They say dance is a universal language. Dancers’ code lie their body movement, no matter how differentiated they are by the various genres and sub-genres that they master. It does seem that revolutionising the art involves breaking through the boundaries of genre, as testified by Haikal Razali and Francesca Yang, dancers and competitors at this year’s Breakout Hip Hop Dance Competition.
Both Haikal and Francesca have battled through their individual journeys in dance. Exuding an urban vibe, Haikal started dancing during his schooling days when he signed up for a lyrical jazz dance class at a studio. He fell in love with dancing and has since honed his craft in hip hop. A key member of his dance crew, Team YOMO, Haikal has been dancing professionally since 2013 and is also a freelance instructor at O School.
Francesca, in contrast, started dancing when she was about three years old and has been involved in Chinese dance, ballet, contemporary and most recently, hip hop. Currently taking a gap year to pursue her passion in the arts, she studied dance as an art form in School of the Arts (SOTA). There, she contributed to the arts scene by being the first organiser, together with her schoolmates, of the Blackout Dance Competition. Her hip hop dance crew, SPUNX, aims to bring a different form of hip hop to the stage as all members have a diverse background in dance.
In collaboration with Converse, we gathered Haikal and Francesca for a chat to learn more about their stories and unique attitudes towards dance.
Nookmag (N): Dancing is a lot about style. How do you evolve your style to keep things fresh?
Haikal (H): You have to take classes that are out of your comfort zone. Let’s say I dance hip hop, and maybe I’d drop by a contemporary, reggae or street jazz class. As a dancer, you have to keep on moving.
Francesca (F): I agree. It’s something that I try to do besides hip hop. In contemporary dance, we push the boundaries and question what dance is and how we can change it from there. This makes us change our mentality and break out from dance steps that we fall back on by default.
N: How does your attitude affect the way you approach dance?
H: I have to be disciplined. I tell myself every day that I want to do something new to stay motivated and inspired. If I don’t, I’d just ‘die’.
F: You really have to put yourself out there. For me, I still find it hard to go to classes alone as it scares me a lot, especially with dancers who are very good. If you really love dance that much, you’d put yourself out there no matter how you look. I believe you should do your best and grow from there.
N: It is challenging to try a new dance especially since you’re already a master of your style.
H: I do have that same problem at times, but I have to be confident and tell myself that I cannot be shy. Or else, I’ll definitely lose out. I’d just go to class and do my thing. I don’t care. I attend a class to learn and you need to have the right mentality to do that and know your purpose for attending.
F: It’s mentally challenging for me to really try to get over myself, especially since doing dance in school was really hard for me as it started getting very tough and competitive. When it came to calling for dancers, I didn’t used to be picked and that really hurt. But I continued dancing, tried my best and eventually, I got picked for one of the showcases. Hard work pays off so you must not give up. Mentally prepare yourself as it’s not easy to be in the arts and dance scene.
N: Tell us more about your Blackout Dance competition experience?
F: It’s really nice to see how the competition has grown. I was part of the team that organised the first competition when we were still studying at SOTA. Back then, we couldn’t have preliminary rounds as there were not enough participants. There were other problems such as getting sponsors and attractive prizes. It grew from there and the competition this year was the biggest. I’m proud of my juniors from SOTA who continued it.
H: We’re all working adults at Team YOMO, so when there’s an opportunity to compete, we’ll join as it’s really hard for us to get together and dance on normal days. We wanted to get the full squad for this competition as one of my crewmates is getting married soon. We didn’t expect to win. We were just chilling backstage and everybody was dancing and chilling out. When they announced that the winner was our team, we were like “what?”. It was a great experience. I watched the previous Blackout competitions as this is my first time participating. I must say this year was quite tough and it was a blessing that we actually won.
The competition gathers dancers together and I see the young generation dancers stepping up, which is good. You can see the community is still growing and the crowd was awesome – I love it.
N: Dancing and music go hand-in-hand together. What kind of music keeps you grooving?
H: I like Justin Bieber’s music. I just got to put it out there. His current songs make me want to dance and I like to use them in my classes. I like to listen to the soundtrack from High School Musical sometimes – I’m a fan. I have this child in me. When I listen to these songs, I get flashback memories. This keeps me moving.
F: I like all kinds of music. My taste is very diverse. I can go from jazz to R&B. Each kind of music has a certain feel that makes me want to move in different ways. When I’m in the train listening to music, I’m trying so hard not to move because people are going to think that I’m weird.
Once, my friend and I went to an exhibition at the ArtScience Museum and my friend convinced me to do an impromptu dance there. I was hesitant at first but agreed. We improvised and it was fun. For some reason, people started to gather to watch us. There were photographers and they thought that we were part of the exhibition! It was really fun, learning how to put yourself out there and ‘YOLO’.
H: When I was in Melbourne a few months ago, I went to this shop called Culture Kings. There was a DJ spinning in the shop and I just danced. The people around clapped and appreciated it. I think it’s the culture, it’s different.
N: Who do you look up to and how does this person inspire you?
F: My best friend, Pamela Khiu, one of the crew leaders. She really encouraged and pushed me to go for hip hop classes even though the beginning was hard and stressful. It was hard for me to catch on and I was on the verge of giving up. She dragged me to classes and said that I was very good for a first-timer. She has been dancing hip hop for a longer time and she does O School recital. I always look up to her because I know that even though it’s hard for her sometimes, she still puts herself out there.
H: I have a few inspirations. The one who’s always sticking with me is Hirzi from my crew, Team YOMO. We started dancing together nine years ago and we stayed on. Back then, I liked to do lyrical and it was hard as no one appreciated this kind of dance. We didn’t care and just did it. I learned bopping and he did breakdance, so we actually exchanged skills and stuck together till now.
N: What kind of challenges do you face?
F: Daring to get involved in the arts scene. Pursuing a legit career full-time in the arts is something that is difficult to bring myself to do even though I love it so much. The way that the society here feels about the arts deters a lot of people from pursuing it.
H: I just need time. Sometimes I want to do a lot of things in one day but I can’t. As a dancer, I need to keep fit and I cannot be sick. The challenge is with myself and what I can do. I always want to challenge myself to do something different.
N: What makes you stand out?
H: Just being myself I guess. You have to be yourself, and people can appreciate you. They will slowly notice and recognise your style. It takes time. I feel that everyone is different.
F: I try not to take things too seriously. I think that’s why I’m taking a gap year as I want to do what suits me. I try to be more quirky and relaxed in what I do.
N: Tell us more about your style and how Converse complements it.
H: I’m more of a basic kind of guy. I like white, black, beige – basically earth colours. My shoes need to be black or white – no other colour. I like to wear long tees that make my body look longer.
I used to wear Converse quite frequently. I had a few Chuck Taylors high and low cuts. I prefer [the latest Chuck II] as it has padding inside, which makes it more comfortable. Converse is cool, it matches well with everything.
F: I don’t have a specific style. Sometimes I’d go really basic, sometimes I’d go full-on strange, sometimes very girly and sometimes hip hop. Very different styles. Converse shoes to me feels like a throwback as I used to wear them a lot.
Conversation seeks out inspiring individuals who possess a creative spirit and brim with passion. It offers an insight into the lives of these individuals and the things that drives them. This edition is proudly sponsored by Converse.
Photo Credits: Chee BP