He’s danced with Ariana Grande. Beyoncé has shared his moves with her 127 million fans on Instagram. But Donté Colley is most at home in Scarborough, Ont., with his mom.
Colley is just 21, but he’s racked up more than 677,000 Instagram followers, including many who found him when a video of him dancing in his undecorated tiled basement went viral in January. The simple message of that video, and many others like it: “Keep on working toward your dreams, you can do anything.” Here’s his latest:
Colley’s videos seem silly — he can and will dance to everything from pop hits to elevator music to TV show themes (yes, that includes Game of Thrones). But he says they have a deeper purpose, like helping people through feelings of self-doubt or depression.
“I just love trying to make people feel a little bit better,” Colley told CBC Toronto.
“I know how dark and gross social media can be … I wanted to bring some joy to people who are going through a hard time.”
Although Colley’s unwavering positivity has launched him into the spotlight, he’s faced hardships too. He lost his dad when he was eight years old, followed by his step-brother and grandfather. Then, four years ago, his older sister died by suicide — a loss that he’s shared with his followers on Instagram.
In a heartfelt post from late January, Colley wrote about the guilt he still shoulders about what happened, telling his followers “every day is a struggle.” He also took the opportunity to speak directly to others struggling with depression, telling them “you are not alone” and “there are people here who care about you.”
“I am pouring out so much of myself online … that some people are now venting to me [and] sharing emotions they haven’t been able to get out before,” he said.
The responsibility can be overwhelming, Colley says, noting his inbox is flooded with messages from people sharing what’s happening in their own lives. His mom, LeeanneColley, recognized the challenge.
“He had phone numbers [for counselling services] ready to copy and paste,” she said.
“It was very emotional for you in the beginning of the year,” Leeanne said, speaking directly to her son.
As Colley’s star continues to rise, he admits he can’t get to all of the messages he receives. But he tries to funnel messages of self-love and self-care into his videos.
“If I can give people a little bit of light in a dark place, that is why I keep going,” he said.
‘A little bit of positivity’
By the end of 2018, a New Year’s post by the self-taught dancer was shared by Saturday Night Live’s Leslie Jones, making Colley an internet sensation.
Colley’s emoji-accentuated dance moves have since charmed some of Hollywood’s elite, including Jennifer Garner, Will Smith, Emilia Clarke and Halle Berry.
But that wasn’t always the goal.
“It reached people in a way that I had never expected it to … It was never about the followers. It was just me doing me,” he said.
Colley says he started posting his videos in 2015 to show the real him, instead of a “facade” for others to see.
“Dance is something that makes me feel good and makes me feel true to myself,” he said.
He’s still somewhat surprised that resonates with so many people.
“I still don’t really get it,” he said.
“But it’s nice to see that there’s a community that is looking for what I’m looking for, and that’s a little bit of positivity on the internet.”
This story originally appeared on CBC