Luther Brown knows exactly how much hard work it takes to get successful.
The popular judge on the hit show So You Think You Can Dance Canada (SYTYCD Canada) is a self-taught, self-built success story who had to work hard for the success he now enjoys as choreographer, business owner and TV personality.
Brown, 34, started out as a kid just trying to feed his passion for dance in Toronto’s Jane and Finch neighbourhood.
“I started in the hallways in the basement of my building, doing steps with my dance crew. I would always be writing stories and plays and putting dance in. I didn’t even know what the term choreography meant — I was just the dance crew leader,” Brown said.
Brown says his home life instilled in him the importance of helping out his community, with his dad, a teacher, and his mother, a minister. Brown started working at the Driftwood Community Centre, running plays and dance troupes to help kids like him find a positive outlet for their energy and keep them out of trouble.
“It took us off the street doing it, and it took a lot of kids off the street. Just seeing some of these kids who nobody would take to open up, that was rewarding,” Brown said.
Brown took the dance groups he formed at Driftwood and eventually created Do Dat Entertainment in 1997, eventually becoming a leading development centre for performers of all kinds in Toronto. Famous Do Dat alumni include R&B singer Shawn Desman and choreographer Tanisha Scott, known for her work with Alicia Keys and Sean Paul.
Singer/songwriter Jully Black is one of Brown’s closest friends and he says growing up in Jane and Finch together taught them to support each other.
“We both kept each other focused. It’s really good to see how people’s lives have blossomed after what we started back in the day,” Brown said.
Brown says the moment he realized he’d “made it” was when he got to work with Janet Jackson, one of his childhood idols.
“I used to run home from church to watch her videos on MuchMusic. I’ve ended up working with a lot of people who we used to rehearse to as kids,” he said.
Judging on SYTYCD Canada was a blast as well as a challenge for Brown.
“The experience has been unbelievable. It tests you on every level and it’s bringing your face across every television,” he said.
Brown’s advice to performers in the same shoes he started out in is to aim high and never let up.
“Dream big and it’ll happen. You can’t get full-time results from part-time effort,” Brown said.