GREATEST / Donté Colley

Viral content creator Donté Colley divulges the benefits and woes of social media.

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You may recognize Donté Colley as the trending face of positivity and empowerment. At just 22, he’s carved out a space within the ever-evolving landscape of social media by being himself. Donté didn’t plan for the on-camera interviews, an Ariana Grande music video, or for his free-spirited clips to go viral. Rather, his “successes,” in his own words, have been defined by simply making a stranger’s day—one emphatic shoulder-swaying, self-love-affirming dance video at a time. Catching Donté in his hometown of Toronto, I expected our conversation to predominantly center on the union of accessible technology and personal messaging. Instead, the main takeaway I was left with from catching up with the refreshingly humble creative is this: Canadians are indeed the nicest people you will meet.

Donté, can you take me back to the moment when you first connected dance with your trademark messaging?

That ‘aha’ moment was when I posted a video dancing to Nintendo Wii music, which received an outpouring of positive feedback. It made me take a step back and reflect on the true intention of creating my videos. The reaction to that particular video made me realize the heart of shooting, editing and uploading is to positively impact someone’s day. I’ve continued producing them and along the way have developed my technical skills by watching YouTube tutorials.

However, it was a steady climb getting to this ‘aha’ moment. I had been posting dance videos on my YouTube channel for over five years. I was initially inspired by old Disney Channel TV show intros like That’s So Raven and [The] Proud Family, and wanted to challenge myself by recreating them while also putting my own personal spin. Naturally, my work evolved into something I never thought it would be. Creating videos became a vehicle to express and share bits of myself, especially on the topic of mental health, and hopefully help others in the process.

Creating videos became a vehicle to express and share bits of myself, especially on the topic of mental health, and hopefully help others in the process. 

DONTÉ COLLEY

How topical is self-branding as it relates to creating content under your platform?

I’ve learned so much this past year, and I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to expand my craft in. It’s fascinating to see how the Internet works, especially when you’re a creator, but people only see you for that one thing you’re famous for. I am cognizant of my “brand,” but I also understand I am in full control. We (creators) are our own brand, and we possess the capabilities to share our unique stories and journeys, whatever they may be. 

Personally, I don’t force anything; I present who I am in a true, honest way because there’s nothing to hide. That’s the core of my “self-brand.” My ultimate goal is to make someone leave my Instagram feeling better about themselves, and inspired to achieve their own goals. It’s reciprocal because I feel that same energy back from my supporters.

Over the years, what steps have you taken to evolve your content, or do you stick to a strict winning formula when sharing something new?

I am always open to learning new things. As a creator, I believe you have to evolve, so I am constantly researching and educating myself on new skills and methods. When it comes to my work, I am also especially hard on myself; when I first started editing, my videos were not where they are now. It’s exciting to look back and see your growth and journey over the years, and then to consider where you can take it. It’s up to you to make that happen. It’s up to you to do your research and execute what you want. 

There’s definitely not a winning formula—I’m a very spontaneous person. I’m also not doing what I do to ‘win’ anything. It’s more about lighthearted fun and sharing who I am, and hopefully that makes someone feel that much better about who they are. 

Taking a step back to the root of all this, who or what inspires you, and how do you translate elements from their work to your own?

My mom inspires me so much, especially right now. She’s someone who has always pursued her dreams, and to see her growth from where she started to where she’s at today… to see how she’s manifested her dreams is just insane. She’s taught me that success takes time and does not happen overnight. I’ve channeled her dedication, passion and drive into my personal work. Social media in general can be inspiring as well. Of course there are pros and cons, but to see how people think and view the world is encouraging, and I do tap into that.

Do you feel any additional pressure to “keep the happy face on”?

It’s funny because “that happy face” is me. At the same time, it’s important to remember that I am not a character; I’m a grown 22-year-old human being. I’ve gotten comments like “oh my gosh, you’re a big kid who wears bright colors and big prints, etcetera.” Well, that’s just my personality. I know I’m grown, and I’ve started reminding people now. 

All of us are growing, and my style of work is me, but there’s always going to be more ahead. I’m just continuing to evolve and grow, and in the process not get caught up in creating for others, but remaining true to myself.

Speaking of comments, how do you react to negative feedback on your page?

I don’t react because the majority of the time it’s not worth the energy. I simply wish them the best because often there’s something bothering them so much on the inside that haters have to put others down in order to feel better. At the end of the day I’m doing what I’m doing to encourage you. We are all in this together, we’re all on this planet at the same time… I just pray for them, wish them the best, send love, throw up the peace sign, and keep it moving.

You create these videos that keep others going—they’re outward facing. Is there a particular person or thing that you have for yourself when you’re feeling down and need an inspirational boost?

There are a few people in my personal life who I turn to that can always put a smile on my face. My boost is my little circle of family, friends and the hilarious digital content I come across. Rickey Thompson and Denzel Dion who are [Internet personalities] are both hilarious, genuine people. They always put in a good mood because they’re just being themselves.

I’ve also found a new love for TikTok, a short video sharing platform where users frequently pair music with choreographed and/or edited clips. There’s a new generation that’s growing and they’re showing the raw side of themselves, which is super exciting and fun. It’s trippy because at the same time I’m like, “How are you even thinking about this? You’re 14! You’re so ahead of it, and that’s so dope.”

The same can be said about you! And with that, on your personal path of self-discovery through the years—whether it’s through your platform or behind-the-scenes—what’s something you’ve learned about yourself that you are particularly proud of?

This past year I learned about setting boundaries. The way that I’m wired, I want to go out and support anybody and everybody. However, I’ve gradually discovered that you can’t do that all the time. Some people take advantage, which is of course disappointing, but you have the responsibility of setting those initial boundaries within those relationships so that certain lines are not crossed.

In terms of self-discovery and growth, I’ve definitely grown up fast in my life, but there’s still a lot more room for internal growth. There isn’t any rush, though. Every single day we learn something new about ourselves. We just have to keep that energy going.

Considering your mental health-centric platform—especially as it pertains to social media—as a “social media star,” how do you balance new levels of fame and exposure, and the responsibilities and pressure that comes with it?

It has definitely been interesting. I still haven’t comprehended everything that has happened in terms of “blowing up.” I do know that I haven’t changed. I have been doing this for so long that this is who I am. The pressure comes from questions like, “What’s next for you? What are you working on?” Honestly, who knows what’s next? On handling the “pressure,” I find it so important to find ways of keeping yourself grounded even though the world may be spinning around you. Slow and steady…

I find it so important to find ways of keeping yourself grounded even though the world may be spinning around you. Slow and steady…

DONTÉ COLLEY

I can only imagine the challenges of navigating social media expectations. On that note, if you could invent the ‘ideal’ social media app, what would it look like? 

That’s wild because there’s so many things to consider, and maybe I’ll change my mind in a few months after saying this. I know I would present owning the right to your own content. We forget that when we post a picture or video on these platforms, we no longer own the rights to the content. More security and full ownership would be major principles. Otherwise, whatever’s next to come will come.

Pivoting to personal style, fashion is one of, if not the most visible forms of self-expression, running parallel to your work. How would you describe your own style and taste?

I would describe my personal style as ‘70s and ‘80s meets early 2000s meets “futuristic.” I love to mix and match, and I am all for sustainability. I thrift a lot of my clothes for those two reasons. There’s something magical about coming across treasure pieces in shops before putting a look together that nobody else will have, which represents you so well. I don’t even know what word I would use to describe it—it’s just me. This is all me.

Since we’re getting personal, if you were asked to set up the ‘ultimate dance-off,’ who would be your two contestants?

Beyoncé would be on one side for sure. I would love to dance beside her one day. Beyoncé versus Rihanna. I think they would be so dope to have a full on vibe with. That would be a dream! 

What is the theme song for A Day in the Life of Donté Colley?

New Love” by Victoria Monét—that song gets me going. Another one is “Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly—another get up and go tune. 

Last question: if your page was deleted tomorrow, and nobody knew who you were, what would be the first song you would choreograph to in reintroducing yourself to the world?

Honestly that would be my indicator that it is time to disconnect. Realistically that’s how it would play out. If I were to come back, it would probably be to something Beyoncé, because she’s got my “Love On Top”!  

INTERVIEW: TOBE OKOCHA
PHOTOGRAPHY: STEPH VERSCHUREN
STYLING: BOBBY BOWEN