Global pop diva Beyonce is known for fiercely protecting her brand, and now an Australian dance school has been forced to stop getting bootylicious like Queen Bey.
What started as a few classes in 2012, responding to demands to learn Beyonce’s famous Single Ladies dance, had grown into a fan school spanning several states.
“It was never meant to be like, ‘Oh that’s a great business idea, I’m going to take Beyonce’s stuff and make some money off it’.
“It was about the fact people were transformed when they let themselves move like Beyonce … here’s this iconic woman who is so beautiful and so feminine, but also so powerful, and they’re not normally ideas we put next to each other” Bey Dance director Liz Cahalan said.
But Ms Knowles wasn’t crazy in love with the concept.
Ms Cahalan said her “heart kind of stopped” when she recently received a “cease and desist” email from Beyonce’s Sydney lawyers.
Ms Cahalan said the original notice gave her 14 days to remove any references to Beyonce from her school and classes — from using “Bey” in the program’s name to playing her music in classes, plus mentions in social media posts or Beyonce’s famous moves.
“They said they could see what we were doing was out of complete admiration for Beyonce’s work, but it could be damaging to Beyonce’s brand, because people might think we were affiliated with Beyonce,” she says.
“I’d be chuffed if people genuinely thought we were, but we’re clearly beginner dancers, in Australia, just wanting to show our admiration for this performer.”
Ms Cahalan says ‘it wasn’t entirely unexpected’
After receiving the letter from Beyonce’s lawyers, Ms Cahalan had to re-purpose some of the classes offered at her school.
The school has been renamed, while the score for the dance routines — previously drawn entirely from Beyonce’s catalog — now includes tracks by artists such as Madonna and Rihanna, with Beyonce’s music dropped entirely.
Ms Cahalan said she had sought legal advice in 2015 when establishing the school, and at the time was confident her adaptations were sufficiently different from Beyonce’s to be within the rules.
But even back then she said her lawyers warned her Beyonce might prove a powerful adversary in court if any legal issues were to arise.
“It was in the back on my mind this one day might happen, but it seemed a bit outlandish she would shut us down,” she said.
“They said ‘if ever Beyonce took exception she’s got a lot more power and money than you, I wouldn’t fight it, just have a backup plan.’
“Beyonce’s a powerful lady and she’s not afraid to fight for herself, and she is known to be quite litigious,” she said.
Ms Cahalan admitted she felt relief in wrapping up the school.
While Beyonce’s early music encompassed universal themes of body confidence and female empowerment, more recent albums — including 2016’s Lemonade — have been more specifically about the experiences of black women in America.
This posed problems for the Australian dance school.
With her background in women’s studies and art therapy, Ms Cahalan said she saw the opportunity in the original music to channel the power and confidence of Beyonce, and encourage people to use dance to work through issues like loneliness, mental health problems and self-image.
“When we first started, the main message was about body confidence and body positivity and that was very much where the culture of the Western world was at, trying to reclaim women’s bodies in all their shapes and sizes,” Ms Cahalan said.