30 Sep 2021

Number dyslexia and counting successes: hip-hop dancer Yami 'Rowdy' Löfvenberg

From Nine To Noon, 10:05 am on 30 September 2021

Yami 'Rowdy' Löfvenberg has difficulty understanding numbers, and couldn't read an analogue clock until she was 18, yet needs to count beats for her art.

The award-winning British-based hip-hop artist and choreographer with a counting dyslexia also teaches dance at a London conservatoire.

Löfvenberg is the only northern hemisphere member of the Australasian female collective Hot Brown Honey.

Löfvenberg tells Kathryn Ryan she was bullied at her Swedish school because of her dyscalculia, and told she was stupid. 

"I was very early on neglected and put in a library and had to fend for myself and tried to learn.

"Unfortunately, because of that, I think I built a very low self-confidence and I was very nervous in school and very stressed in learning environments and it followed me through to my adult years, where I got very anti-school establishment and anything to do with learning.

"It's definitely life challenging. Unfortunately, we don't speak a lot about it for adults and people who work in higher education, like myself. We often focus on kids, but many people live with dyscalculia and many people don't know they live with it as well."

But she had a breakthrough thanks to hip hop at the age of 15, when she followed a friend to a dance class.

"In this class was this guy called Damon Frost and he's this tall black man and he was just so friendly and welcoming. He was literally saying 'oh you got something about you, you don't know what it is but when you find it, you'll be amazing and a superstar' and it just stuck with me.

"In his classes, it didn't matter that I couldn't count, it didn't matter that I didn't know the steps, he was such a good teacher because he saw I was struggling but he wouldn't give up on me.

"In this room, everyone was equal because everyone was a beginner and everyone was learning.

"So that's really what took me out of this dark place, because dance was somewhere where I could be completely free and not bullied like I was in school or having racism because we were all from different colours in this class, so dance really was my saviour in that sense."

Traditionally in dance, everything is executed on counts, but Löfvenberg says she couldn't process that and instead used the rhythm to focus.

"So when I started teaching, I started teaching in this way that if you can't hear the counts, you can listen to the rhythm, or if you can't hear the rhythm you can listen to the lyrics, or whatever.

"I would open up the mind of myself of how I learnt to other students as well because I realised that other people might be like me and hiding, and not telling me that they can't understand the counts."

Now she draws on her experiences to challenge stereotypes by incorporating dance, spoken word and music with the motto "let's edutain". 

"At a very early age, I had this idea that you know what, if I can do things like dance and make people happy then I have something of value, and I think that stuck with me growing up.

"I use education as a way of talking to people but at the same time, educating can be really boring sometimes so I also want to entertain people because I think if people laugh and are happy, they're more willing to engage and listen to you."

Many people who were made to feel ashamed of their condition could relate to her show titled Someone That Unreservedly Pursues Inspirational Defiance (or S.T.U.P.I.D), she says.

"At that time, I was finding it extremely hard to be open about my hidden disability and I felt maybe if I talk about it in dance form, people will be willing to listen to me and see it through my eyes.

"I thought if I can be that trailblazer for other people, in a sense it can also be healing for myself in the process."

Her Rowdy alter ego helps her feel free and confident on stage, Löfvenberg says.

"Growing up as Yami in Sweden, in a predominantly white country, I was often very silenced and sort of put down and racism was a big part of my life.

"So Rowdy came about of just standing up for myself and not caring what people think and did. When I started competing in the hip hop circles and what we call cyphers and battles, Rowdy would take over."

Löfvenberg says one of the biggest moments in her life was being able to perform back home in Sweden with Hot Brown Honey.