fashion were supposed to be or pivoting away from all of the things that we were told that it needed to be. As I started to express myself more with fashion, I started to gravitate towards people that loved fashion the same way and it was by breaking barriers and trying out new things, or pushing things together that you might not have thought to put together, but you’re owning it and it’s yours. I’ve definitely seen an evolution of fashion, especially with more people doing it now. It’s amazing to have been a part of the foundation of it, and you too… it’s changed things. Especially on digital platforms, that’s something that we should definitely be proud of. It’s just continuing to be that and continuing to make the ripples that we want to make, and inspiring the next generation. The older generation is just going to continue to look down on us and think that we’ve got to offer isn’t worth it, but I think the best thing is that we’re showing them that it is and encouraging them to do the same too because they’re just as powerful as we are.

Eyewear: Loewe Shirt: Igor Dieryck Trousers: Basketcase Slipper: Gucci

Your career has blossomed through sharing positive vibes and your amazing dance moves on social media. Was it on New Years that you did a motivational dance and edit that went viral? I don’t know if that was your viral point, but did you expect that response? And how did you take it?

I’ve been doing this stuff for so long that to me, I was just happy to come up on anyone’s feed and make them smile. That’s all I could ever ask for. Obviously, I was really overwhelmed in the beginning of that period… I had been used to expressing myself digitally, sharing my story, and encouraging others to treat themselves better and know that whatever it is that they’re going through, “You got this and you can push through” because of the experience that I’ve gone through in my life and my unique journey. It was like, whoever I was crossing paths with digitally or physically, I knew that I wanted someone to feel better after having a conversation with me or coming across an extension of me because of the way I’ve been treated in the past by people, their perceptions, and their limiting beliefs.

It’s just challenging that and being myself; it’s been that since the beginning. It’s about finding more of myself each and every single day… we’re never going to have everything figured out, so you learn new things about yourself constantly, but also know that I never had a voice like this before; I was finding my voice through doing that. It really empowered me to know that I had something worth saying after so many people had shut me up before and really made me feel like my voice wasn’t worth hearing.

Do you mind telling me more about people shutting you off?

Yeah! I’m Black and I dress the way that I dress… It’s not something that people are necessarily used to. I’m not here to please anybody or do anything to make anyone else benefit off of what I do, but I just know what it feels like to be constantly rejected and constantly have people say things about you without even getting to know you. That’s just something that you deal with on a day to day, everyone does… especially in the digital world.

And in the fashion industry!

In the industry as well! There are just so many people that have something to say. When was the last time you checked yourself and looked in the mirror? And that’s not a negative thing to say, we all have work to do and we can all be better. Let’s be just be better for one another because we’re all going through something. With the rejection… you’re growing up and you’re figuring out who you are, and you’re constantly surrounded by people telling you who you should be and that’s just not the reality that I wanted to exist in. For my own safety, it was my protection and it kept me safe from the environments that were unsafe until I gravitated towards the ones that were meant for me, the rooms that were meant for me, and the people. That is something that I’m so grateful for and excited about, because it opens more of the pathway forward for more of those opportunities to come in… we’ve got to make space for it.

100%. I love that you share positive edits that make someone’s day! Tell us about what makes your day.

Oh my gosh, dancing for me is my why… it’s literally the reason why I’m here. Growing up in a digital age like we have and me being five years old and wanting to pursue dance but not feeling comfortable enough to do that, the internet was that for me. I learned everything I know now by teaching myself off of the development of these social platforms and through people that were posting content about tutorials and all that stuff, that was the foundational learning for me. I’d sit by myself because I never felt like I fitted in anywhere, but the internet made me feel like I could fit in and even though it was always flooded with negativity, I always wanted to try and find some light in it because I knew it was there. I’m seeing that more so now. The reality is that we’re not lacking… sometimes it’s not as wrong as it seems in our minds and it’s a process. It’s not a perfect one and it shouldn’t be; you’ve just got to do you. But yeah, dancing is my thing, it’s always been.

Is it a stress-free outlet for you?

It’s the best way that I can channel what it is I need to say when I don’t have the words to. Growing through that process of not really feeling like I had anything to say and starting to use my voice more with my actual voice, like my movement, that just fuelled what the digital world kind of came into. My art was exploring the uncomfortable things about myself that I needed to find more comfort in.

What five tips would you give for someone to keep pushing through life every day?

One is one that I learnt from my high school musical theatre director, which is what people think of you is none of your business. I literally lead with that every single day because how can someone tell you about you when they don’t even know who they are? Also, that doesn’t even matter, we’re all doing what we have to do for ourselves, so just do that and don’t hurt anybody in the process. Two, I would say, whatever is meant for you will find you. Don’t feel guilty about the blessings that you deserve… that was something for me where I felt for so long like I wasn’t deserving, even though I’d done the work and had been doing the work.

You’re going to find your own unique things that you unlock on your path, just trust your process, because yours can’t be the same as anybody else’s; you have to write your own story. Three, I would say, prioritise your mental and physical wellbeing… put yourself first. I think health is wealth and you can really find a change within your self once you do that work that will benefit you externally as well. Four… be bold with your choices and moves. It’s okay to fall, you can pick yourself up. You shouldn’t be afraid of falling because that’s when we learn the best things about ourselves. Five, just keep being you and allow yourself to be open to change and if you’ve got to leave things behind, you have to. That’s not something to beat yourself up about. It’s okay to be sad when you’re making really important decisions that are meant to benefit you. Not everything is sugar-coated, not everything is worth being sugar-coated and sometimes it’s going to get really nitty-gritty. You’re not going to face anything that you’re not prepared for, so trust yourself and continue to evolve.

100%. Obviously, we are all human at the end of the day, and even people that motivate millions have their off days. Have you ever felt drained of the internet or life? And how do you switch off between online and offline on the days when you’re just not feeling it?

Absolutely. When the pandemic happened, it was such a pivotal point to figure out who you are supposed to be. What would you like to see? What do you want to surround yourself with? And what would you like to experience in life? That’s not easy… you’re really going against everything. You’re not going to be understood when you’re making those decisions for yourself, so going through that process of going after your dreams is not easy. You’re going to have people around you that aren’t really rooting for you and are just around you for their own unique benefit, which you’ll come to realise isn’t healthy and isn’t good for your bigger picture. You’ve got to snip that stuff off and create space for that new stuff to come in. I definitely have my days and I still continue to, it’s a part of being human. It’s part of our anatomy, it’s a part of who we are…we have to experience all the different kinds of emotions.

If we’re not, that’s not healthy either. I think that’s why when I say prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing, there’s things that go hand in hand. To me, moving your body is totally different from the things you put into your body, and I think you need to find an even balance of what that looks like for you and just be that for yourself. You’ve just got to figure out the things that make you happy… they’re there, you just have to do the work for yourself to figure out what they are.

Yeah! And obviously leaning towards that, what do you do to stay mentally healthy? What are some of the things that have helped you through your life to stay mentally healthy? Whether that’s eating, exercising, doing other sorts of activities.

The best thing that you can do is detach from your phone. I think we were so immersed in it, it was all we had to stay connected. Of course, it served its purpose during the pandemic to help us through all kinds of different things that were being brought to the surface all at one time. That was a really wild ride, but you know, I think 2021 was a self-discovery journey for a lot of people. They really figured out things about themselves during that time in unprecedented time in isolation. The structures are constantly being brought down and built back up, and you know, since we’ve been on social media for so long, you really figure out things when you step back and start to look out here.

Once you start looking out here again and start looking back, it’s actually more inspiring to figure out what you’re creating. I think if there are creators out there, or influencers or whatever, how much longer is that going to last? If you’re going to jump into that industry, what are you looking to do with it? Are you looking to travel and have experiences and gifts given to you at all times? That’s not the reason why you should be doing that. Clearly you have something to say, or you have something in you that you’ve been bottling up and that you want to share. It’s just up to you on how you express yourself in that way to let that light shine from inside of you.

I would say just take a pause, it’s okay to do that. We’re so pressured to constantly create and it’s like, constantly create for who? Is it for you? Or is it for other people? If it’s turning into things for other people then you really have to step back and claim your energy and bring that back to you. If you’re going to continue to spew out things for other people, you’re going to be drained. That’s what happens. We’re constantly pressured to get the timing right, the analytics… it’s not worth it. Your reality on the outside is so much more precious and valuable. Get out there and get moving! Get some physical activity in, find some things that you maybe haven’t explored before, there’s no harm in trying. Food wise, I really went through a vegan journey in 2021. I felt like it was a self-reset.

Suit: Stylist’s Own

Are you still vegan?

I’m eating a little more meat now, but in 2021 I was full-on vegan. That was a real shock to me, because I’m Jamaican and I’ve been brought up around meat my entire life. Once you step back and replenish yourself with the real things that you need and go back to it, you start to realise that you didn’t need to have it as often. But again, it’s all up to you and what you need for yourself. Those are just some things that I’ve done to help me keep my mind clear, because it can get wild out there.

Did you ever feel as though you had to keep giving in the moment? Did you ever feel as though you were serving for others instead of yourself?

Absolutely. I think, you know, you get caught up in the cycle of it all, that was me in 2019 and 2020. Primarily, I had a responsibility and although I didn’t owe anybody anything, I felt as though it was a duty for me because people had been so impacted by my voice and what I had to share that, in a time of a need and crisis, I needed people that supported my art to actually support the things that I believe in, which inspires the art that I create. It wouldn’t be fair for me to not set that boundary with people who are digesting my content often because, what’s that for? That’s not the reason why I did it.

The reason why I did it was because it was a way for me to express myself and it helped people in the process, and that is something that I’m really proud of and will always be really proud of because I know it’s still helping people everyday. But at the same time I’m a growing person, and I’m not just an emoji dance video and there’s more of a reason to them than just that. They are ways of me learning to love editing more and trying out different things outside of that.

Your dance moves give me life! How did you learn all of dance moves? Did you study dancing?

No! So, I never went to dance class. I went to a performing arts high school that I auditioned for when I was a teen, and that was like the first time I was surrounded by technicality. The awesome thing about my school is that they never wanted us to be cookie cutter; they wanted us to be ourselves. They wanted us to explore things in a different way, and they obviously wanted us to hit our ones and twos on stage, but it’s in your own embodiment of what that is. It just helped me develop myself more and how I wanted to be as a mover, and I always dreamed of being surrounded by people that loved what I loved, and that was dance.

Growing up with it on the internet and teaching myself from choreographers that I admire, whether it was watching Much Music or BET, and seeing these music videos flood my TV station everyday, I was seeing mirrors and reflections of myself and my environment through all of these diverse casts of people and really talented performers. It was something that I wanted to do and still want to do, but the internet was my tool. It taught me everything that I know, but you know, I’m not perfect and I may not have the best toe point and my hips aren’t necessarily squared when I’m doing specific turns, but for me the best thing is challenging myself to learn something that I’m not necessarily used to. I think that’s what life is about. It’s about finding your own adaptability in things that you’re not comfortable with, like you should be uncomfortable because that’s when the growth comes. I know that I’m always willing to be a student as well as a teacher through my own personal experience because I always love to learn and surround myself with people that love to learn too.

Eyewear: Bonnie Clyde Top: Norblack Norwhite Shorts: Issey Miyake Boots: Bottega Veneta

I would say you’re good though, for somebody that’s not professionally trained or has come from a learning background, you’re really, really good. During the Black Lives Matter Movement in 2020, you flipped your social media page more into a news feed page and updated your followers on what was happening every day. Why was it important to use your platform as a news feed? And do you believe that every influencer on social media should be doing this during political times?

No, not necessarily. Again, for me, it was what I felt like I was called to do at the time. It was because of my own experience being Black and having that experience actually happen in my life where I knew I had something to say, something that was actually important. I needed everybody to stand behind me and actually stand ten toes down, because this is an issue that we’re constantly facing everyday and because of the work I was making I can’t just let people take that and run with it. If you’re going to invest in my art, I’m going to need you to invest in the things that I believe in and the things that are here to build a better future for us all. Do I think everybody should do it? Not necessarily, because there are definitely people with other intentions of what they’re doing, which we can see now. But, for me at the time, it was important for me to pivot because that’s where I was in my life and that’s where my journey was.

That’s what was literally happening in my day-to-day, you can’t run away from it. Why try and run and put up a facade of what my day is looking like amongst the chaos? It’s chaotic. I’m trying to find the community that’s going to unite together. Let’s push forward and make the changes that we want to see.

Do you feel like it was for healing as well? Because that was such a huge moment. It affected everyone around the world, from the US to here in the UK.

It grew so much nobody could get away from it, and that’s the power of the internet. That’s the influence that we have in each of our lives, and just because you don’t have hundreds of thousands of followers it doesn’t mean you’re not impactful in somebody’s life. Your voice could help somebody see something that they had not been seeing, and it’s not your responsibility to, but if somebody is invested in you and cares about you then they need to see eye to eye with you and see what your needs are. It cut deep and brought a lot of sh*t to the surface, I’m sure for everybody else too.

We’re still healing through that, and we’re still healing from the things that we suppressed from when we were younger. I can see the wave, I can see the healing happening because more people are taking time to focus on what it is they need to focus on now, and that’s super important.

Definitely. Who motivates you?

So many people. Beyonce is my person, somebody that I am just so grateful to have witnessed their journey, like from being young and seeing somebody doing what they were doing, it just continued to inspire me to try and do the same in my own way. Rihanna. There’s just so many. I grew up with a single mum for the majority of my life and I was just always influenced by women that were bosses and were really dominating their path, because they had no choice. They had to do what they had to do. There are so many people that inspire me and I’m inspired by so many things everyday, especially through the help of these platforms. With people being more so themselves, it just helps ignite you to do the same.

Definitely! And your style is flawless! Who are some of your favourite fashion brands right now?

Oh my gosh! Well, I love that adidas are collaborating with all these designers right now, I think that it’s a super fun way to connect comfort leisure wear with high-end. I love the new adidas x Gucci… I love the Wales Bonner x adidas collaboration, that was a real throwback to the 1970s and 1980s vibe. Super fun. Jacquemus, love. Who else? Christopher John Rogers is doing something super special with colour, and I just love that you can feel the energy off of every single piece that he creates. There are two really awesome Toronto brands that I love… S.P. Badu is a super talented designer based here making some really cool utilitarian pieces, but also comfort and casual. He makes some really fun tank tops and shirts. Then there’s 4YE… I’m a tourist, so I love being comfortable in my stuff, and they make some really fun tracksuits, durags… they’re just really pushing what needs to be pushed.

I love your new style of dancing videos, I’ve noticed a shift. You’re taking a much more artistic approach to your videos, I feel like the quality has levelled up a little bit as well. Tell us about your new direction.

Well, it’s been a secret for a really long time, but this past year I’ve been building my very own dance studio in my own home. I completely renovated my backyard and it’s in its final stages now, but I’ve always been inspired by art and always wanted to create crazy installations that I could move and feel comfortable for me. We’re most comfortable and our most authentic selves when we’re at home, and I really wanted a space to do that in even more and share that with other people and learn from them. It’s been a real process, but I’m super excited to actually have it announced and shared. It’s been interesting, I’ve done it all pretty much on my own with a really good team helping me put it together, so we’ll see what’s in store. I know that there are some fun things coming, but other than that that’s the major self-check for me just because it’s what I dreamt of as a kid.

Love that. If you could share a message to the world of Instagram, what would you say?

The message that I would share to the world of Instagram today would be that…

Because it’s also changed so much as well…

It has changed from when we started to use it, like, we know because we started on it. We really grew from nothing and that’s something to be proud of, to have built that community. I would just say that, not in a negative sense, to just be really discerning with the information that you are fed daily. I think it’s really important to separate being affirmed with information and being informed, there’s a lot of chat and talk from so many different people with opinions who are sometimes really unsolicited. It’s just being cautious with the things that you hear and see; pay attention to the things that keep you inspired. If you’re looking for specific types of information, just make sure you’re getting it from the right sources.

I agree, 100%. There’s just so much you consume, like I don’t even watch people’s stories as much anymore. It’s not on purpose, I think gradually it’s gotten to the point where I don’t want to be consumed with so much, there’s just so much going on.

It’s like we’re invested in each other’s lives, but we’re not. It’s like the separation. You’re sharing your life with people that don’t care, and that’s fine, but it’s just knowing that there are people who do care. You can share that stuff, but don’t beat yourself up about it. You come to realise that yeah, you have these people that watch your stuff but they’re just curious about what you’re up to, they don’t really want to know what you’re up to. They just want to see that you’re doing something I guess. You’ve just got to do you!

What do you think about social media breaks? Do you think people should do that more?

It’s so important… you have to. I took a huge hiatus from Instagram this year, I needed to detach. It was becoming too real and it was becoming something that I knew that it wasn’t ever supposed to be. It’s awesome that more people are feeling inclined to utilise their social platforms for business, but that’s not why we started.

It’s so business now!

When I hear people talking about what it means to be a creator, the resume of what it means… I was like, how did you guys find this? I didn’t see you ten years ago when we were all around, but at the same time, you do you. Again, it’s about being discerning about the types of information that you’re seeing, and if you want to see what’s possible, really pay attention to the people that have been doing it for a while. That’s just what we’re up to, I think we inspire a lot of people daily by just being ourselves. That’s for the sole purpose of us sharing that to the unknown, and I think once you detach from that and let that out, that’s what seeps in the most. I think if it’s too thought out and curated, that’s when you get too rattled up. There’s a world out here, you can live here!

It becomes unauthentic!

Yeah! We don’t have to go up in there like that.

Eyewear: Tom Ford Coat: Kid Super Suit: Qasimi Trainers: Alexander Mcqueen

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