Motin’s career as a dancer quickly took off: She was cast in Spanish choreographer Blanca Li’s break dance film, Le Défi, in the early 2000s, after accompanying her then boyfriend to the auditions. She worked as a backup dancer on television as well as for a number of pop acts, and eventually landed work with choreographers who broadened her horizons, like Sylvain Groud, who, she says, made her realize she could dance to something other than hip-hop. Working with Angelin Preljoçaj, she was inspired by his storytelling, the way he envisioned a full show, not just dance steps.
What many consider the pinnacle of her career—dancing for Madonna—actually had her on the verge of quitting altogether. It was 2012. Motin had gone through the stringent audition process, and landed a coveted place on the Queen of Pop’s MDNA tour. She was impressed by the crew’s talent and blown away to perform in front of huge crowds day in and day out. Still, she struggled to find meaning in what she was doing. She felt trapped in the moves of hip-hop she’d trained so hard to master. It didn’t help that working for one of the world’s greatest pop stars meant there was no room for individuality. “I was really happy to be there, but I found myself dancing to choreography that bored me,” she says. “And I had to perform it 300 times, without being able to change anything, not even what I did with my little finger, so after a while, yes, it became painful. I realized I didn’t want to tell other people’s stories anymore.”
Coming back from tour, Motin felt she might never dance again. She knew she needed to reconnect with what moved her in order to start moving again. It took her a year. She listened to music that got under her skin, and let herself sway until she found new movements. Gestures that carried meaning because she hadn’t learned them; they oozed from her. The verdict was radical: She had to let go of hip-hop music in order to move forward. “I was locked inside of it, I couldn’t imagine anything new,” she says, circling her eye with her fist. “It was as if I were looking at things this way and then, pfffftttt.” Her hand bursts open, widening her field of vision.
This marked the start of Motin’s choreographing career. With Swaggers, her crew, she set out to “spill her guts on stage,” as she documented it in a 2013 blog post. And so her first show, In the Middle, was born. Its opening act set the tone: Motin, dressed in black, enters a dark stage and walks into a lone flash of light, while the intoxicating harmonies of “El Desierto,” by the late Mexican American folk singer Lhasa de Sela, fill the room. Suddenly, her body seems possessed, traversed by a magnetic tide pushing her back and forth. Each movement feels impulsive yet controlled, electric yet fluid, as if the waves of hip-hop entered the body of a flamenco dancer. Then, the performance becomes softer. Gradually, more light spots pepper the stage, illuminating other dancers, whose moves echo Motin’s. Their on-and-off synchronicity is hypnotic, until each performer breaks away from the group, each in turn taking the spotlight for a solo, a way to reclaim their individuality. “I do what I want to do, and that’s what hip-hop is about too,” says Motin. “It’s a life philosophy. I may no longer follow hip-hop movements, but I remain profoundly hip-hop. I go wherever my heart beats.”
Meeting Belgian musician Stromae did accelerate her heartbeat. So did working with Christine and the Queens. She describes both as visionary artists who conceive their shows as an experience beyond music. They want a say in every detail, be it the lights or the artistic direction, much like Motin does with her own shows. “With them, you know you can drop a choreography, and it will look good, because you think and work together,” she says. “Sometimes, when you’re not in sync with the artistic director, you look at your choreography and you’re like, Crap, this looks like a bad Italian TV show from the 1980s.”