Creator DeVaughn Ballinger in a scene from his video, in front of a Detroit classic, American Coney Island. (Screenshot)

DeVaughn Ballinger is 10 minutes late for our interview. The founder of Believe3 Dance Company and a graduate of the Detroit School of Arts is multitasking. “Snookey,” as he is affectionately known, is managing an Amazon delivery, adjusting his lighting to add some “feng shui” to our Zoom call and smiling about his recent success.

Ballinger, a Detroit-based dancer and choreographer, has been busy building a career and business creating high concept dance videos that ‘break the internet.’ This month, Believe3 released a celebration of Big Sean’s “The Baddest” which went viral. 

Even Big Sean reposted it. But this is only the beginning for Ballinger. 

This interview is edited for length and clarity. 

Orlando Bailey: Tell us how Believe3 started.

DeVaughn Ballinger: Believe3 got started about five or six years ago [with an Instagram account.] My first group was called The S.N.O.B.S (Stop Negativity or Be Silent). And I basically made them the OMG Girls of dance. Within the first two months, they opened up for Mindless Behavior. That one broke the internet.  

Detroit “used to have homecomings. Homecoming was a big thing. Pelle coats, Dickies, d0-rags, Cartier glasses, basement parties were big,” said Ballinger about his inspiration for his version of “The Baddest.” (Screenshot)

[I held] auditions to make another crew because we had a big opening at Wayne State University for a fashion show and I needed more dancers. And from those auditions, I started a group called the P.L.A.S.T.I.C.S. (Please Listen and Support Teens in Creative Synergy), a group called the S.N.O.O.P.S. (Stopping Negativity Opening Opportunities to Succeed) and a group called B.R.A.T.S (Be Right and Think Smart).  

OB: How did you come up with these names? 

DB: The names just came to me. I’m big on passion. I’m big on energy. I want you to believe what I’m doing. Like I need you to feel it.  

OB: How did you become interested in dance and who inspired you?

DB: My journey to dance came from when I was a football player. Bro, I played football for three years. Middle linebacker and fullback. I also did wrestling and gymnastics. I was doing all of these things at the same time. Leaving one practice to go to the other practice. My father kept me in any and everything that he thought I wanted to do so I can find my way. But my aunt and cousin were the cheerleading coaches, and they used to have me help the girls with the tumbles. So, at halftime, I would take off my football pads while my team was in the huddle and go flip down the whole field, and then put back on my pads to get back in the game. Then I decided I didn’t wanna play football any more. I just wanted to cheer. So, I started cheerleading. I started doing competitions. I started throwing in a little choreography here and there in the cheer routines. And one of my teachers in middle school let me be a part of the spring concert and I choreographed five dances. After that, my teachers told me that I should go to Detroit School of Arts (DSA). At that point, I never planned to go to a school of performing arts, I was going to my neighborhood school, Southeastern.

OB: OK, so you’re from where I’m from. The Eastside. A boy pursuing dance wasn’t something you saw often. How was that received? 

DB: My mother absolutely hated it with a passion. She said cheerleading is for girls. 

OB: Did you struggle with that? 

Ballinger uses Detroit dancers for his videos. (Screenshot)

DB: It made me rebellious. It made me very rebellious and it made me grow up real fast. It developed character for me at a young age. I had to realize that if I wanted to do something, I had to do it. Regardless if someone was going to support me or not. So, I went to DSA and I said, “Here it is. This is a new world for me.” 

And I failed the first two years of my dance classes. 

OB: What?!

DB: I failed because I wouldn’t get dressed for class at all. Boys don’t wear tights. Boys don’t wear no ballet shoes. Ms. Reynolds never gave up on me. She saw something in me. She could see the battle I was in and she loved on me. If it wasn’t for Ms. Reynolds. I wouldn’t be dancing.  

I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. She opened up doors for me. She walked me into rooms that I would never have been able to step foot in.   

OB: It sounds like dance is this living, breathing thing that you’re in relationship with. 

DB: Yes, dance is spiritual for me. Dance is healing and therapeutic. It has a language of its own. When I’m alone, I go to dance. When I’m depressed. I go to dance. When I need a release, I go to dance. I’ve danced my way through the darkest moments of my life. Dance has this vibration and this energy that brings people together around the whole world. No matter the race, no matter the age, we all are connected to music and the music is connected through dance. 

I’ve developed my family from dance. So, dance will always be something that saves the soul. 

OB: The dance visual that you created that Big Sean reposted feels like the perfect encapsulation of a segment of Detroit culture. What is Detroit to you? 

DB: Detroit is unapologetic, raw and aggressive. We have something to prove. People wanna disrespect us. They want to little-dog us. They want to take our culture. They want to take our music, they wanna take our swag and appropriate it for gain.  

But we’re the originators. We kick it on the block with the Faygo, Better Made chips. I’m getting my hair braided or I’m brushing my waves. Yelling down the street for the ice cream truck. It’s a culture.  Especially on the Eastside where I was born and raised. You hear loud music; you go to parties. You see people hanging out their windows. It’s a vibration. It’s an energy. Our swag is unmatched. Nobody can dress like Detroit. Nobody. We can’t be outdressed.The way we dress is the conversation starter. It’s all a part of our loud, outspoken personalities.

OB: Talk about how Big Sean captured that Detroit-sauce you mentioned and put in a body of work that has the city on fire right now. 

DB: When you have so many people that speak negatively about our city, people clench up when they hear you’re from Detroit. But when it comes to our music it tells a different, more positive story. He brought more awareness to our greatness. He made us happy to be from Detroit.

OB: Talk about the now viral dance visual that you posted with Big Sean’s “The Baddest” on the track that actually samples that Godzilla mix. Talk about the process. 

DB: I kept playing a song over and over. And every time I played the song I wanted to go back into my childhood. I wanna tap into those memories. What was I thinking about during this time? How did I dress at this time? What did we do for fun? We used to have homecomings. Homecoming was a big thing. Pelle coats, Dickies, d0-rags, Cartier glasses, basement parties were big. Skateland was big.  

So, I created a treatment and put out a call for dancers on my IG account. Before you knew it, all of the slots were filled with Detroiters. 

We filmed the video and I posted it. Everybody started sharing it. I sent it to a few people that I know that are close to Big Sean’s camp. The next day, someone sent me a screen shot.  Big Sean had commented on the video and I didn’t know. Then he reposted it. And then I said, “Oh, this is lit.”  

We got double the love and the mission was overaccomplished. I’m satisfied. Thank you, Sean, for acknowledging our hard work. And I’m happy that you see that we did it for the culture and it was just It was a big moment.  

OB: What are you hoping for? What’s next? 

DB: I hope that I’ll be able to work with Big Sean and his camp. And to continue to collaborate with all Detroiters. I stand for Detroit. I love Detroit. I love everything that we have to offer. And working with Big Sean could go a long way. He had humble beginnings and was hungry. Now I’m hungry. I’m hungry for this. I’m ready.

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Orlando Bailey is Engagement Director for BridgeDetroit. He is the former deputy director for Eastside Community Network in Detroit, is co-host of the Authentically Detroit podcast, and is the host at...

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