Harlingen father-daughter duo to open for Lil Wayne at Payne Arenadfwnewsa | November 10, 2023 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News
SAN BENITO — Inside L & H Events on South Sam Houston Boulevard, 11-year-old Mariana Donnelly and her father Trevor Donnelly were rehearsing for their next big performance.
Mariana, whose stage name is That’s So Mariana, held a podcasting microphone, and her father, who goes by Tha Rift, held a plastic water bottle in lieu of actual microphones.
They jumped and skipped around on the brown-colored tile dance floor in front of a large mirror as music from their new extended play (EP), “Eclipse,” thumps from a speaker. As the song “It Get Deep” ended, Trevor pretended to yell, “Make some noise” to the imaginary audience.
They dove into the opener of their EP, “Way Too Much.”
As they danced around, singing the lyrics at a lower register, as they hyped up the imaginary audience in front of them. In less than a week, that imaginary audience will be real, they will be singing into real microphones, and the rehearsal space will be traded for the stage at Payne Arena in Hidalgo, where they will be opening for multi-platinum selling artist and five-time Grammy winner, Lil Wayne.
Kimberly Banda, who is the owner and director of Step By Step Dance Studio, has been helping Mariana prepare for her upcoming gig since she first enrolled with her studio in August.
“Since then, we’ve been really choreographing this whole show,” Banda said. “Their new album just came out this past Friday, ‘Eclipse.’ That’s where a lot of their music is going to be coming from, so what I did is I went and worked with Mariana mostly since she is my dancer. She wanted to blend the choreography with the words that were coming through.”
Banda, who is an education consultant by day, oversees a number of competitive dance groups. She formerly ran Starz School of Dance before closing it down to pursue a masters and doctorate degrees.
As a lifelong dance enthusiast, she was drawn back into competitive dancing and opened her new studio in June. Mariana was among the first to enroll with the new studio when the school year started. Banda described her work with the father-daughter duo as private coaching, a different concept.
“It’s very different than regular choreography for a recital or something,” Banda said. “Coming into this, you really have to take in their style of dance. They have more of the Afrobeat and hip-hop style of dance. I had to research the Afrobeats because that’s not something I’m used to. She gave me her input, so her creativity is in there too.”
Mariana and her father moved to Harlingen from Los Angeles a little over a year ago. During his time in LA, Trevor was signed to Rostrum Records, but he said that he is now an independent artist.
“I come from a family of music,” Trevor said. “My dad has been a DJ for about 30 years. He’ll be DJing the show. I got my daughter into music over the past several years, from recording and writing and mixing and mastering songs.”
“Long story short, she is more of a dancer,” he continued. “She’s been dancing since she was two years old. She’s also into a little bit of acting on YouTube and TikTok.”
He said that the two have rubbed shoulders with some high-profile artists and celebrities before moving to the Rio Grande Valley to escape the fast-paced lifestyle of Los Angeles.
“We moved here to get more for our money, more space for our dogs and our family, and to have a more quiet and peaceful opportunity for living a normal life,” Trevor said. “LA was pretty fast-paced and intense. We did learn a lot initially there.”
He said that Mariana has danced in music videos for Rosalia, Travis Scott, French Montana, Amber Mark, and Missy Elliott, just to name a few.
“Now she has her own music videos,” Trevor said. “I am not a dancer. I get my dance skills from her. We kind of trade off. I’ll help her write her music, and she’ll show me some dance moves. I’m pretty outdated. The last dance I [learned] was (Crank That) Soulja Boy. Don’t ask me to do the Dougie or anything else.”
Trevor has also made a name for himself in the music industry, opening up for Wiz Khalifa, Mac Miller, MGK, Waka Flocka Flame, and Kevin Gates.
“Now we’re opening up for Lil Wayne on November 18 in Hidalgo, Texas,” Trevor said.
He described their music as easy-listening and family-friendly with no swearing or misogynistic material with hints of hip-hop, R&B, and Afrobeats — a nod to Mariana’s Liberian culture.
“I can be kind of nervous, but I’m used to it,” Mariana said. “I’m not really afraid. I’m not nervous.”
“She’s pretty used to (performing),” Trevor said. “It’s kind of the same thing. We’re always nervous before every show, but then when we get up there you just get into your zone.”
With so much pressure mounting as the day of their show draws nearer, Mariana remains cool and collected. While preparing for the show, she also balances extracurricular activities and school work, of which she is an A and B student.
“It surprises me that she is still hyper focused and attentive to everything and being able to juggle it all at one time,” Trevor said. “It surprises me, even at my age. I don’t think I could do that at 11. I was watching Pokemon at 11.”
He said that moving to the Rio Grande Valley has proven to be a wise decision, and he and Mariana have felt the support from the community as they continue to pursue their musical dreams.
“I love it here. It feels like home,” Trevor said. “The community is supportive. The local businesses are supportive. The hospitality is friendly. There’s low crime. There’s plenty of space for community and growth with the children and activities. It feels like home.”
Their music is available on streaming platforms including Apple Music and Spotify.
Information about the dance studio can be found by visiting the website, www.stepbystepdance.net, or by calling (956)200-4617.
Editor’s note: This story, headline and photo captions were corrected to reflect that the concert will be held at the Payne Arena in Hidalgo.
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