Ernest Raja Nettey, popularly known as Starter, the charismatic professional dancer from Accra, has become an overnight sensation for his enchanting dance videos featuring real-life joyful market women. His love for dance began at a young age and became his solace after his mother’s passing. Despite facing funding challenges, Nettey persisted and created dance performances that moved and inspired his audience. For Nettey, dance is more than physical movements – it is a form of communication that conveys profound emotions and messages beyond words.
I was born and raised in Accra, Ghana and have been a professional dancer for as long as I can remember. Dancing is my passion and livelihood, and I enjoy seeing the happiness it brings people.
After losing my mother, I found solace in dance and realised that bringing joy to others was a vital source of inspiration for me to pursue this path.
At the beginning of my career, I faced many challenges due to the lack of sponsorship and support. When I was just starting, I had to rely on my dance group and the few resources I had to create my projects. Despite the difficulties, I persevered and continued to create dance performances that touched people’s lives.
In addition to dancing, I used to be a professional basketball player for Galaxy FC. However, I stopped playing when I realised there was no basketball association in Ghana, and I could only play for fun.
One of the biggest challenges I face as a dancer is the issue of funding. I often have to negotiate with market sellers for locations to shoot my videos and pay them for their time and inconvenience. Many people want to be part of the videos, and shooting a dance
sequence can take an entire day. I appreciate their efforts to the best of my ability, but it can be difficult when funds are low. Despite the challenges, I remain committed to my craft and continue to inspire others through my dance performances.
In 2019, I was scheduled to dance last during the filming of a video. I wasn’t wearing a top at the time, and one of my friends suggested I dance without one. Initially, I was hesitant and felt insecure because of my weight. However, after speaking to others at the venue, they all agreed it would be a good idea, so I decided to try it.
Surprisingly, the video was a hit; many loved the shirt-off concept. This experience inspired me to adopt it as my signature brand and encourage other dancers, particularly those who may also be self-conscious about their bodies, to embrace it.
Today, I take pride in being a role model for people of all body types, showing them that their physical appearance does not determine confidence and self-expression. I strive to use my platform as a dancer to promote body positivity and encourage others to feel comfortable in their skin.
The Happy Town Project
Dancing has been a part of my life since I was a child, but I only began pursuing it professionally four years ago when I enrolled at DWP to hone my skills. Through this experience, I discovered that my true purpose was to use my passion for dance to bring joy and happiness to others.
This realisation led to the Happy Town Projects, which focus on spreading positivity and uplifting communities through dance. I have found a deep sense of fulfilment and purpose by using my talents to impact people’s lives positively.
Through my work with the Happy Town Projects, I aim to inspire others to find their unique ways of bringing joy and happiness to those around them. We all have the power to impact the world positively, and it starts by sharing our gifts and passions with others.
“You Can’t Dance Without Purpose”
The Happy Town Project is a venture that amplifies the joy of dance, bringing happiness to poor people, market traders, women, and all who encounter it. Launched officially in December 2020, the project was inspired by my unique dance style, which people find relatable and amusing. For a while, I had been keen to find a way to bring my talent to a broader audience, but I needed to figure out how to start.
Then, one day, I chanced upon a man in a wheelchair, and an inner voice urged me to approach him and dance with him. That encounter became the genesis of the Happy Town Project. Initially, with a focus on physically challenged people, the project has grown to include other groups and continues to spread happiness through the art of dance.
Relationship with Market Women
The market dance concept is particularly relevant to me because it resonates with the women’s experiences in the market. I have seen how our mothers in the market work tirelessly, spending the whole day waiting for customers who may never show up and often need to be more acknowledged and appreciated. This inspired me to find a way to relieve their stress and help them feel more youthful and empowered.
Having grown up with a mother who was a trader, I have firsthand experience with the challenges and struggles of running a business in the market. This is why I started the market dance concept, where we come early and do rehearsals with the market women before recording the dance videos. It’s a way to bring joy and entertainment to their otherwise tricky and tiring days and show them they can do what others are doing.
On Inspiration and Drive
I draw inspiration from within and constantly challenge myself to improve and rewrite my story. Additionally, I make it a habit to engage with those around me, as one never knows who might have more expertise in a particular area, such as dance. I can learn from others and grow as an artist by avoiding isolation.
Most Rewarding Moment
One of my most rewarding moments was when my market crew recorded a video titled “Balance”. Even though I wasn’t a part of it, they knew what they were doing, and it turned out great. This video holds a special place in my heart, and I was overjoyed with the outcome.
Thoughts On Dance
Dance is more than just physical movements; it is a means of communication beyond words. Dance has a spiritual dimension that touches people’s emotions and can even make the audience cry. It’s not just about the dance itself but the more profound messages and feelings it conveys.
I am excited and eagerly anticipate taking the Happy Town Project across Africa. My goal is to inspire people and restore hope through dance and by offering words of encouragement and support. I hope to secure sponsorship for this project, as it will be a considerable undertaking, but I am determined to make it happen. Nigeria will be my first destination when the tour kicks off.
At the moment, I am still determining if I want to create an academy, but if I do, it would be specifically for older women.
With God’s grace, I am confident that I can travel the world with the Happy Town Project, and I will need a dedicated team to assist me with logistics. My ultimate goal is to spread the message of the Happy Town Project to every corner of the globe so that everyone can experience the joy and blessings it brings. By collaborating with big brands and meeting inspirational individuals, I want to continue to impact lives positively. ∎