Changed for the Better

Changed for the Better: episode 39

Joseph Wallace

Royalty is in the house! A graduate of 2011, he worked and learned alongside many of my other guests, like Tendrina Alexandre, Hernz Laguerre, Jr, Jessica Butler, Melissa Iglody, Bianca Pierre, Elya Shavrova, Alex Domini. And like his peers, he found comfort in the performing arts environment at Spring Valley High School.

When I met Joseph in high school (Joey at the time), he was a bundle of pulsing energy: all over the place, needing to get it out in some creative way. He loved the discipline of dancing, choreography and performance, which seemed to be the key to tame and focus his impulsive nature.

When he finally discovered the studio, he took full advantage of everything it had to offer in his last two years of high school. He joined Thespians and tried acting in a fall show, and sang and danced in the musicals Pippin and The Drowsy Chaperone.

Much as he loved the Thespian experience, his star shined the brightest onstage under flashing lights and booming beats as he popped, locked and crumped with his crew to the latest hip hop song. This was where he became famous in our community, and where he developed his personal vision.

Always a man of action, he demanded high quality from himself and his fellow performers and learned quickly how to be a leader. The studio was his home away from home, where he explored many facets of the thing he loved most: dancing. In the process, he absorbed every lesson he was offered and synthesized them into the person he would eventually become. He took his talents and desire to hone his business acumen to the University of Hartford, where he earned a Bachelor of Science in Business and Managerial Economics.

Flash forward to today: he is now the Bank Manager and Mortgage Originator at Trustco Bank in Briarcliff Manor. While he wears a suit during the day, just underneath the wool jacket and tie lies an energetic force in artistic entrepreneurship.

After hours, he is the owner of House of Kings Holdings LLC.

From his high school days with the moniker JD Royalty, Joseph has slowly transformed himself into a mini-mogul. Here’s an excerpt from the About Us section on his House of Kings website:

What is HOK? An authentic house of creators building royal self-perception, self-value through the production of premium clothing, and securing intellectual property ownership in the new creative economy and digital entertainment.

Among other things, this businessman/entrepreneur has a clothing line, understands NFTs, is a fire fighter, and most importantly, a family man. He has performed onstage on So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent, the Apollo Theater, has backed up Beyoncé at MSG, and danced in countless dance battles. His ideals of royalty are embodied through my favorite phrase “Be your best you.”

Let’s take a look at what drives royalty.

Divine Reflection

What’s after Royalty? When you feel you have reached a peak, that’s when you start to look into the mirror, because you have to challenge yourself now if you can’t seek the competition needed for you to grow. So you start to look within, challenge yourself; you become your greatest competition.

His spiritual nature connected that sense of competition to his concept of “divine reflection.” In that light, his desire for challenge is tethered to his worth ethic, discipline and creativity as it relates to the world around him. Most valuable are the memories forged through deep connections to the people and activities that are meaningful to him. The holy trinity is the link between himself, his mentors and mentees in the exchange of knowledge and development of vision.

Joey, the Energizer Bunny

Joe fondly looked back to his adolescence, remembering just how vibrant he was in high school.

I had a blessing and a curse. I had a lot of energy and I didn’t know what to do with it. A young teenager who happens to cause mischief sometimes, you get into things, because you have too much energy.

Before he ever self-identified as a dancer, he attended a homecoming dance with his buddy Hervé Alexandre. Hervé pulled him onto the dance floor with a bunch of others and soon, a circle had formed.

I just got this nirvanic feeling that was a release at the same time positive energy was coming into me, and it was addicting to me.

Though he came to Spring Valley as a freshman, it took him a few years to walk into the new dance studio, which had opened just a few years prior. I was trying to figure out how else I could use the space aside from classes and Thespian rehearsals. When Joey walked in with his outstanding hip hop abilities, I realized he had a passion for dancing; he just expressed it differently. I wanted to explore what more he might have to offer. Tapping into that dancing spirit, I hoped to expand his perception of movement and offer a vocabulary he could incorporate and expand his comfort zone. I had to get him into class. Time for a challenge.

The way you phrased it was interesting to me. You actually pointed out one of my main weaknesses as a dancer: I needed to complete my sentences. You said ‘all of these other aspects of dance would be a dictionary for you, like opening a book, being able to finish my sentence and pull from the jazz world, the ballet world, and add it in.’ You were the first “all style” dancer that we knew before “all styles” became a thing.

Developing discipline

Joey’s penchant for dance kept compounding with each new exposure. The flow of jazz, the discipline of ballet, the rhythmic challenge of tap, the structure of the choreographic process: it all fed into his developing vision as a performing artist. Always on the lookout for other dancers, he spotted Michael Johnson on the basketball court. Michael was long and lanky, moved with a fluidity and grace that was attractive to Joey. He instantly recruited Michael and suddenly, he and Hervé had a dance crew: Team Royalty.

Joe and Michael in their tap shoes during a dance break in Drowsy Chaperone.

Eventually, they spent lots of time in the studio. Between classes, Thespian rehearsals and developing their own signature choreography, they immersed themselves in all aspects of dance. Every experience provided an expanded vision of what was possible, what they wanted, and developing new pathways to get there.

Pulling from the discipline of having to learn each dance, to condense your energy to keep going, to sit down and form different choreographies, to piece things together, to coordinate others [of different levels of talent] to still look in unison.

JD Royalty was on a mission: find every opportunity possible to create, share and perform. In his adolescent mind, these thoughts kept swirling:

I have to be the greatest dancer, which means I have to put in the most hours, I have to know everything. If I know everything, I can also teach.

Creating a village

Once he found Michael and created his crew, he continued to seek out more dancers to continue building on his vision. They started to record their practices and shows and posted them on YouTube, when YouTube was in its early incarnation. Back then, they’d amassed tens of thousands of views. In 11th grade, Joey got an email that he had been invited to the YouTube Partnership Program (I remember that day – I had no idea what he was talking about.) In that moment, he saw his path ahead of him and surrounded himself with the people he needed to get him to the next level.

Proving himself

From that point forward, he always had something to prove. He wanted to create a name for himself in the street dance circles and being from Rockland County, and that was an uphill climb. He attended dance battles, where he’d go up against kids from the city. He danced at the Apollo Theater (I would lose an arm to be on that stage). What drove him most was his hunger and drive to get a stronger foothold in the street dance community.

Unfortunately, a few major injuries provided some humbling experiences for him during his dance battle days. When a dancer can’t dance, it make you question your value to the world. Being on the DL definitely slowed him down, and while he did rehab himself back to health, he had time to consider the path that he was taking. Would he be able to continue the climb?

When Beyoncé suddenly dropped her visual album, an opportunity opened up for Joseph when she was rehearsing her concert at MSG. Because he is all about making connections, he had many in the hip hop dance world, and several were signed to agencies. When someone suddenly got sick, there was an opening, and Joseph was referred by one of those connections to fill in. Suddenly, he was immersed in the real deal.

It’s super fast-paced. There’s no one-on-one time. Let’s say you do [the choreography] a total of six or seven times: they expect you to pick it up or they tell you to go home. That’s where the hunger, the drive part comes in: I’m giving all. You meet samurais; it’s a different mastery.

With that experience, his more mature sense of humility enabled him to better appreciate the specialists in their craft. While he still had his competitive nature, he also knew how to take a step back to acknowledge and honor their mastery.

Now, he’s passing on his love for dance to his step-daughter – another person he feels he needs to both prove himself to and inspire at the same time. When he dances for her, he gets that same nirvanic feeling that he did in his adolescence. This time, it’s in the capacity of being the right role model for his child to grow into her best self.

Lessons from the studio

Joe shared so many lessons that he extrapolated from the dance studio and applied to both his creativity and business acumen.

Learning how to freestyle

If you don’t have choreography, [you have to] make something on the spot, using what you have. There are going to be situations in life where you’re not going to have the script; you’re not going to know what to say, you’re going to have to go on the fly, things are going to change. In those moments, you have to use what you have.

Leading a team

Having the freedom to think freely in the studio and work cooperatively with an array of talent and ability in that space helped to set him up for leading a team of people, whether it be in the dance realm or in the financial world. The adage “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” was something he really took to heart. At the forefront of his leadership perspective is elevating each member of his team to make their best effort; a great leader makes everyone look good.

I’d rather us look 100% together from the start. I never wanted the weakest link to look weaker than me. Everyone has to look better than me so I have to evolve.

Using time wisely

As an adult, Joe is a more thoughtful, less impulsive person. But in high school, when the Energizer Bunny reigned, that impulsive energy needed to go somewhere. There were times when mischief was one of Joe’s options. Fortunately, as fate would have it, he was never far away from the studio and my eyes were on him. After a few near misses when I swept him into the studio just before a poor decision could be made, Joe started to think that he could choose wiser activities to fill his time and pour his energy into.

Let’s make time blocks, so my mind doesn’t wander.

That meant he had to be in touch with how he was feeling and apply strategies that worked for him to keep him centered. Often, that space was filled with music and dance.

Communicating more effectively

In high school, as many adolescents do, Joe struggled with verbal communication. He felt things deeply and often didn’t know how to express those emotions out loud. What he could do was show them physically, which was why the studio was a highly regulating place for him to be. It gave him the space to become attuned to what he was feeling, work through it in a physical, creative way, and produce something that was highly personal to him. I could see him working through his head and heart spaces in real time, like a dynamic therapist’s couch.

Knowing your limits

Joe has done his share of living large and has experienced the gamut of the impulsive life in his dance circles. He has learned that the choices you make have consequences. Indulging too much, not taking care of your health and nutrition, keeping your body strong and flexible all have direct impacts on a dancer’s ability to perform, especially as the body gets older. He now pays close attention to how he treats his body so he can continue to challenge himself in the dance world.

Making an impact

Just after high school graduation, Joe and his crew created an hour-long show to present to the elementary schools. He wanted to show those kids just what was possible in our district. Years later, he got some feedback:

Those same students that were watching you are telling you stories about how you changed their life. These people have way more followers than me on TikTok now. It’s like an extension of your generation. I’m your extension and I’m making extensions for you now. I have to show my vision and help another individual’s vision.

It’s the perfect embodiment of paying it forward. Good work, Joe.

Sage advice

Ignore the outside noise. But, know the difference between noise and advice that’s genuine.

When you are exposed and allow yourself to be vulnerable, you take the risk of being open to criticism and doubt. Joe’s Royalty lens begins with this mantra: You’re the greatest from the minute you look in the mirror.


Breathe and Stretch. This is a form of meditation for Joe. It helps him to breathe and regulate his naturally volatile, chaotic nature. While he stretches in the morning, he recites daily positive affirmations that help set up his day. At work, if he’s “having a moment,” he’ll go in the back, breathe, stretch, look in the mirror for a moment of divine reflection.

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