To say that Donté Colley is a superstar would come to the surprise of absolutely no one on the Interweb as of late. The 22-year-old Instagram sensation has taken the world by storm with his magical videos that combine dance, emojis and inspirational messaging (A recent favourite matched phrases like “You’re meant to be here” and “Keep being you” to the seventies anthem, “The Best of my Love”). Colley has been posting these videos on his account, @Donte.Colley, since before he graduated high school in 2015 but amassed nearly a million fans in the last year after his videos were shared by the likes of Beyoncé and Will Smith (casual). Since, he’s performed on Good Morning America, collaborated on Ariana Grande and Victoria Monet’s video for “Monopoly” and created his own perma filter for the platform that made him famous.
What might be surprising to find out, however, is that Colley has always been like this. Flipping through the pages of his junior high notebook is like scrolling through the comments of his posts. “I’ll never forget laughing ‘til we cried in math class and the epic happy vibes that you always have with you,” reads one note. “Your outgoing personality made me survive these three years,” reads another.
“I always wanted to be myself, but also wanted to bring light in a dark place and be that light that someone else needs,” he says.
“I always want to make sure everyone that’s in my circle is okay and want to take care of them and be there for them.”
Growing up in Scarborough, a suburb of Toronto, Colley was into dancing, performing and playing soccer. “My grandma always said that I was dancing ever since I could stand,” he says. Playing house was a big thing for him too, which is where he says his so-called “momliness” was born. “I always played the mom because I was raised by a single mom, and I definitely think [she] has had a huge impact on the person that I am,” says Colley.
His mother, Leanne Colley, a pro manicurist who owns the popular Tips Nails Bar in Toronto, forced her son out of his shell at an early age. “A lot of her clients would come through the house, so a way that she got me to socialize and be a little more extraverted was by saying, ‘Hey Donté, come out here and introduce yourself!’ It really made me initialize conversation with people, which is something I’ve carried on till now.”
In junior high, he’d discover gaming and even learned how to hack his favourite programs to customize their aesthetics. “I was like, ‘Am I hacker?’” he says. He then took his skills to Tumblr, which at the time was exploding with a whole new way to express yourself. “It was just cool to create your reality based on creating digitally,” he says. “I guess that’s why still I love digital media so much.”
Colley was an early adopter on Instagram, too, although initially it wasn’t a positive experience for him. “People were into curating these personas of who they were, but it wasn’t actually who they were. I was one of those people and it just made me unhappy because it wasn’t me,” he says. So, he wiped his feed and started over. “I decided to post who I am, just dance and have fun and not take it so seriously,” he says.