Leida Villegas, known also as Lady Sol, was a dancer herself before starting the FootworKINGz.
I grew up in the mid ‘70s. Throughout the ‘80s, Humboldt Park was still a very gang-infested neighborhood. The fact that I was able to attend the Walt Disney Magnet School probably changed everything. I have a lot of brothers and sisters and looking at their world perspective from having attended local neighborhood schools, it’s—I don’t want to say like night and day, but it’s very very different. Having been granted the opportunity to travel because of my dance changed my world perspective.
We used to hang out at the Riviera Nightclub,* 17-and-over clubs, even though I was only 13, 14. I was always the baby of the group, ‘cause mostly everybody in these dance groups were 16, 17, 18. I was 13. I was in the 8th grade when I started joining these groups. I have to think back, how did I even get involved? I saw them perform somewhere and then I heard that they rehearsed down the street and I went and I found them. Then they recruited me. Then it was from hanging at the Riviera that other artists started noticing the dancers, so they would start asking us, Do you want to do a show with us? Can you put some movement together and come dance with us at this club?
The best experience that I had as a dancer slash choreographer was working on two music videos with Busta Rhymes. Hands down, that was the most fun experience ever. Also ‘cause I got to shoot them in Mexico, which is my parents’ homeland.
We shot in Puebla and the director was Paul Hunter. He’s huge as far as music videos. At that point he had already worked with Janet and a whole host of artists. At that time for me as a dancer, I couldn’t believe I was going to go shoot a video with Paul Hunter.
How I got the opportunity is a fun story [laughs]. In Chicago, about ’99, I heard that Wyclef [Jean] was coming into town. This was after I lived in New York, when I interned at Columbia Records, so I became friends with Lauryn [Hill] and Wyclef and different artists that were under Columbia, and I called one of my dancer friends and said, Hey I’m trying to get in touch with Wyclef—can you hook up some tickets and passes? I had this dream in my mind that I was going to dance with Wyclef Jean. So I had this designer friend of mine make me like this pretty, long dress, and I thought, I’m gonna bring my dress and I’m gonna tell Wyclef that I need to dance with him on stage that night. [Laughs.]
So that’s exactly what happened. My friend got me my tickets and my passes, and Busta Rhymes was on the bill, Cyprus Hill was on the bill, but the main stars were Wyclef Jean and Busta Rhymes.
And so I: Hey, Wyclef wassup with you dada dada da? I was like, So, I was thinking I should do “One Fundamental” with you tonight [laughs] ‘cause you never really saw me dance.
He was like, OK. I’m gonna put you in the spotlight and see what you do.
So he turned up all the lights and put one spotlight in the middle of the stage. This concert was in the South Side, so there was like a huge Latino community that came to the show, to see Cyprus Hill. Then he said to the crowd, Hey, any Mexicans in the house? I’m gonna bring up my girl Lady Sol. Y’all let me know if she’s doing her thing. And the record dropped.
I murdered it. [Laughs.] The crowd went crazy. After that, Busta Rhymes, like, attacked me [laughs] and it just so happened that he was about to go shoot this video in Mexico.
He was like, Oh my god, you’re the girl I’m looking for! And I’ve heard all this shit before. He gives me his number, and then he actually called me. [Laughs.] I was maybe 21, 22 or something, and I thought: did Busta Rhymes really just call me? Next thing I know I’m flown to LA.
What did your parents think of you working where they were from, with Busta Rhymes?
My dad moved out when I was 10. He divorced and went back to Mexico. My mom for the most part had never been gung-ho or too supportive of me being involved in dance or the music industry. I’m always moving away! Now she is more accepting of it, because she sees that I make a living from this. This is my job. Before it was like, When you gonna get a real job? You’re so smart. Why didn’t you finish your degree?
But she doesn’t know who Busta Rhymes is. First of all, my mom doesn’t even speak English. She’s still going to English classes. The only one she knows is Madonna. [Laughs.] So now it counts ‘cause she knows who Madonna is.
You’d mentioned not being so gung-ho about the music industry yourself.
In the music industry, you’re expected to do favors for people, or they promise you things if . . . There was a whole lot of, you know, Let’s date. I wasn’t into that. I was not chasing stardom. That was not my thing. I just wanted to do what I loved to do, which was dance. I didn’t care about going to a party with P. Diddy. I mean, I’ve been at parties where Tupac was, walked right past him. That right there that was one of my biggest regrets: not shaking Tupac’s hand. It truly was. But I was never into stardom, or starstruck. I don’t care about hanging out with you because your name is . . . Hell, just sign a check, gimme a job [laughs].
Now I’m running things. I’m not the dancer anymore, I’m the business woman. Things have improved. This whole Madonna thing, we were also a Top Twenty act on America’s Got Talent, we were offered to participate on America’s Best Dance Crew on MTV which we turned down. So there’s already hearsay, like, Man, she’s tough.
So what’s next for you?
I really want to continue being a catalyst for Chicago’s dance and entertainment industry because I feel that we’re always overlooked. There’s definitely a lot of talent here, and these cultural meccas have been set: in New York, LA, the South. But I think Chicago itself has something to do with it. There’s not a lot of support even within the talent. Everybody has said it, this is a hater town. Everybody hates on each other. We’re not supporting each other.
On a personal level, I hope to be married by next year. I’m very committed and involved in a two-year relationship, and we are talking about really sealing the deal. We’re talking about babies. I have my baby, who’s 6. I want another one. I wouldn’t mind two.
*The Riviera Nightclub is an Uptown establishment built in the 1940s.